42: How To Build And Demonstrate Business Skills
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This Episode’s Roadmap
Ask an actuary what one of the keys to success as an actuary is and you’ll likely hear that a successful actuary can exhibit business skills in addition to the technical skills. Tahir Qadir put it well during our interview together.
So since these skills are important, how can you go about building these skills along your actuarial journey?
Destination of Today’s Journey
After this episode, you’ll be able to:
- Identify past and current experiences where you have built business skills
- Take inventory of the skills you currently have
- Seize and create opportunities to both develop and apply new business skills
How To Build And Demonstrate Business Skills
What Business Skills Do You Currently Have?
You want to identify past and current situations where you have built business skills. Then, take inventory of the skills you already have. Once you have those two things done, then it’s time to take action. You’ll want to seize, as well as create opportunities to discover, build and develop new business skills that will serve you well in the days, months and years ahead.
There’s a famous quote that goes: “Your FATE determines your fate.” The first FATE is an acronym meaning: Focus, Assets, Time and Effort. The more you use these four attributes in developing business skills, the more successful you will be in business.
We’ll share three avenues to develop these skills now and have a free downloadable cheat sheet available to help you take advantage of developing these skills in a few other areas.
Building Business Skills while at Work
In business, taking the initiative is always a good thing, and bosses like to see this. While in meetings, raise your hand and volunteer projects or information.You can also talk about your career goals with your boss, or manager. They will likely have tips for you as you move up the ladder of success. Again, asking questions like this shows initiative. Attending, participating and leading is a simple way to move through business meetings and gain those all-important business skills.
Building Business Skills while in School
If you are still in school, choose classes that will help you develop business skills. Focus on requirements for your major, graduation requirements, VEE (Validation by Educational Experience) credits, as well as any classes that you think would look good on a resume.But in additional to any required courses, I strongly recommend tossing in some fun courses that still have a purpose in building the skills you need to succeed as an actuary.
In fact, here are examples of four types of courses that you may be useful regardless of the actuarial path you choose:
- Oral communication, which involves speech preparation and various purposes of communication—persuasion, information, and so on.
- Business Writing: This helps you learn to communicate so people will read what you’ve written. This type of course helps you think about how to structure notes for ease of use, as well as writing brief, effective emails, as well as professional, person-to-person communication.
- Acting: Believe it or not, acting classes can help you get over the hurdles of interviews as well as going into consulting. Acting can help you be able to deliver your message and rise to the occasion, even if you’re feeling fearful at the moment.
- Computer Science: this type of course helps with strategic processes and logic, which can help you to think about your target audience as well as your personal future. Computer programs are about the “Ifs, Elses, and Then” statements. How this works: “If this happens, then another thing will happen. If this thing does not happen, the defined ‘Else’ kicks in.” This applies equally well to how you make decisions in growing your business career. Putting comments in code assists others in learning how your program works; this can translate to making sure people in business meetings know the details of your particular project, so everyone’s on the same page.
I’d also say that classes in Excel/Word/Powerpoint are also helpful, as they teach you specifically how to navigate and use these specific tools that most businesses employ to keep things running smoothly.
Building Business Skills through Outside Activities / Extra-curriculars
Concerning extra-curriculars: being a leader in various organizations is always a plus. Find a role that makes sense for your interests. You don’t always have to be president of a group. You can just as easily be the treasurer, or secretary. These, too, are important leadership opportunities. If you are treasurer, be the best possible treasurer—learn how to communicate effectively about the group’s finances. This will serve you well later. If you are the secretary, taking minutes for a meeting, you have the opportunity to learn how to pay attention to things said and done during a meeting in your college group, which, again, translates very well to the business world beyond college.
Also, consider joining a program like Toastmasters if you’re looking to build your storybuilding and presentation skils. If you don’t have a local Toastmasters group, discover how to start one and do it. That’s a leadership opportunity right there. Plus, if being an actuary is where you want to go, and you’re still in school, joining a local actuarial club will truly be a benefit. In addition, there are always actuarial internships where you can get hands-on learning.
Important themes to consider
There are also certain personal characteristics that an actuary has that will blend themselves in with the business skills. These include self-motivation, creativity, independence, ambition and perhaps most importantly the ability to work with others. Having an excellent business sense, with a strong knowledge of finance, accounting and economics is also a huge plus, so developing that knowledge will help you get you where you want to go on the road to being an actuary.
