Compliance Career Q&As

Audit Agony Aunt 240x160Carol McLachlan, theaccountantscoach, is a qualified accountant, NLP Practitioner and professionally qualified coach. Her 18 year career at Ernst and Young as a chartered accountant and a Director of Resources has equipped her with a real understanding of the professional and personal issues that accountants face. Here Carol answers your career questions as our very own Compliance Careers Advisor.

If you have any careers, skills development or promotion questions, please send them to Carol, who will endeavour to answer them.

There may be the odd occasion that Carol cannot answer due high demand for her time, but you can post your question on the CareersinAudit Group Facebook Page or in our LinkedIn Group where you can discuss current issues with other Compliance professionals and Compliance jobseekers from across the world.

Your Compliance Career Questions Answered:

I’m very interested in which compliance courses to take to make a move into Compliance. Could you advise me on the best area to focus on and which training courses, based on my background?

I have held top management jobs in Telecoms/Technical internationally; in the US, France and the UK. My degrees are in Marketing and Communications and an MBA in international business and entrepreneurship, which included accounting, economics, and finance and international finance courses.

You already have a very strong career base which you can leverage as a door opener, and this will provide you with a powerful set of transferable skills, highly relevant to a compliance career.  I’m thinking - commercial thinking, financial understanding, knowledge of business systems and processes, not to mention communication and relationship building, project management and problem solving skills. You’ll also need to demonstrate, or have the potential to develop, analytical expertise, attention to detail, precision thinking, risk management and high numeracy as well as an ability to navigate and continually adapt to using evolving software. 

However, as you don’t have any directly relevant experience I think you would have to be looking at an entry level position. 

If it is sheer regulatory compliance that is your main interest then you would need to look for a compliance specialist role. Before you take the deep dive into a completely new career you could start by doing an introductory course with, for example, the International Compliance Association. This would provide you with an understanding of the regulatory profession and give you a networking opportunity to explore more specifically where you interests may lie. If you already know which specific sectors or industries you’d like to work in you could look on the websites of their professional bodies for courses and study opportunities. You could also use these websites to research the regulatory environment so that you have a working knowledge to have an informed discussion at interview. Examples would be: the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA).

Taking compliance beyond the specialist regulatory environment, you might like to consider a career with the Big Four, providing audit and assurance to external clients. Certainly when I was recruiting at EY we were very interested in more mature, career movers, especially with a commercial background. Again, you would be starting at the bottom but you would be well placed to secure a three year graduate training contract in audit and assurance which would offer extensive hands-on auditing experience at external clients while working towards a professional qualification (usually the ICAEW, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales).  Incidentally, ICAEW is my own professional body (in the interests of full disclosure!) and they do also offer some highly recommended short, accredited courses, such as the online ISA (International Standards for Auditing).  While this sort of learning won’t ‘qualify’ you for a compliance role per se, it is valuable in providing detail and context for your research in preparation for job search and interview.

I cite Big 4 audit here, but there are, of course,  audit training opportunities in many of the mid tier and smaller firms also, as well as the public sector and wider communities.

The final area that you might like to consider is internal audit.  Again, your background and experience would provide a strong foundation for this career option and your transferable skills would prove highly valuable.  The internal auditor does exactly what is suggested in the role title by providing audit and assurance to their own organisation or group, but there are highly diverse roles within the discipline. These can range from evaluating risk, upholding governance, ensuring internal control processes are operating effectively, validating quality and analysing operations. The Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors offers professional qualifications but also shorter courses and seminars which would give you a flavour of the profession. They also provide detailed resources and fact sheets which would help you in making an informed decision. 

The compliance industry offers some terrific opportunities for career change and the growth in employment in the sector in the ten years since the banking crisis, continues to bode well for the future. Clearly, this is a major life decision for you, so do take your time, do your research and make your choice from an informed position as possible.



"I am an audit professional with 9 years of experience in internal auditing. Currently, I am working with a multinational bank in their Internal Audit department for the past six years. I have received an offer from another Multinational bank for the role of Operations and risk control - SOX Compliance.  While all the aspects of the offer are good, I am apprehensive about the prospects of the role:

1.  Is it a right move considering that my current role within Internal Audit has more expanded scope as it gives me exposure to all the operations of the organization compared to the prospective SOX role which will be restricted to SOX Compliance related activities?

