There is a unique approach and way of thinking when it comes to public sector internal audit that sets it apart from its private sector counterpart. Collaborating with charities, healthcare institutions and offices of public government and so on presents an entirely different experience than auditing within a big corporate or multinational firm from the type of stakeholders you encounter to the budgets you are working within. This is the first point to consider when applying for public sector internal audit jobs.
The typical candidate moving into public sector audit tends to be transitioning from one of three avenues, the first being a recent graduate, the second someone from a consultancy role and the third is often someone moving from industry who is looking for an opportunity to effect change and innovate best practice and audit processes away from the pressure of the corporate world.
Hiring managers in the public sector are looking for individuals who are able to empathise with and communicate effectively, clearly and concisely with stake holders from diverse backgrounds, as unlike the white collar CFOs of the finance world; key business stake holders at the local council or tax office will have an entirely different outlook on the socioeconomic climate. Striving to be more politically savvy in your approach to both stake holders and senior members of staff is an important trait to uphold as an internal auditor within the public sector.
Lateral thinking and process awareness are also key skills as you consider the risks applicable within public sector internal audit. Cyber security for one affects a charitable organisation in the same way it does a private company, the difference lies in the thought process behind dealing with this risk and others. Taking a more creative approach to the way you audit can help navigate smaller budgets and stake holders with different agendas from those you may have become used to working in private sector audit.
In addition to the three obvious routes, a lot of people moving into public sector internal audit roles don’t come from an audit background. Professionals with a background in policy, IT, finance and accounting and other areas within a charity or government office function will move into this area of audit. Armed with a solid understanding and awareness of risk and processes, they also bring to the table knowledge of the business process within the organisation. These individuals can easily move into these types of roles as their knowledge and understanding of the sector allows them to add value in a very different way.
As regulation has increased post-Lehman’s and the 2008 economic crash, public sector organisations have had to alter their mode of operations, becoming more professional in their conduct in line with a business model in expectation of turning over revenue. As a result, the types of candidates they look for in taking charge of their internal audit function are Heads of Audit with significant multinational experience with a proven knack for business.
The Big Four offer another avenue for public sector internal audit jobs as in the wake of the economic crisis they invested greatly in building out their own public sector practice in response to their private sector work drying up. The majority of corporates scaled back their advisory and consulting work leaving the Big Four firms looking for ways to make up lost revenue. While public sector practice at the likes of PwC and EY may not be quite on the same level as in 2012 there is still plenty of opportunity for graduates looking to move into this area of audit.
The National Audit Office is often where graduates begin their professional experience and acquire their accountancy qualifications and from there most likely they will head into an advisory or consultancy role with the Big Four or change industry. The reason for this is that the longer you stay with the Audit office the harder it becomes to move later on. Gaining business experience will make you a valuable asset as you move through your career as employers within both public and private sector look for candidates with proficient business acumen to drive their audit team and internal processes forward. Innovative thinking and the ability to think analytically and conceptually are also key skills for internal audit, as is the right kind of attitude. Employers want someone who cares about their mission and vision as strongly and passionately as they do, so demonstrating that ambition and purpose is as important as the professional accreditation you’ve achieved.