Again, strong computer skills, as well as solid problem-solving, project management, as well as written and oral communication skills are a must, especially since you will be communicating with companies who depend on your knowledge and expertise. If you’ve been thinking about building business skills to be an actuary, you’re likely someone who enjoys learning, likes to solve complicated problems—which is where the computer science courses can help boost your facility with logic and “debugging” programs. Those skills definitely translate well to the actuarial field.
Regardless of where your actuarial journey takes you, the more business and leadership skills you have under your belt, the better.
Transcript of Today’s Episode
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How to Build and Demonstrate Business Skills Why hello there journeyers, Nemo Ashong here and thank you so much for letting me be a part of your Actuarial Journey. It’s such a pleasure to be able to join you on episode number 42 where we’ll be talking about How to Build and Demonstrate Business Skills. Now we’re going to be talking a lot about business skills for actuaries going forward here on Actuarial Journey. In order to lay the right foundation, I want to make sure that I’m making this real for each of you journeyers. I want each of you to be able to picture yourself building these skills and empower you to put yourself in positions where you can do it. In fact, I’ll even go as far as to say I’m on a quest to help you understand how you can build business skills through your everyday life. So let’s talk about today’s destination. Firstly, you’ll be able to identify past and current experiences where you have built business skills, you’ll be able to take inventory of the skills you currently have, and you’ll be able to seize and create opportunities to both develop and apply new business skills. So let’s go ahead and talk about today’s quote. That quote is, “Your fate determines your fate.” And that first fate it’s more FATE and that’s all kind of an acronym and that acronym stands for Focus, Assets, Time and Effort. So if I was going to say that again, your focus, assets, time and effort determines your fate. Your fate determines your fate, I wish I knew who came up with this, I heard it on a podcast probably about a year and a half ago and it has been with me ever since. And I think the reason that I’m bringing this up today is because I want you to feel confident that you can build the skills that you need and I also want you to know, man you’ve already done so much to put yourself in a good position when it comes to developing business skills that I want you to have the pride in it and the ability to show that off, so that it puts you in a position to be more effective at work and to also get the promotions that you’re looking for. And if you’re looking to enter the field ‘differentiate you from others’ who even with the same experience may not be able to convey their business skills as well. So we’re going to go about doing this, helping you reach this destination by sharing some examples on how you can do this in various scenarios. We’ll look at how you can apply it at work, how you can build your business skills if you’re at school, how you can build it through your extra-curriculars and I know that you are probably out working out right now, or driving, or perhaps not in a place where you can actually take notes, so not only do I have the show notes which will be on the website at actuarialjourney.com/42, but I also put together a cheat sheet for you which you can download at actuarialjourney.com/42download, all one word with no spaces. This cheat sheet will not only capture what we talked about here today but would also have a few extras and bonuses for you to consider as well. I just didn’t want to make this into too long of an episode but I really do want to help you think creatively as to how you can expand your skills. Alright, so let’s do this, let’s talk about work first. How can you go about building and demonstrating business skills there? I think the first thing to keep in mind is that these opportunities may not just come to you; sometimes you might have to go out and create those opportunities. So what I recommend there is to raise your hand if something comes up, if there’s an opportunity where perhaps you are at a team meeting and they’re discussing various aspects and someone has to put together the presentation. Or perhaps it’s not that specific to such a specific outcome, but there is a client meeting that is going to take place or you know that your boss will be presenting something to his or her boss and you volunteer yourself to be a part of that project, and when it comes up to the portion where there is some kind of communication aspect, or something else related to showing your business skills, you’re also making sure that you’re raising your hand to put yourself in a line for that. I kind of think of it as just making sure that you’re taking the initiative. When it comes to your business experience, when it comes to your career, when it comes to your actuarial journey this is completely in your control and it’s up to you to create those opportunities for yourself. Another way that you can do it, this right here some people might be really good at being on the spot, hearing an opportunity and volunteering for it. Others might like to have a little bit more time to reflect first and not really be put on the spot and I think that makes a lot of sense and something that there’s no right way, one way or the other. Regardless of what your style is another way to build these skills are to talk about your goal with your manager or the equivalent of your manager. So if you only have one manager then that might be the person to talk to. If you’re in a consulting environment and you have multiple projects, perhaps you talk to each of your project managers or you talk to the person who’s on the same work stream as you and let them know that you’re interested in developing certain skills. Now what I’ve found is that in having these conversations going with the approach of, “Hi, I’m interested in building business skills, can you help me?” That doesn’t