When I joined the internal audit profession in the 1970s, it was widely understood that internal auditing was a career path. Young professionals, like I was back then, joined internal audit departments staffed with career internal auditors who often had been in the profession for decades.
My, how times have changed. Today’s 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 positions, rotational positions, outsourcing, co-sourcing, “borrowed” staff, work-from-home employees… these days, internal audit has it all. And while some departments are still staffed completely by career internal audit professionals, others groups are purely rotational. It’s not unusual to find internal audit groups where absolutely no one has been serving as an internal auditor for more than five years.
So, is internal auditing a career, or is it merely a career path? The good news for people considering entering the field 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 transferable to other business units within the organization that you can wait to decide your path until after you have some experience.
For those undecided about their future careers, 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 in business units 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 future career growth that a growing number of companies have started to 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 of us who prefer to stay in the internal audit profession for the long term. The great majority of internal audit groups 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 personal career path. Luckily, internal auditing has become one of the few true professions that will enable incumbents to pursue one of several excellent career paths. I personally have found that the versatility and challenge of internal auditing made it the right career 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 completely different directions for other reasons.
A few weeks ago, I met a young bank internal auditor who had been offered a position as a loan underwriter just months after he had audited loan operations. After serious consideration, he turned down the offer, preferring the dynamic opportunities found in internal auditing. At the same time, another member of the internal audit team made a different decision. Both reportedly face bright futures.
Is internal auditing a career, or is it a career stepping-stone? My experience is that for sharp, creative, and motivated individuals, it can be the right choice for either role. I would appreciate hearing about your thoughts and experiences on this topic. If you have spent time in internal auditing, how has it worked for you?