Actuaries talk about mentoring

by Glenda Maki, Senior Communications Associate

GMaki “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

This quote, attributed to Mother Teresa, demonstrates the power of a one-on-one relationship; in this case, the importance of seeking out a mentor or protégé. For this article, I talked to both actuarial mentors and protégés to learn more about their experiences, the mentoring process and how mentoring can benefit both parties.


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Steven Chin, Actuarial Student
University of Illinois , Property & Casualty Intern at State Farm

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Theophilus Chukwueke, Jr., Actuarial Student
Penn State Abington

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Alan Gard, FSA, MAAA, Corporate Senior Actuary
Coventry Health Care

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Ashwini Vaidya, FSA, MAAA, Manager, Actuarial Services
Certified Professional Coach

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Kevin Wolf, FSA, MAAA, Consulting Actuary and Partner
Larimer & Wolf Consulting Actuaries, LLC

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Conrad Young, ASA, MAAA, Senior Manager, Product Finance
CUNA Mutual Group

Not pictured: Sara Veit Kaufman, FSA, MAAA, Actuarial Risk & Analytics, Deloitte Consulting LLP
Q: What does it take for mentoring to be successful?
Vaidya: The mentoring relationship is mutually beneficial when the people involved are invested in the relationship. You have to make time for one another and keep that time sacred. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but when you are in the relationship you have to be present. It is intimidating for a protégé to have a mentor who seems too busy to spend the time—no one wants to be a burden. It is irritating to a busy mentor when the protégé seems disinterested or lazy.

Kaufman: … it is helpful if the protégé has some idea of what they would like from the relationship, and is able to find a mentor who wants to provide that.

Chukwueke: I believe that in order for mentoring to be successful, there must be well defined communication and connection between mentor and protégé.

Q: How long should a mentoring relationship last?

Gard: I don’t see good mentoring relationships having an end date. The relationship will certainly evolve and change over time; the roles of mentor/protégé may blur. However, the journey of personal development never ends, nor does the responsibility—and hopefully desire—to give back.

Young: The mentoring should last as long as it’s valuable. I’ve had mentoring relationships that were done with a couple of phone calls, and others that developed over the course of several months. I still keep in touch with a couple of actuarial students I’ve met through the program.

Wolf: As long as the protégé wants and I am able. There are some students I’ve mentored while they were in college and I have been in touch with for years after they’ve graduated. There are others who wanted a mentor in an area of actuarial work that I wasn’t expert in and the protégé was planning on working in.

For example, I’m a health actuary. I mentored a student for two years while he was in college. This year he is a senior, and he asked me if I could find a life actuary to help him because he plans on becoming a life actuary when he graduates. I gladly asked the person who assigns mentors to find an additional mentor for this protégé. Now this student has two mentors!

Chukwueke: I don’t think that a mentoring relationship should have a cap on how long it should last. I feel that there should always be opportunity for one to learn something. I do think a mentoring relationship should be at least one year, so that the mass of what would be needed is covered.

Q: What is the most challenging part of being a mentor or protégé?
Gard: Just like in physics, the work is in getting the relationship in motion. Building trust and openness and just figuring out the interpersonal dynamics of the relationship take a sizable energy investment up front. But as the relationship develops, it tends to be self-sustaining in that both parties are energized by what they get out of it and are more than willing to keep putting energy into it to keep it going.

Young: As simple as it may sound, scheduling a time that works for two busy professionals to connect is not easy!

Wolf: Watching some protégés have difficulty finding a job after graduating college. I’ve had at least three readily get a job and at least two, last I knew, not find a job. The job market is a lot tighter these days. I tell my protégés they should graduate college with at least two actuarial exams passed, most of the VEE courses taken, and look into summer internships while in college. They should make a professional resume, practice job interviewing, and do research and prepare questions for employers they are interested in. I tell them there are two things they should seek from a job interview: getting an offer and getting enough information to decide if they want to accept that offer.

