Phil is a BSc (Hons) Mathematics with Actuarial Science student who is currently undertaking his placement year, working as a Data & Analytics Assistant at the Association of British Insurers (ABI). Despite the challenges encountered during the time-consuming application process, Phil was determined to land an industrial placement opportunity that would allow him to learn new skills and broaden his knowledge of the industry.
What do you enjoy the most about Queen Mary?
The thing I like about Queen Mary is its location. It was convenient for me to go to a University that is so close to where many of the employers I wanted to work for have their offices – both Canary Wharf and the city is 40-50 minutes walk away (depending on how fast you walk)! The thing I like about the School of Maths is its professional and approachable faculty, especially the team that looks after the Actuarial Science pathway.
What challenges did you encounter during the application and interview process for your industrial placement?
The thing I found most challenging while applying for roles was the lengthy selection process involved in the application for many of the industrial placement roles, before you get to the interview stage. I found the impersonal nature of the process quite taxing and demotivating. I once applied for two very similar roles at very similar firms and sat their situational judgement tests on the same day. For the first application, they deemed me "a suitable candidate for the role" whereas the second one deemed me completely unsuitable. I am glad I can look back and laugh at it now, but it was very stressful back then. Other challenges included the sheer number of opportunities you could apply for and having to decide how much time you allocate to the application process. I was very glad that I could benefit from the advice of Stefan Couch, Careers Consultant, who told me to focus on the quality of the applications and not the quantity, so I only applied to four or five roles, all in the insurance industry except for one within an asset management firm.
What advice would you give to first-year maths students looking for placements?
As a BSc Actuarial Science student, I was very keen to get a placement year in an actuarial role, but I am glad I quickly decided to diversify my search. Your role does not have to be the exact thing you want to do after graduating. You will be able to gain very valuable skills and sometimes you’ll end up enjoying something more than you thought, which might make you rethink your post-graduation plans.
Why is an industrial placement a good idea?
No matter how well you know your subject, there are certain soft skills such as time management, that you need in order to function effectively at a workplace. An industrial placement is a great simulation of what your working life will look like and how to present yourself professionally. In some respect, it became a safe environment for me, where I could learn and get better. As I have been part of a team for a whole year, I had more responsibilities than I would if I had done an internship or a placement for only a few weeks. There is more time for you to develop and track your progress.
What support did you receive from our careers department?
Two words – Stefan Couch! The most invaluable support I received was from him. From going through my CV and cover letters for applications to mock interviews, his advice was very helpful. He prepared me well for the most challenging questions that could come up in an interview.
What does your placement year look like?
Every placement year is different, and it is up to your employer and also to you what that will look like. This year, I am primarily responsible for making reports/analysis on various sectors within the insurance industry to aid the lobbying efforts of the ABI. At the ABI they do not differentiate between placement students and full-time employees. From the second week, I was involved in meetings and given responsibilities such as coordinating responses to our external stakeholders. It was quite a challenge but I had lots of support from my team. Prioritising workload and effectively communicating progress with other colleagues were two challenges I had early on. Working for a trade body allowed me to work closely with various sectors which helped broaden my understanding of the common and unique challenges faced by different parts of the industry.