The Real Poop
How would you like to be a statistician...of danger? Sounds cool, doesn't it?
We're talking 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. (Did you know women in California are statistically much more likely than men to take time off for giving birth? Who would've thought?)
That's what actuaries do. They use complex mathematical formulas to make projections about the future so the companies they work for can make the most cost- and revenue-effective business decisions possible. And why do companies hire them to do this? Because they—get this—want to lose as little money as possible.
You'll 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're attempting to do is predict the future by assuming (and let's be honest, hoping) that the past is a good indicator. No crystal balls or tarot cards required—it's just a matter of delving into the numbers and communicating the best course of action.
A good actuary can actually save or earn a large company millions of dollars per year. And when you have somebody like that on the payroll, you don't offer them peanuts. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average actuary is making almost $97,000 a year, and the top ten percent are bringing in over $180,000 (source).
Wow. Who could have seen that coming?
Considering the sizable salary (and the allure of being a scientifically-sound fortune teller for a living), you may not be surprised to learn that this is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after careers in the world.
It may not be the flashiest gig, but you can make a fantastic salary without putting all that much time or money into the schooling you'll need to pursue it. Sure, you'll need a four-year degree in something like mathematics or statistics, but once you hit your stride as a professional actuary, in no time your student loans will be little more than a distant, forgotten memory.
Actuaries don't typically work in an office full of actuaries. Most of the time, you're the only one there—which means pretty much no one else at the company understands exactly what it is you're doing. That's a good place to be, as few people will be around to challenge your opinion on all things actuarial (or really even notice if you're slacking off or making a mistake).
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're pretty much leaving these other options in the dust. Especially toll booth collector—do you know how many germs are on all those coins? Yuck.
Actuarial-ing is a niche gig, but if the statistical side of things is interesting to you, this is the place to be. The work isn't for everyone, but for the right person, it's a great job—there's always someone hiring people who can see the future.