2.  What is the future of Sarbanes-Oxley considering that there has been criticism and discussion around the success/failure of the law?

Thus, should I accept the offer of SOX role? What would you do? Looking forward to your advice. "

If I was you, I would go right back to the drawing board. You can't make this decision unless you are clear about what you want from your career, both now and in the future. In some respects the future of Sarbanes-Oxley is a red herring, as it can only seriously impact your career if you paint yourself into a corner with specialist labelling.

So, you have two roles to consider. Where did the SOX offer come from? Were you head-hunted? If so you need to understand what it is about your professional profile that the recruiter thought was a good fit.  And what do you think about their evaluation? Have they properly identified your strengths and anticipated your interests and aspirations? Or did you go out seeking the SOX role of your own accord? What was in your mind with regard to making a career move right now? What were you looking for in terms of role content and future prospects? The answers to these questions will help you focus on getting to the nub of what you really want and need.

You are already aware of the obvious difference between the two roles, the SOX position being more specialised than the broader base of general internal audit.  But the comparison doesn't stop there.  What else is on offer in the SOX role?  Is it essentially a promotion?  Does it bring more management and leadership responsibilities compared to your current role?  If it does then, despite its perceived specialist nature, it might bring you wider, more advanced transferable skills and development opportunities. 

Also consider your attitude to risk. It may be perceived 'safer' to stay where you are, but how do you feel about safety and stability? Can you see yourself doing the role you are doing in five years time?  If not, what would you like to be doing and how would the SOX position align with these future aspirations. And look again closely at the details of the SOX role. What is attractive about it: prospects, content, reward?  You could consider how your current employer might replicate these benefits, either in your present department or with a role transition.  You can do a fair bit of due diligence yourself but ultimately you will have to take some risk by having an open conversation with regard to your career aspirations.

There's quite a bit to think about in making your decision, so don't be pressurised into moving quickly. Take your time, do your research and some personal reflection and ultimately go with your heart as well as your mind!



“My job is currently going through incredibly busy season and I feel like I have no time to balance my personal life. Do you have any advice to how I can manage my time better?”

I am going to presume you are referring to seasonal busyness that is only expected to last for a limited period. Here is my advice to best deal with an increased workload. 

I’ve broken down my advice into three phases:

  1. Planning. It’s important to switch briefly from working ‘in’ your job to working ‘on’ your job. There is a school of thought that the planning of ‘how’ to do a job should compensate for 10% of your time. Whilst this amount of time sounds considerable during a busy period, it is a good way to ensure goals are being achieved in the most efficient manor whilst also reminding yourself of the bigger picture.
  2. Goals. When under pressure, understanding exactly what needs to be done and appropriately prioritising your work will be of great benefit. From here you know exactly where to focus your energy. This should take into consideration what absolutely needs to be completed by you. With anything that doesn’t meet this: eliminate, delegate, reschedule. With these tasks there is added value when you break everything down further into smaller components and eliminate, delegate and reschedule from there. This removes the panic from seeing ‘huge’ tasks that need attention.
  3. Finally, no matter how heavy your workload is you must commit to some leisure time. Whilst this may sound unrealistic when long hours and tight deadlines are involved, your health is just as important. Instead of aiming for complete ‘balance’ try to commit to at least 30 minutes of you time daily. Recharging your batteries will increase productivity and combat stress. If It’s realistic, some form a movement daily is even better. Incorporating at least one social activity weekly, and committing to it, gives you something to look forward to.



“Despite having agreed upon objectives, my line manager is continually shifting the goalposts. Yet whenever I bring this up with him, his responses are always vague and then goes onto to set a whole new set of objectives. I can’t help but feel like I’m wasting my time - what should I do?”

As frustrating as it is, you have to take control of your own performance and start ‘managing up’. Setting and sticking to objectives isn’t one of your managers skills so you will have to find a way to fill these gaps.

It is worth approaching your HR department if your company has one and flag the issue with them formally as well. At the base minimum they will be able to provide you with resources such as competency frameworks and performance management policies. When approaching your line manager, introducing the SMART acronym when setting objectives may help. When setting every objective ensure they are: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-framed. This ensures there is no room for confusion or miscommunication.