always get you to the end result that you’re looking for. Some managers might be very receptive it just depends on if they like to brainstorm. I personally think it’s worthwhile to take a little bit of time it doesn’t need to be much maybe just two or three examples for instance and have them in mind when you go to your manager. So it could be, “Hi, I’m looking to develop my communication skills, specifically my presentation skills. I see that we have this project coming up, would it be possible for me to give the presentation, for me to work with you on the presentation, for me to use the PowerPoint?” Or perhaps you’re in Excel and you’re like, “I want to really take ownership of being able to take our analysis and turn it into tables and charts and graphs that can help you tell a story.” All those thing that I brought up those are all individual different ways that you might volunteer and give your manager an idea as to what kind of skills that you’re looking to get involved in. And note that it wasn’t that you needed to take everything from the very beginning all the way to the end, it could just be a portion for that first time but just kind of keep in mind these opportunities that are out there and just having those conversations with your manager could put you in a place to get those opportunities. I think the other side of it too, is that if your manager is aware then when they’re going through and looking through project plans or trying to figure out who’s going to own different portions of the project, they know what you’re looking to build yourself in, they know what you are interested in and they have a better chance of matching you to the right portion of the project so that you’re able to continue growing as opposed to just doing the same things that you’ve done in the past. And that’s going to kind of help keep your career moving in a positive, one step forward direction. Another thing that I like to suggest when it comes to work is within business meetings and I kind of think of it as a three-step process. The three steps are 1. Attend, 2. Participate and 3. Lead. This is a very simple way to move through meetings and gain business skills. Now depending on where you are, your aspect of doing any of these three might happen at various times or even simultaneously. I know that perhaps the first few minutes I go to a meeting where I’m the guest, or it’s my first time being invited to that meeting, I might come there with the mentality of just attending and understanding what is taking place. However, if there’s something where I have some additional context or questions were asked of the general population, I’ll be sure to participate. And then going forward I’ll make sure that I’m reading the agenda and I’m making sure that I’m kind of continuously adding value by being there and not just necessarily sitting there and just absorbing information. Over time I might even get to the point where that meeting is something that I look to lead. Now you can lead in a lot of different ways; one of it might just be to ask to see if you can be the meeting facilitator and in that case you are leading by, before the meeting starts, finding out what important agenda items need to be covered, setting up a time block for each agenda item to be discussed, moving the conversation forward in a way that keeps you to that agenda and timeline, but also be respectful to the various individuals involved. In fact, there is a podcast that I like to listen to called Manager Tools and I strongly recommend it for all journeyers out there that are looking to build your business skills. Manager Tools is run by two gentlemen who have been managers for a number of years and they have a lot of different templates and tools that they have out there, but there podcast is something that I find to be really useful, and I want to make sure that you all have some more tools that you can use. Now they’ve been out since 2005, so at the time of this recording, there’s at least a 10 years’ worth of podcast episodes and such that you can go ahead and reference. Depending on where you are in your career this might not appeal to you. There’s also a sister podcast called career tools which they also own, which might be a little bit more applicable if you’re not a manager or not in a managerial thought process or point in your career. So those are a few ways that you can put this into life and into action while at work. Let’s talk a little bit about school. So for those of you that might be either getting your undergraduate or your graduate degree, how can you go about developing those business skills and applying it, and putting it to use. And for me I think the biggest thing you can do is to choose classes that will help you. And I’ll give an example here. For me, I kind of chose my classes when I was in college based on a couple of different things. The first one was what were my requirements for my major and in order to graduate? Being clear, I definitely wanted to make sure that I got that diploma. The next level down was what courses were offered that would also count for VEE credits? I wanted to make sure that I got a chance to take that while I was still in school. I also looked out for classes that I thought would look good on my resume and just things that were just fun, things that were fun and appealed to me but had a purpose. Overall the different classes that I took, they’re probably four that I would say have led to my ongoing success in the business world. Now all those classes gave me an opportunity to learn how to think- I love that about college; it gave me a chance to start owning the way that I thought, but there were four classes that I felt really came into play for my actuarial experience. The first one was oral communication-this taught me about how to create a speech, how to prepare for things in advance, and it also gave me an insight into the various purposes of communication. Now this isn’t just the spoken communication, this also includes reading communication. But like some of the purposes might include to persuade, or to inform things of that nature. And I wasn’t aware of how I might have various purposes and how I might want to structure my communication