It is almost the end of February and yet it is not too late to set your professional resolutions for the year. I have been deep in the “busy season”, more on which later, and this post has been collecting dust in my drafts folder. Although it may not be comprehensive, it is still best to set it free!
I always thought New Year’s resolutions are bogus. However, whether you call them resolutions or simply career plans for the upcoming year, it is a useful exercise to enter the new year with some goals in mind. You will likely be going through your annual goal setting exercises with you managers in the coming weeks (or already did in the past few weeks!) so let me share some resolutions/goals that I think are appropriate for actuaries.
Having recently switched jobs, I had to take stock of my accomplishments at my previous job and make new plans for my career at my new one. This list is partially what I came up with:
Develop personal brand
I do not simply mean that you should keep your LinkedIn profile up to date, although it is indeed very important to do so. What I mean is that you should develop your brand within your organization. It is highly likely that you actuarial coworkers know what it is you do and what your specific skill set is, but do other departments? Does your finance department know that you can answer their data queries and they do not have to go to the external source? Does your investments department know that you can help them develop that VBA tool?
Depending on your organization structure, developing your personal brand through internal self-promotion may be invaluable in your career progression. It can also help you develop those social skills and put an end to your cubicle monkey reputation! So aim to promote yourself across your organization by getting involved in internal presentations, cross-team meetings and other social activities where you can tell others what it is you do and what your skill set is.
Deliver quality work
Obvious, isn’t it. However, this point goes hand-in-hand with the one above. Your reputation for delivering quality work is the key component of your personal brand.
Just because there is a second-eye check built into the system in the form of your manager, chief actuary or other peers, this does not mean that you should count on them to catch your mistakes. Aim to deliver an outstanding work that requires no further involvement from your superiors and they will surely remember this quality of yours when the bonus time comes.
Always be asking questions
Actuarial students tend to be very timid early in their career. The amount of complex information that they are bombarded with at their first job is overwhelming and the last thing you want to show your superiors is that you do not understand something. You don’t want to seem stupid, I certainly didn’t want to.
What tends to happen is we take a lot of notes and then spend countless hours googling around, trying to figure out what it is we were just told and what is required from us. You could have just asked them!
It is good to have a reputation of someone who asks questions. Senior actuaries will know that you prefer to learn everything about the project before undertaking it. Junior actuaries will know that they need to be that much diligent to pass your scrutiny when you are reviewing their work.
One tip that I can share here is to wrap up every meeting with a superior with the phrase “Just to make sure I understand…” and summarize what you were just told.
Develop professional skepticism
What sets good actuaries from the rest is whether they take what is presented to them as given. Had Glengarry Glen Ross plot been set with actuaries instead of salesmen, the ABC’s would stand for A-Always B-Be C-Cynical.
Professional skepticism is not a requirement just for auditors. Given the complexity of actuarial work, if you are not skeptical of the results you produce the people higher up in the chain of command may not know all the nitty-gritty to catch an error if there happens to be one.
This point goes hand in hand with the point above relating to asking questions. However, don’t just direct the questions at others, question your own performance, your data, your results.
Give credits where due
This one is a no-brainer. Going back to the advice of Dale Carnegie and Stephen Covey, don’t hoard all the credit from deserving co-workers. Giving credit not only improves the confidence of your co-workers, but puts a few chips in to your leadership basket. And if someone gives you credit where it was not due, make sure to point to the person who actually does deserve it. You will be remembered for it!
Have a happy and successful 2014!