What he does:
John works as an actuarial analyst in the retirement practice of Watson Wyatt Worldwide, one of the largest global Human Resource consulting firms. His work involves analyzing employee data of large corporations and value their pension plan as well as performing various retirement benefit calculations. This is John's first job right out of college, so he doesn't feel there are any prerequisite jobs prior to becoming an actuarial analyst.
Math on the job:
Actuarial analyst is the position held prior to become an actuary. Being an analyst, John works with actuaries to help them prepare the data and gather information needed for them to consult the clients. The other major role of an actuarial analyst is passing actuarial exams offered by the Society of Actuaries (SOA). John gets some time off from work to study for exams, but he also has to invest a lot of his own time since the exams are not easy to pass. Most of the math that he ever uses for the profession is for taking the exams. Thanks to computers, the job involves very little theoretical math, but rather more about applying the analytic skills learned from theoretical math.
John graduated from Berkeley in May 2005 with a degree in Applied Mathematics. “I really haven't used much of the theoretical math I've learned during college, but the economics and business classes I took alongside the theoretical math helps a lot with understanding the business world”. However, that doesn't mean theoretical math doesn't help him at all: the strong analytical/problem solving skills he's learned from theoretical math really helped him think through various problems as they are presented to him. Working in the consulting business, there is never one single way of solving a problem, but solving it in the most efficient manner will determine the success of the project.
“Participating in the California Actuarial League (the on-campus actuarial club) really helped me develop the professional skill set needed for the working environment”. Good leadership and project management skills are definitely needed for the job. Involvement in a professional club also improved John's communication skills. Being able to communicate effectively to clients, both orally and in writing, is essential for consulting as well.
On the more technical side, programming or familiarity with computer programs is a major plus for analyzing vast quantities of data. John definitely recommends taking some introduction to programming classes and getting some practice using the Microsoft Office suite at some point during the college career. It would be difficult to get a job as an actuarial analyst if you are computer illiterate.
Advice for students:
Research the profession to make sure you really want to do it. A good place to start is the California Actuarial League website at http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~caleague. It is a difficult profession since you basically have to study and work at the same time. Most people who enter the actuarial profession do not actually complete the path of becoming an actuary. It really takes determination and hard work to complete all of the exams and become an actuary. The payoff in the end is quite great though: due to high demand for actuaries, this career has been consistently ranked in the top five jobs in the nation.