to accomplish that depending on what I was actually looking to get out or have as a result of that communication. Another course I took was Business Writing and that one was awesome! I’m not much of a writer, I like to speak more, that’s a little bit more of my forte, but that class really taught me about the effective use of using bullets; communicating with people so that they will actually read it. You know, my friends laugh at me personally because sometimes they’ll just send out emails and I know, I feel bad, but they spend so much time on it it’s just text after text, blocks of paragraphs right afterwards, and that email comes out like a report. Can you think of something like that? Can you picture like getting this email that comes into your inbox and just like, “Ugh, okay,” and then I don’t know about you but for me a very natural next thought is I’m going to come back to this. And at that moment the person who sent it has potentially lost something because I came in, I maybe skim for what I needed to know and then I told myself that I would go back to it. But we all know how things are with email, there are continuously pressing needs. So being able to learn how to communicate in a way that people will actually read it and know what they need to act on, as opposed to have it hidden within a monstrous email, that’s important, that’s an important piece of communication, so that class really helped me do that. And it’s funny because it helped me also to think about how to structure not just those emails but also my notes and some of my in-person communications as well. The third course I took was acting, acting, yes! Like I got there, I learned different scripts from various plays and I tried to learn how to act. And you might be thinking to yourself okay how does acting fit within the actuarial world at all? I found it to be useful for interview prep as well as going into consulting. In terms of the interviews one thing that I like to share with journeyers and it’s in the actuarial job course as well, which you can get if you just type actuary to 33444, one of the things that I like to convey is knowing your story before you go into interviews. And taking that acting class helped me go ahead and prepare for interviews and know how I was going to convey that story on to others during the conversation. Same thing with the oral communication class, they both kind of build upon one another. When it came to consulting I really felt that I should be able to deliver pretty much anything and be able to deliver it confidently, even if I myself was feeling afraid, even if I myself was feeling fear. This might be from a client deliverable to just giving a status update at work. Especially ones that weren’t the most positive and the results didn’t come out the way that I wanted it to, or I was perhaps behind in my scheduling. I wanted to make sure that I can come off confident and be able to do what I needed to do in any given moment. One last thing I’ll say about that acting class is that I also learned about ‘making the sexy choice’. It’s a very interesting way of putting things but the two things about it was 1. To not just kind of flow through things and just see what happened, but instead make a choice when doing things. So when I was looking at one line of text I could read a text line in a very straight way, or I could make a choice that perhaps the person who is saying this right now really needs to get home before a certain time. And so by that, I’ve made a choice as to how that’s going to be conveyed. And a lot of times when you make a choice it gives people a chance to react to it. If you’re kind of running in the middle, you can’t get feedback. So that was really an important course because it really did make me start thinking about whether I was running in the middle of everything, or if I was making decisive choices and then getting feedback and then learning from those experiences. The fourth course that I felt to be really useful was computer science and that one was useful because it really helped me develop my process mind-set and logic as well as just kind of systems thinking. So this was really helpful when I got on the job and I was using Excel and Macros. The thing about it is that it really helped me develop a name for myself very early in my career. I was the Excel guy in a world full of people who use Excel. Additionally, it also helped me to think about my audience and the future; this all came from the various computer science classes that I took. Why? Because I got in the habit of leaving comments within the code so that it was clear to someone what a specific section of code meant to someone. I got in the habit of formatting things so that they were nested and you could easily what I actually say kind of read the story of what’s taking place. So examples of that would be if I had like an “IF Then” or “IF Else” statement, if they were nested within one another I might have various levels of indentation so that you can tell that whenever an IF and an END were in the same column, if they were in the same tabulary format, if they aligned it was clear that the two of them matched. Other things that made sense there were how I named variables, how I named different objects and different classes. So it’s that, again going back to this idea of being able to read a story through the code, it wasn’t just variable 1 like VAR 1, VAR 2, VAR 3 but it would actually be variables that represented what I needed it to represent. And it was really cool because I then applied that to excel when I got on the job. So rather than just perhaps making one long super, super long Excel formula that had 16 different IF statements in there, which was kind of cool, like at first I took a lot of pride in it, but then I realized that other people couldn’t understand it and they would just hard-code over a number destroying all the work that I put in. This is kind of similar to that If nesting from above. So instead what I learned is that it might be better to create a module instead of having each of these IF statements happen all within one cell, take a couple columns to have each of those various portions there, so that if someone just hit F2 and