The “great resignation” is upon us. Recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that more than 4.5 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs in November. As a recent Bloomberg article noted, that was both a monthly record and the eighth consecutive month with resignations above the pre-COVID high. While employees across all demographics are quitting their jobs, according to Harvard Business Review, “resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees. Employees between 30 and 45 years old have had the greatest increase in resignation rates . . .” Anecdotally, I am hearing from chief audit executives about similar trends in the internal audit profession.
This has me wondering: Where are people in our profession going? I know that many are moving on to other internal audit roles. But many are also using the opportunity to change careers. That raises an age-old question: Should internal audit be a career path, or is it better suited as a steppingstone to other careers. I first wrote about this topic several years ago, and the question is even more relevant today.
When I joined the internal audit profession many decades ago, it was widely understood that it was a distinct career path. Internal audit departments then were staffed with many career internal auditors who had been in the profession for decades.
My, how times have changed. In the 21st century, internal audit departments use diverse staffing models, often employing a mix of staffing approaches to ensure the right fit for both staff and the department. Full-time, part-time, career and rotational positions, as well as outsourcing, co-sourcing, “borrowed” staff and remote work employees – these days, internal audit has it all. And while some departments are still staffed completely by career internal audit professionals, others are purely rotational. It’s not unusual to find an internal audit department where absolutely no one has served as an internal auditor for more than five years.
So, should internal audit be a career option, or is it merely a place to punch a ticket toward a career in another field? The good news is that it’s completely up to you! The even better news for aspiring new auditors is that there’s no need to decide on a career path immediately. Internal auditing has become one of the few professions with skill sets that are so transferrable to other business units within the organization that internal auditors can wait to decide on a path until after they have gained further experience.
For those who are undecided or unsure about their future, internal auditing offers opportunities to visit different departments and locations, work with professionals in various areas of the company, and come to understand the risks and opportunities encountered throughout the organization. It can be an unparalleled opportunity to make important career contacts and learn about company operations from the inside out. An assignment in internal auditing can be so beneficial for career growth that a growing number of companies mandate a rotation in internal audit for participants in executive development programs.
Almost paradoxically, the trend toward rotational auditing also has been beneficial for those who prefer to stay in the internal audit profession for the long term. The great majority of internal audit departments depend on a core team of seasoned audit professionals to supervise audit teams and perform management duties, and as rotational auditors leave the department and are replaced by inexperienced new staff members, promotional opportunities for the remaining experienced auditors are enhanced.
At the start of our careers, most of us are undecided about the best path. Luckily, internal auditing has become one of the few true professions that enable incumbents to pursue several excellent career paths. I personally found that the versatility and challenge of internal auditing made it the right choice for me. I thrived on the almost unlimited opportunities to have an impact on my organization. But I also have seen talented new auditors who eventually decided that they needed to “make things” rather than “improve things,” or who decided they wanted to move their careers in a completely different direction for other reasons.
So, if the great resignation bug bites you, there are countless options on how to respond. Assuming you chose to leave your current internal audit department, you can explore other opportunities in your own company/enterprise, take on an internal audit role in another company, seek out a new challenge in the hot job market, or even take a respite and go back to school or do nothing (if you can afford to).
And, keep in mind, no career move needs be permanent. I left my internal audit department as a young associate and tried my hand in financial management. It was a growth experience, but I soon realized my passion was in internal audit. So, I packed up my things and moved back to my old department where I went on to become the CAE.
Is internal auditing a career path or a steppingstone? My experience is that, for sharp, creative and motivated individuals, it can be the right choice either way. I would appreciate hearing about your experiences on this topic. If you have spent time in internal auditing, how has it worked for you?