Early in my career, my ambition got the better of me, and I left internal auditing for an immediate promotion in an accounting role. Being young and inexperienced, I didn’t appreciate the importance of diversity and challenge in the overall equation of job satisfaction. It didn’t take me long to figure it out in my new role.
The daily grind of reviewing tedious and complex claims for reimbursement by third-party vendors was only interesting and challenging for a few weeks. By the third month, I could only describe the work as “mind numbing.” By the sixth month, I was already talking to my old boss (the CAE in the internal audit department where I worked) about returning. A year after I left internal audit, I was back at my old desk preparing for my next assignment.
Occasionally, I am asked by college students (often accounting majors) or others, “Why should I pursue a career in internal audit?” Rather than offer criticism of other career options, I prefer to focus on the reasons why internal auditing is such a rich and rewarding choice. From my perspective, the list is long, but I typically focus on five key points:
A bird’s eye view of the organization. Internal audit’s enterprise-wide purview offers a true bird’s eye view of the organization. This holistic perspective gives internal auditors the ability to spot trends, discover inefficiencies, recommend best practices from other areas of the organization, and more. Additionally, this helps build knowledge about the organization’s core business model, which is crucial when assessing risks and the effectiveness of measures put in place to mitigate them.
Diversity of audit assignments. Few other careers offer professionals an opportunity to be involved in so many facets of an organization. Most companies with dedicated internal audit functions have a scope of work that allows practitioners to interact with potentially every department. This means rarely falling into a rut. I recall early in my career that, in a single year, I audited everything from the effectiveness of child-care center operations to key provisions of the Panama Canal Treaty implementation. Beyond job satisfaction, such rich a diversity of experiences provides an opportunity to expand and refine job skills
The opportunity to leverage skepticism/curiosity. Healthy skepticism and curiosity are essential traits of a successful internal auditor. The best among us are naturally inquisitive and eager to dig deep for the truth. Often, the right question can get to the root of a vexing problem or expose a cleverly hidden fraud. A career built on leveraging that innate curiosity can be immensely fulfilling.
One of the “Life Lessons” I cite in my book, Lessons Learned on the Audit Trail, takes this idea head on:
Be curious and stay curious. If you are not continuously learning new things, your work won’t be nearly as effective as it should be.
It is important that we not confuse skepticism — a healthy questioning of the truth of a matter — with cynicism — an expectation that everything is motivated by self-interest.
The people factor. Every aspect of an internal auditors’ job involves people. Over the course of an internal audit career, you will meet and interact with people from all walks of life. Some will be fascinating; others will make you wonder what possessed them to follow a questionable course of action. Overall, the many people whose operations I have audited throughout my career have been good, decent, and hard-working professionals. I also learned that human nature is a complex thing.
Another “Life Lesson” from my book is appropriate here:
Never forget that every audit client you encounter is a person faced with varying sets of circumstances in their lives with the potential to react either positively or negatively to those circumstances.
The opportunity to grow and evolve. This, for me, is the greatest benefit of a career in internal auditing. The profession offers opportunities for growth and education as varied as there are businesses in the world. By its nature, internal auditing gives us the opportunity to delve into all aspects of business with a healthy exposure to the challenges and opportunities of commerce, the intricacies of high finance, or the brightest insights and darkest recesses of the human psyche.
What more can one ask for in a profession?