trace back to what was happening they could easily see how the result was being developed so they didn’t have to go and re-create it on their own. I would also say that a lot of times I would rename different cells so that those cells had a real value, and so you could look at it and say perhaps it was a statement that said (-target salary) or (-target salary x expected increase) I don’t know I’m making this up right here, but just something where instead of it just saying –A2xB3 it gave it a little bit of context. So that was something I picked up from there. And I would also say one other thing regarding school is when you get a chance, take courses that allow you to build the Excel, Word, PowerPoint, ARE, SAS abilities those things will definitely come into play later on. And then the last thing I’ll talk about on today’s episode will be extra-curriculars and like I said there will be some more in the download that accompanies this episode which you can get at actuarialjourney.com/42download, all one word. So how can you build your business skills and extra-curriculars and things that are just fun for you? Well, what I like to think is don’t just participate in the activities but try and take on a leadership role. And I recommend finding a role that make sense for you and your interest. It doesn’t need to be the president; it doesn’t need to be anything more than what you want it to be, so it could be the treasurer if you feel good with finance or that type of work. You could be the secretary or you could just even be the person who organizes a tour. I did that once for my acapella group and it was a lot of fun, but I learned a lot of business skills including being able to negotiate, coordinating multiple moving parts, informing various audiences about what was necessary. The leadership wanted to know how the tour planning was progressing, and the group members wanted to know what cool places we were going to be going to. And having that in mind and kind of speaking to both of them, really important, keeping that audience in mind along the way. The important thing is that you’ll just have ownership of something and you may need to work with others to get things done and be able to communicate the results and progress to people who don’t necessarily know what you’re doing. So this can come in so many ways I just want to kind of give you that as a thought process. And then the other aspect of when it comes to extra-curriculars is that you can just try and join the right things. Try and join things that kind of speak for themselves in the sense that you’ve built those business skills. An example of this might be to join your local Toastmasters. And what I like to say kind of as a third point and things to kind of keep in mind when it comes to extra-curriculars is that if you can’t find something that you’re looking for, if you can’t find an extra-curricular that you’re looking for you can go ahead and start one. And I think if we’re talking about leadership here you know that is such a great way to demonstrate that. You built something from scratch, you had to get buy-in from other people and that buy-in was then convincing them to give you their time and to be a part of this. You had to liaise across multiple different stakeholders and such in order to get approval for the extra-curricular, get a sponsor and perhaps like a teacher or someone, or a professor. So doing that just in and of itself, creating one, or starting a club, or some sort of extracurricular if it doesn’t exist already, that goes a long way to help you build it and to also show and demonstrate the leadership and business skills that you’ve developed. So let’s go ahead and cut off today’s conversation here. Let’s go quickly and just recap what the destination was and where you should be right now with this. So at this point given all these things we just went through how you can build and demonstrate your business skills at work, school and extra-curriculars. You should be able to identify past and current experiences where you’ve built business skills. You should be able to take inventory of the skills that you currently have, and you should also be able to seize and create opportunities to both develop and apply new business skills. So with that we’ll go ahead and end today’s conversation please go to actuarialjourney.com/42 for the show notes and for the download, if you’re interested in getting the cheat sheet that has all this in there for you as well as a few extras for you to keep in mind. We would like to really make sure that you can continue building from today’s episode and what we have discussed here. So in addition to the cheat sheet that came with this, as I mentioned earlier I am looking to put together a free business skills course and I would like for you to be able to get it as soon as it comes out and also help to direct the way that it needs to go. So to do this what you can do is just go ahead and type the word SKILLS to 33444 and what that would do is that it will put you on the list to find out when the business skills course is coming out and also give you direct access to me in order to be able to kind of guide the directions that it needs to go and ask any questions of me that you need to. Alright, so just go ahead and text the word SKILLS to 33444 and you’ll be first in line for the business skills course and also kind of help set the directions so that more than anything else you are getting what you need to be successful. You’ll also get a little sneak peek into the journeyer communities. So there’s a lot of good things that come from that. I’m looking forward to hearing from you, SKILLS to 33444 that’s just the number you have to type in. Alright great, so with that I think it makes sense to end the conversation here. Starting next week we’ll start talking about communicating effectively, I think that’s going to be a two-part series around how you can be a more effective communicator in a style that works for you. So be on the lookout for that it’s going to be a fun two part series on that. We shall get to that when we get there though and until then here’s to your continued success, journey on.
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