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An Actuary’s take on Business Communication in the Workplace

An Interview with Hannah Harris

Ms. Hannah Harris is one of the lucky ones. Ms. Harris was hired right out of college and now works at Ohio National financial Services as an actuary. While Ms. Harris has to be good with numbers, she also has to leverage good communication skills while emailing her team or building the spread sheets for her business insurance policies. In the following, Ms. Harris offers advice on what she thinks good communication in the workplace looks like. 

What is your professional history (include your timeline and roles)?

Hannah Harris: “I am an actuary at a life insurance company and have worked there since 2013. It was my first job out of college.” 

What writing advice do you have for professional communicators?

Hannah Harris: “My advice would be to consider each piece of communication a professional communication.  Don’t just put thought and care into formal reports that are presented to management, but also into things like emails, meeting agendas, notes, and documentation.  Also, be careful with technical terms and acronyms specific to your field.  When in doubt, I think it’s fine to define or explain something for the person who will be reading your writing.  That’s better than leaving them guessing.”

What is your one pet peeve when it comes to professional writing?

Hannah Harris: “My pet peeve is when I see professional writing that is not in an appropriate format for the venue where it’s being used.  I’m thinking of emails that look like five-paragraph essays, meeting handouts or slides that are also in paragraph form (which the audience can’t digest on the spot), and crazy charts that the reader has to spend a lot of time figuring out.”

What kind of business reports do you read and/or compose regularly?

 Hannah Harris: “I compose documentation of projects I’ve done (this would include things like the process used, any issues or findings along the way, decisions that were made, supporting evidence, results).  This documentation would be in Word but may include data tables or links to supporting Excel files. I regularly read and write emails that summarize key issues and work through possible directions to take.  I sometimes compose summaries of results a little more formally, such as in a meeting handout for management or for my other team members, to guide our discussions.” 

What are your writing suggestions to make those types of reports successful?

 Hannah Harris: “It’s important to think about the key points you need to convey and include enough information without bombarding the reader.  Very technical details can go in a footnote or appendix.  I also think that if the document is more than a couple of pages, it’s a good idea to include a table of contents at the very beginning.  That way, people can easily navigate and just click to go to a certain section of the report.”

What speaking advice do you have for professional communicators?

Hannah Harris: “Have a clear direction – think about the main points you need to convey and outline your speech in a way that highlights those points.  Try to anticipate questions your audience may have and think through your answers ahead of time.  Rehearse your presentation in your head or out loud multiple times, and time it if you need to stay within a certain time limit.  I find that when I do this, I settle on the way I’m going to word things and get used to the flow of it, and then my use of notes during the actual presentation becomes little or none.”

Name one thing you wish you had known about business communication prior to your

professional career?

Hannah Harris: “I wish I would have known that business communication involves communicating with so many people, many of which may be outside of your immediate team.  They might even be outside of your field of study, or halfway across the world.  This makes it even more important to explain things well and to tailor your communication for the audience at hand.”

After assessing the Burning Glass list of Baseline Skills (2016), which skills not in the top 5 would you move into the top 5…and why?

 Hannah Harris:” I would move problem solving and time management into the top 5.  I think these apply to a wide range of professions.  Everyone encounters problems while on the job, and it’s important to be able to address them.  Time management is key to accomplishing tasks, especially if there are a variety of things that all need to be happening concurrently.  I don’t think time management comes naturally to everybody, and it’s something that people must be conscious of and learn.”

Credit: Burning Glass Technologies

What team skills do you feel young professionals need the most?

 Hannah Harris: “I think young professionals need to be able to prioritize items that need to be done within a team, and then do what makes the most sense in terms of who should do what and in what order, to accomplish what they need to do.  They also need to be able to both share their input and listen to others well.”

Key Takeaways

One big take away from this interview moving  problem solving and time management into the top 5 of the Burning Glass list of Baseline Skills. These are skills everyone should have and be pretty good at executing problem solving and being able to use their time wisely. For a lot of people having good time management is hard because they wait until the last minute to do the task. By waiting to do the task the person can hold back the team. Some people still have problems with knowing how to problem solve quickly so they can get the problem handled. If they do not have these skills fully developed, in opinion, it would be hard for them to work in a team because they could hole them back.

Hannah Harris is a 26 year old and works for Ohio Financial Services as an actuary. She got this job right after college she went to Cedarville University located in Cedarville, Ohio. As an actuary, Hannah calculates risks to see what types of premiums the company can give to people based on those mathematical assessments.

 

 

 

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Mary Gick is a junior at the University of Southern Indiana. She is on track to earn bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in finance through the Romain College of Business. Mary is a full-time student and a full-time employee at Texas Roadhouse.

What do you think?

Written by Mary Gick

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