March 12, 2011


Fortune Teller 500x705
Here's one of the recent emails asking for help (with the name changed).

Hello Mr. Sharma,
My name is "Pat Smith", and I am a high school senior that is considering a career in actuarial science, because of my interests in math, finance and economics.  Up until now, the only information that i have found on actuarial science has been through websites and brochures.  Even though this information is useful, it's not the same as seeing what an actuary does in person.  I would like to job shadow an actuary so I can witness the daily activities that an actuary performs and see if i can picture myself doing the same 20, 30 or 40 years from now. Could you please help me find such a placement for the summer?
"Pat Smith"

Is job shadowing a disguised request a summer job using the Puppy Dog Close?

Time is expensive and competition is fierce. Can you afford to have someone shadow you day after day? What would you get for your investment of thousands upon thousands of dollars? If the student were a potential hire, then there may be value.

There are probably HR policies against letting strangers in the building. Wouldn't you need to provide an access pass or some other form of identification? There may even be liability issues. Does the shadow get the employee discount in the cafeteria?

What would colleagues, staff and superiors think? How do you decide who is permitted to job shadow? If there are criteria, maybe there's a better choice who can help the company grow.

The Reply

Here's my reply.
Hi "Pat". You have an interesting idea but watching an actuary work has limited value. There are many different roles and many different levels. The work varies during the course of the year and by the size of company. There are major privacy and confidentiality issues that limit what an outsider can see. 
Suppose you love what you see; you may not be doing that. Suppose you hate what you see; you may not be doing that either. Outside of assembly lines, much of life is practicing to master your craft. Unless you're passionate, the process looks tedious. Actuarial exams aren't much fun and most students quit. Think of musicians or athletes who practice for hours a day, year after year. That's hard work with no assurance of success. You might be the right person at the right place but the timing may be wrong.  

These books might change your outlook
By the time you graduate, count on further changes. You cannot predict how the job market will remain during your working years. The actuarial field seemed secure when I began my studies at The University of Western Ontario. Yet I was the only second year student to get a summer job and one of only four who graduated with a permanent job. My 13 other classmates were shocked to find themselves unemployed. 

I worked for three companies that vanished. I worked in different divisions (personal insurance, group insurance, corporate valuation). I did consulting at a four person company. I ran a department with 10 staff. These experiences made me what I am. Ultimately, I opted out of traditional actuarial work. I never imagined that I'd be blogging or selling life & health insurance. Yet the skills I acquired prepared me for both.
Your request to job shadow is nontrivial. You might be able to find a traditional actuary who lets you follow them for a day (like the Take Your Kids To Work Day for grade 9 students). I'm not well connected to places that might agree. 

Some of the most important decisions in life take faith. If you  excel and develop portable skills through continual learning, you'll have a better chance at success. Before starting my actuarial studies, I got this advice for a happy life from Linden Cole, the Director of Education for the Society of Actuaries: find something you'd do for free and then find someone who'll pay you for doing it.
Best wishes for your quest.
Part of growing up is accepting uncertainty. If you're proactive, you prepare for it. At least this student is trying. Let's wrap up with this short video from Dan Pink.


Podcast Episode 108 (6:09)

direct download | Internet Archive page

PS If you have other suggestions for "Pat", please leave a comment.

1 comment:

Simon Proops said...

I really agree with you when you say: "much of life is practicing to master your craft."