If disagreements or uncertainty arise, then you can go back to the SMART objectives. To encourage specificity when setting objectives use questions such as “when and how will we know when this has been achieved” whilst reframing things into your own terms “so you mean…”. Perseverance and habit are important. Consider it like educating your manager, it takes time and persistence and they might not get it the first time. Hold in there, your patience will be worth it.



“I am planning on moving over to the UK and have my HSMP Visa. Outside of the UK I am fully qualified and have over six years of compliance experience.

Would getting a job prior to moving to the UK be possible? And if not, what is the quickest and best way to secure a job once I get there?”

Starting your job search online is definitely possible, however securing a position completely may be difficult to do before you get here.

If your experience includes Big Four you should look to start applying for roles now and consider expanding your search beyond just London. As a highly desirable location, London attracts extremely high application numbers so looking beyond may offer greater success. Looking to top twenty firms aside from the Big Four, such as Grant Thornton and BDO is also worthwhile.

If you don’t have this Big Four experience it is unlikely you will be able to secure work with them in the UK. You should start contacting specialist recruiters and line up interviews for once you arrive in the UK. Exploring temporary work options would also ensure you aren’t scrambling to secure work and avoids any ‘settling’. Importantly, ensure your CV clearly communicates your qualifications and HSMP Visa status.



"Hi Carol, I am currently employed as a police sergeant with the Metropolitan Police and will be retiring in just over a year. I am considering a career in compliance and would like some advice in the best way to go about transitioning from one to the other. I have attached my CV and would appreciate some advice in relation to the best way to break into this role.

Thanks, Brian"

Hi Brian, thanks for getting in touch and congratulations for making the first steps towards your next career move! Well done for being proactive in considering your strategy; a year to prepare gives you a great space for research as well as an opportunity to leverage the experiences and skills of your current role as a platform for your next career phase.

As you will be aware from the pages, there is considerable diversity and breadth in a compliance career. As a starting point, I would suggest that you use our job board postings and relevant career articles to help you hone down your interests.

In its broadest sense, compliance refers to assurance that an organisation meets its external regulatory requirements and/or its self-imposed policies and protocols, including internal controls and ethical guidelines. As such, a compliance professional could work in any industry or organisation or may practise as an independent, providing external compliance services. Typically though, we see compliance work in regulated industries, like financial services, as well as public interest bodies (including public limited companies) and throughout specific sectors like accountancy and financial reporting, working in anything from financial crime to cyber security to audit and assurance.  Take a look at our Audit Dossier series to compare and contrast the role of quality assurance with financial audit, for example.

As well as reading about this vast gamut of careers, I would suggest that you also do some practical research; talk to professionals who are already doing the roles, and where better to start than your own organisation! Take the three related disciplines – risk, compliance and assurance – and see what jobs you can find in the police force which might cover some of this space. Even if you decide to move out of the sector entirely, think of these conversations and observations as your ‘due diligence’ in terms of eliminating and short-listing potential career paths.

This sharpening of your focus through research is also important for your own career narrative. You will need to have an engaging and convincing message in your Personal Statement as to why you have specifically chosen this new career path, and your background research will be vital in articulating this. 

Your CV is already geared towards a transferable skillset.  By using the subheadings, leadership, communication, decision-making and risk-management you are adeptly mapping the transferable skills from your existing career to your potential new compliance career.  The four categories that you have chosen are a strong starting point; in addition you could flex these categories to match the key words of the roles you are considering (for example, ‘attention to detail’, ‘analytical and problem solving’ and ‘project management’). Also, because you are likely applying at a lower level (though not necessarily), you could also substitute ‘teamwork’ for ‘leadership’. 

This mapping exercise is a useful task to do now, even if you aren’t at the point of exiting the police force quite yet. By analysing the scope and skills of roles that pique your interest you can align them to your present work and potentially seek out opportunities to further develop these areas of expertise from your current position.

Compliance is a broad area, growing and developing in opportunities.  Don’t expect it to provide you with a linear career pathway, with a recognisable upwards ladder trajectory. Instead expect and plan for, a series of zig zag moves, where you can design a career path more customised to your own needs. It will likely provide a very different experience than you have had to date, so do your research, so you can go in with your eyes open, equipped to navigate a brave new world!



Have your career questions answered by emailing Carol here.

To look for a new Compliance job, visit CareersinCompliance, the leading job site for Compliance vacancies.


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