31May2018

How to Turn an Internship into a Full-Time Offer

By Mark Spong 

Across the industry, summer internships are the primary source for most entry-level actuarial positions. They give employers the broadest possible insight into a person’s technical skills, leadership potential, and business acumen. It is also becoming more and more competitive for aspiring actuaries to get their foot in the door for entry-level actuarial roles.

This means that the best way to get a full-time offer is to do a great job in an internship so the company wants to hire you back. The question is, how exactly should you do that?

To help us answer this question, we asked Tasha Boland who is a successful veteran of converting internships over two consecutive summers into a full-time offer. Boland is a graduating senior from Villanova University. She starts working at MassMutual in the summer with the Capital Modeling team, with a primary focus on statutory capital. Her internship insights will help add depth to some of the more nuanced questions that distinguish good from great interns.  It is also timely information for aspiring actuaries just starting summer internships.

 

  1. You earned an offer to return as an intern for a second summer and again the third summer for full time. How did you do it? What were the keys to your success?

 

Tasha Boland:

Although it may sound counterintuitive, I tried not to focus on the fact that my internships were leading towards potential hiring decisions. As much as I was being evaluated, I was also using the internships to confirm interest in my particular company and career. This attitude resulted in very positive internship experiences for me, and allowed me to focus on being myself rather than the imminent hiring decisions.

 

There are a few specific things I can recommend that I think worked for me. First, say yes to every opportunity that comes your way! Be it a new project, an informational seminar, a presentation opportunity, or a networking lunch, say yes! Internships have been incredible learning opportunities for me, in part because of my specific work, but also because of the “extra” opportunities that weren’t necessarily part of my job description. Not only will these opportunities make your internship experience more valuable, it demonstrates that you are interested in the company, are eager to learn, and want to get involved.

 

Next, incorporate feedback so you are a productive member of your team. As an intern, you need help and guidance along the way. I know that my manager needed to take time away from our team’s projects to help me, especially at the beginning. My goal was that by the end of the summer I wanted to add more to my team’s productivity than I took away. Your work is a tangible thing in your own control, and putting your best effort towards this is important for your team, your development, and any hiring committee.

 

Lastly, talk to the people around you! Networking is one of the most important parts of any work experience. An internship is an incredible opportunity to be surrounded by successful professionals in your field. They all have lessons and advice to share with someone just beginning their career. Getting advice and learning from the people all around me helped not only to prepare me for my career, but also allowed me the chance to get to know my community better. I could see myself fitting in as a part of the team. Although the most important piece of advice I could give is to be yourself, these three lessons were some of my “keys to success” and I hope they help someone else!

 

 

  1. Is there anything you would have done differently?

 

Boland: Oh absolutely! Asking questions and speaking up in meetings is one of the best ways to learn and be an active member of your team, and I wish I had done it more at the beginning of my internship. At first, I was nervous to speak up because everyone around me had more expertise and experience. But, of course they did! I was an intern, and most everyone I interacted with had been working in the field for years. Once I started speaking up and asking questions, I was not disappointed. I gained a lot more from meetings and discussions with my team once I had a greater understanding of what was going on. I wish I could go back and speak up in a few of my first team meetings, it would have saved me a lot of confusion! This also goes for speaking up with your manager if you don’t understand a task they have presented you. When I was still getting my bearings, I let my manager walk away after giving me a task that I did not fully understand. After making that mistake once, I did not let it happen again! Make sure you fully understand what you’re supposed to do when your manager explains a task, before they go back to their own desk.

 

 

  1. Managing independence – At some points in your internship you probably found yourself torn between wanting to ask for help and wanting to figure it out for yourself. How did you manage this situation and what would you recommend to other interns out there?

 

Boland: That is definitely an internal debate with every intern, I am sure! It certainly was for me. It is a balance between taking the time to work through problems and going through the process of discovery on your own, and asking for help when you truly need it. After giving the problem a lot of thought and exhausting your own brainpower, if you’re still stuck, I would recommend a couple things that worked for me. If you know someone who might have the solution other than your manager, it can be a good learning opportunity to get advice from another person. A few times I turned to other interns or other team members for help when I thought it was appropriate. If you’re still stuck, then don’t be afraid to ask for help from your manager! I found it to be most productive if I had one or two ideas for potential solutions before I approached my manager. This not only shows that you gave the problem your best effort, but also helps you understand the solution that much more when it is explained to you.