Vaidya: When the relationship is not working, but you want it to be …

Q: Tell us something you have learned through your mentoring experience. What has surprised you?
Wolf: I’ve learned that getting a job is harder now than when I graduated over 30 years ago. I was also surprised when I received a thank-you card signed by all the math students I coached at Gary Comer College Preparatory.

Gard: You learn a lot about yourself by being a mentor. It has made me more reflective of my experiences and more diligent about carving out the time to review what has happened and what I can learn from those experiences. I’ve discovered I’ve made a lot more mistakes than I initially thought. But that leads to one of the biggest benefits of the experience from the protégé’s perspective: While it’s important to learn from your own mistakes, it’s even better to learn from someone else’s before you even make them!

Young: I’ve learned that mentoring someone who is thousands of miles away doesn’t make it any less valuable. I’ve been surprised that actual results have been different from my expectations of how effective I’d be at helping out protégés. While encouraging advice and a little helpful troubleshooting can bring someone up to speed, the personal initiative is entirely up to the individual.

Q: What is the best part about being a mentor or protégé?
Kaufman: I enjoyed having a fellow actuary to talk with who could share some of his experience. Being early in my career, most of the actuaries I knew either worked in my company or were at a similar level in their careers. Participating in a mentoring program gave me an opportunity to talk with someone who worked at a different company and was further in his career, which provided a different perspective.

Chukwueke: I think that the best part of being a mentor/protégé is the opportunity it gives for both parties. The mentor has the opportunity to give back all the knowledge he/she has accumulated over the course of his career. The protégé has the opportunity to use the information given to get ahead and excel in his/her desired field of study.

Wolf: Learning from the protégés and hearing that they liked the advice I had to offer.

Chin: the best part is sharing one’s experiences and seeing how each person’s relates and differs. As a protégé, I love hearing stories from actuaries and their transitions. It’s interesting to see the path each individual takes to reach a certain place.

Vaidya: By far it is how much you learn—about yourself, about your partner in the relationship, and about the world at large.

Gard: In managing people, I think a lot about what my people are going to go home and say to their spouses or someone else important to them about their work day. Did they enjoy what they worked on? Did they like the people they worked with? Did they accomplish something about which they are really proud? I especially take joy in that last one.

Mentoring is heavily focused on helping people accomplish their goals. And when you do help someone accomplish one of those goals, when they get to go home and tell someone special about it, even though they were the ones who did all the work and the accomplishment belongs to them, you still feel like a small part of that success. And then you can’t wait to go home and tell your loved ones about it.

The Younger Actuaries Network (YAN) Mentoring Program
The YAN, a subsection of the Actuary of the Future Section, has developed a mentoring program that offers its members opportunities to foster trusting relationships for networking, coaching, counseling and teaching life’s lessons. Being a mentor is a great way to share your knowledge, experience and expertise with those seeking a role model.
The YAN believes it is important that younger actuaries have a mentor who can serve as a counselor, advisor and confidant to turn to with questions and concerns about personal growth in the actuarial profession and business world. The interaction also promotes educational and networking opportunities in the actuarial profession.
The YAN is currently looking for mentors to add to its database, or network, to assist in the matching of a protégé to a mentor. We are looking for two levels of mentors to establish a wider range of interest:
1. Experienced FSA/ASA mentors for those at the ASA level and below, or
2. Recent ASA mentors for those below the ASA level and college students.
If you are interested in learning more about being a mentor please contact Ashwini Vaidya at ashwini_a_vaidya@yahoo.com.
You could be holding the key to somebody’s future success!

The Actuarial Foundation’s Actuarial Diversity Scholarship program provides each applicant or exam reimbursement student a chance to request an actuarial mentor. For more information, please contact scholarships@actfnd.org

Have you been involved in a mentoring relationship? How has it benefited your life or career? Share your thoughts below.

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