Future Fellows - June 2010
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Changing Careers: Playing Catch-up
By Mark Taber, Candidate Representative to the Candidate Liaison Committee

Plenty of challenges await any person who changes careers. These challenges can often be put into one of two categories; job-related and social. Examples of social challenges include having younger peers (or maybe adjusting to a younger supervisor) or dealing with a new work culture. Examples of job-related challenges include having to learn a new work vocabulary in order to effectively communicate with your business partners or recognizing that you have to adjust from being an expert in your former career to being inexperienced in your new one. Throw in studying for, taking, and (hopefully) passing exams and the adjustment period that normally accompanies changing careers is likely to be lengthened. If you have recently changed careers and started down the path of becoming an actuary, you are likely going through, or will go through, one or more of these situations. The following is a collection of thoughts and ideas from discussions with some peers and coworkers about their experiences with these challenges, and how they dealt with them.

In regards to the exam process, one recurring topic of discussion was the pressure (mostly self-imposed) to play “catch up.” Many actuarial candidates have taken classes in college that are geared toward the preliminary exams and therefore are likely to have already passed multiple exams and satisfied the VEE requirements prior to graduating from college. Another common subject discussed was the difficulty to get back into “study mode” after having been out of college for a period of time. Because of these circumstances however, one coworker felt that the ability to overcome these disadvantages early in the exam process gave them the confidence that they would experience continued success once they reached upper-level exams.

While exams take up plenty of attention early in an actuarial career, adjusting to the new work environment was often cited as a more difficult adjustment when changing careers. One coworker mentioned that, at first, it was a challenge to relate to coworkers that were so much younger and had fewer life experiences—that they were just in a different point in life with different priorities and motivations. Many younger peers were just getting married and starting a family while they already have children in high school. Being in socially different places can create some feelings of isolation. One suggestion to help better connect with co-workers was to volunteer with nonactuarial committees in the company; planning luncheons, company outings, etc. This will create opportunities to not only connect with others in the company on a social level, but also to network and learn about other areas in your company.

Adjusting to having a younger supervisor has many similarities to adjusting to having younger peers. It can also create a unique set of challenges, however, for both the worker and the supervisor. Much has been written on this topic (and this paragraph certainly is not intended to cover it thoroughly), but some anecdotal observations and experiences are worthwhile. Some examples of potential problems could include supervisors that are concerned that the older worker may be difficult to work with or resistant to take direction from someone who is younger. Conversely, the older worker might be concerned that their manager may be more reserved in their actions, or resistant to give too much direction, which could slow their development in their job. Those who mentioned having younger managers commented that while they might have been a little apprehensive or unsure at first, they ended up having great working relationships with their younger managers. They felt that a little respect and patience in both directions can go a long way.

Settling in to a new career can take some time. There will likely be some challenges and frustrations along the way. With some patience and determination, however, achieving the goal is well worth all of the effort.      
Career Changers


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