One particular experience comes to mind for this right away. I was working in Excel and needed to code something in VBA. Or, at least I thought that I did. My code wasn’t working the way I wanted it to, so I asked another intern for assistance who had taken a course in VBA. He helped me improve my code and it worked the way I wanted! However, the overall project that I was working on still wasn’t quite coming together. When I approached my manager, I showed him the VBA code and asked for his help. Although he was happy I had learned new ways to code in VBA, he explained a much simpler way to approach the project that didn’t require VBA at all. As an intern, it’s just a fact that you won’t always have the answers, but knowing when and how to ask for help can improve your experience and your work.

 

  1. Leadership as a novice – Surely there were times when you felt like everyone you worked with knew a lot more than you did. How did you figure out ways to contribute?

 

Boland: One way I could contribute was just by asking questions. This past summer, my team had “Problem Solve” meetings every other week so they could brainstorm together solutions to any outstanding issues they might have been working on. These were often complex mathematical or modeling issues that several actuaries needed to work together on. Even though I was a novice and didn’t have the skills and experience necessary to help solve problems, one of the ways I contributed was by just asking questions throughout the meeting. My team was very open to all my questions, and that was the best way I could contribute! I not only was able to learn from their answers and broaden my own understanding, but sometimes my questions provided an outsiders perspective to help look at the given task in a new light. I couldn’t come up with my own solutions to these problems, but by being an active participant in the discussion I was able to contribute to my team.

 

  1. Incorporating feedback – What kind of feedback did you get and how did you respond to it? How do you think an intern should approach feedback?

 

Boland:  In both of my internship experiences, my manager and I had regular meetings to discuss questions, room for improvement, and areas I was doing well. This was helpful for me to have a set time when I could ask my manager specific questions about my role and to know that I was constantly getting feedback throughout the summer! I would recommend trying to set something like this up for any internship. My managers made it clear that I was being evaluated on technical skills, leadership, and communication. Having that information was helpful for me, especially as I received feedback related to each category. I knew that all those categories would be considered for hiring decisions, so I appreciated the transparency from the beginning and throughout the summer. As tough as it is sometimes, accepting constructive criticism as an opportunity is how I think an intern should approach feedback. You will be happier to receive the feedback early in the program rather than at the end, and wish you had done something differently. At the end of the day, you are trying to be an asset to your team. If you can make adjustments throughout your program so you can finish your internship knowing you left a positive mark on a project, that is a success!

 

  1. Self-advocating – Ideally as an intern you’d like to work on a project that challenges you and you learn from. Did you notice a change in the way you advocated for yourself over the course of your two internships? Any suggestions for someone just starting out?

Boland: I was a lot better at advocating for myself in my second summer! One thing which I would highly recommend is asking to sit in on discussions between actuaries. I remember my first summer my manager told me about a meeting our team was going to have with another group in our department. I asked him if I could sit in on the meeting, which he wholeheartedly agreed to. The opportunity to sit in on brainstorming meetings, problem solves, presentations, or collaborations was incredibly helpful for my own understanding of my role and the department I was in. I am so glad that I asked to sit in on the first meeting, as the invitation was usually extended the rest of the summer.

In addition to this, which I would also recommend, I always asked my manager for another project or more work whenever I finished my current task. Although I would recommend asking your manager for additional projects, I learned in the second summer that it was more effective if I saw an opportunity and suggested something specific I wanted to work on. For example, this past summer I worked on Part 1 of a project and my manager had the skills to do Part 2. The project culminated in a presentation of our results and findings. I asked my manager if I could create the first draft of the presentation and work with him to revise and prepare it for our presentation. This was one way I saw an opportunity to improve my own skills as well as gain a better understanding of the overall scope of my work. This is something I wish I had done my first summer; I would highly recommend suggesting a specific way you could get involved with any interesting project that your team is working on.

 

 

Mark Spong, FSA, CERA, MAAA, is an actuary at MassMutual in Springfield, Mass. His current role is in reinsurance and product oversight, where he partners with actuarial functions across the company. He can be reached at markspong@gmail.com.

 

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