The Real Poop
Yes, there are some people who are actually actuaries. We bet you want to know what in the world that is.
Basically, actuaries count. Professional counters, even. Sort of. They are hired by companies—usually in the field of insurance but sometimes by financial firms, banks, airlines, etc.—to assess risk. They are essentially interested in the statistics of danger. Oooh, sounds cool, doesn't it? The danger of losing money, the danger of constructing a building in a particular location, the danger of certain employees growing ill for extended periods of time or going on maternity leave (for example, women in California are statistically much more likely than men to take time off for giving birth). Companies hire actuaries to help them make projections about the future so that they can make the most cost- and revenue-effective business decisions as possible. Because they want to make money. So they can stay in business. So they can hire more actuaries. Doo dah, doo dah.
Hopefully this vehicle won’t drive through any…doo dah.
You will need to be pretty obsessed with numbers and statistics to do well in this job. Most actuaries spend roughly all of their time at their desk, poring over percentages and patterns of past events—really what they are attempting to do is predict the future, assuming that the past is a good indicator. Usually, there are no crystal balls or tarot cards involved—it is just a matter of delving into the numbers and communicating to their employer or contractor what the best course of action would be based on their findings. Ever wonder how Las Vegas determines the odds for ballgames? Those well-dressed guys examine the risk of certain players throwing interceptions, hitting home runs, etc. and combine all of their statistical data to arrive at the likelihood that a given team will be victorious. So actuaries are like that, but with insurance policies and financial plans. They just don’t have thousands of people lining up to put their money on a workers’ compensation policy against the spread.
You might be surprised to learn that this is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after careers in the world. Clearly, it isn't because of all the hot babes, limo rides, and front row seats at movie premieres. Being an actuary isn't the flashiest gig, but you can make fantastic money without putting all that much time or money into the schooling you'll need to pursue it. You aren't working in an office full of actuaries—you're the only one there, so no one else understands exactly what it is you're doing, and therefore isn't likely to challenge your opinion on all things actuarial (or really even notice if you're slacking off or making a mistake). So, for a desk job, this one is surprisingly low stress. What you do have to be able to deal with is the tedium of the work, as well as the solitude of working mainly on your own. You may be working in an office with other co-workers, but because you're the only actuary there, there won't be a ton of people in your department meetings, if you catch our drift.
Similar careers include accountant (the counting part), statistician (the statistics part), and toll booth collector (the sitting around in a room by yourself part). But because of the money and prestige that comes with being an actuary, you are pretty much leaving these other options in the dust. Especially toll booth collector. Do you know how many germs are on all those coins?
Actuarialing is a niche gig—but if the statistical edge grabs you, this is the place to be. The work isn't for everyone, but for the right person, it's a great gig—the money is good and there is always a job out there for you. Just like shizzle, risk happens.