Summer students - What I wish I knew before starting work

Published by Kim Durniat on

Now halfway through their summer placements, Chris, Omair and Sophie have all settled in to working life in Barnett Waddingham's Insurance Actuarial Practice. Here they tell us about a few things they wish they'd known before starting work, and give some advice for prospective future summer students.

Sophie found that you don't need to have studied actuarial science to get by, and that joining a new office was easier than she thought:

"I'm studying Experimental Psychology at University"

“Starting any new job is a disquieting experience; particularly if you hope the job in question will be your first step towards a long and fruitful career. It's easy to spend sleepless nights concerned that you won't understand the work, that you won't fit in with your colleagues or that you might end up as resident coffee girl. I wish I had known that those concerns were entirely unnecessary.

I'm studying Experimental Psychology at University, so you probably wouldn't consider someone from my background particularly applicable to a career dependant on maths and economics. Needless to say, I was nervous that I would bring infinitely fewer specific skills to the role of summer student than my colleagues would be hoping for.

I wish I had known that I needn't have worried; I was able to learn more than enough during training and on the job not just to get by with my day-to-day work, but to further fuel my desire to work as an actuary. Coming into this role, what you already know is a bonus, but so long as you're keen to learn, you won't be left behind; your natural interest in the industry is enough to get you started.

I wish I'd known not to worry about joining a new team. A summer placement is very different from a weeks' work experience at age 16; you're there to contribute, and you won't get under your colleagues' feet by asking questions. The teams you'll be working with are lovely, but importantly, they're human. They are busy and they do have work to get on with, but they're passionate about what they do and will answer the questions you ask them – and many more that you don't! In their eyes, you're a potential future colleague and friend, so don't be afraid to act accordingly.”

Chris wishes he'd known about specific skills that are useful for the job and that adjusting to working 9 to 5 would take a little while:

"My advice would be to brush up on any Excel skills that you have developed"

“Without a doubt the thing I wish I knew most before starting work would be how vitally important Excel skills are in any financial role. It's an extremely powerful piece of software that you will use for the majority of your analysis on a day to day basis. Yet Excel is severely under used in degree programmes; meaning most students lack practice with the software. You will receive one-to-one training during the placement and complete exercises to enhance your understanding, so you can start from nothing and quickly get to the level required. Nonetheless, my advice would be to brush up on any Excel skills that you have developed in the past and maybe make the effort to learn some additional methods and formulae. By doing this you will develop confidence with the software that will be invaluable upon your arrival in the office. Nothing is assumed when you start work, but there is no such thing as being over prepared; confidence is key to success in any work.

Another thing I believe everyone should consider is the significant difference between working life and university life. At University you are free to manage your own time and working hours. For most the commute is minimal. Once you start work you need to get into a strict routine and remain focused for longer periods. Although at first this doesn't appear much of a challenge, how many of us can honestly say we have a set routine Monday to Friday at University? The freedom to take breaks at our own accord and control our own working hours leads to the majority of us working in a much less structured way. Commuting can be a major shock and you can certainly expect to be in need of some early nights in your first week. My advice would be to make sure you get used to getting up early and not taking naps! The working culture at Barnett Waddingham is balanced and enjoyable; you are free to take short breaks when you feel necessary but you certainly need to be much more disciplined than most students are at University.”

Omair was expecting more mathematical content in day-to-day work, but found that he didn't have any trouble remembering content from training sessions:

"It was great to do some actual writing again after all these years, especially in the form of reports and blog articles"

“As a mathematician, the thing I was looking forward to most was doing some interesting maths. Asking questions and looking at some of my colleagues' exam material allowed me to get an idea of the stimulating content behind all the work I did. That said, mathematics in the real world is very different to university maths, and when working as a consultant it makes up only one part of a much wider skillset. The bulk of what you'll be doing is a mix of financial mathematics and researching and communicating financial issues, which I wish I'd known as it was all quite different to university maths. It was great to do some actual writing again after all these years, especially in the form of reports and blog articles. The computational work is really useful for getting your Excel skills up to scratch and assuming you take a keen interest in finance and economics, the research is often quite interesting.

I was also slightly concerned about having to pick up all of the new jargon and valuation methods in the first couple of days, however this turned out to be the biggest non-issue of all. The placement is very well structured with training sessions spread out over the first month giving you plenty of time to take it all in. Your mentors won't expect you to instantly remember everything and whenever they use a technical term they will also remind you of what it is before carrying on. Everyone's really friendly and approachable, so if you ever forget what something means or how to perform a particular task, just ask and people are more than happy to explain it to you.”

The carefully planned structure of the summer placement and the welcoming office environment have ensured that our summer students have had an enjoyable and educational experience, and crucially they have added real value in their time here. They look forward to their remaining time at Barnett Waddingham and will be writing a 'Summer Intern's Experience' blog in the coming weeks.

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