How to Start your Career in Audit
There are a number of avenues into a career in audit. The most common and arguably most traditional route is to start with one of the Big Four accounting firms following graduation. There you would get your grounding in risk advisory services running internal audits or join the assurance/financial audit function and complete your Chartered Accounting (CA) qualification before looking to move from financial to perhaps internal audit.
Though of course internal audit is but one stream of the audit career pool.
If you’re looking at jobs in external audit you’d typically enter the field as a graduate or get your grounding in a finance role, though you could move into a career in external audit from a more technical discipline such as a treasury position or from a more quantitative background. It’s also not essential to launch your external audit career from one of the Big Four firms as there are plenty of good mid-tier external audit firms that will also provide an excellent launchpad.
Whether you choose to work for a bank or large corporate, or whether you get your start in external audit later moving to internal audit, or to another risk consulting service and developing your skillset within a consulting capacity before moving in-house; the most important thing is to choose the type of audit that is best suited to you. Moreover, is keeping in mind how the business world is changing to reflect advancing technology and the risks associated with that.
Working in IT audit in this day and age means having a technical background in something like app development or cyber security or engineering to better understand the potential risks in a particular area can be very beneficial. Furthermore, a career in IT audit offers an excellent route to a CIO (Chief Information Officer) or CTO (Chief Technology Officer) role as it positions you in such a way as to have an overarching view of both IT and the business, which in turn enables you to develop your stakeholder management skills across the whole of the company. Having the skills to talk to people across the business, and specifically outside of the IT sphere, is key to your intended career progression.
Audit exists in nearly every industry and as business needs and technology have evolved, so too have the requirements for those working in audit. This means you can have people from management and consulting backgrounds who will bring strategic thinking to the role and the ability to understand necessary business processes. People getting into audit from operational and logistics backgrounds will bring important commercial awareness while lawyers and compliance professionals bring an extensive knowledge of governance, AML (Anti-Money Laundering), and legal and regulatory expertise to the role.
Both within the financial services and non-financial services sectors, more and more companies are becoming open to hiring people from diverse professional backgrounds into audit roles and training them up. Taking advantage of the unique skillsets and specialist experience of these professionals and applying that to working in audit makes for a stronger audit function. Non-FS organisations prosper from placing people from the financial services sector or from a business background into audit roles due to that individual’s commercial acumen and business knowledge. The audit aspect can be taught but if they already possess the insight and ability to speak the language of the business, that breaks down all kinds of barriers.
It is also greatly beneficial to build a network of contacts, as many times who you know can play a role in your career progression. Within your network you may find access to great mentors whose experience and insights could prove invaluable both in navigating technical issues on the job and for furthering your career in audit. Many companies will also have a proportion of “hidden jobs” that aren’t posted online but rather filled via personal referrals, so the bigger your network the more likely you are to be a candidate for one of those jobs.
While your bachelor’s degree is a stepping stone into your audit career, it is the further qualifications and certifications you obtain, such as the CIA (Certified Internal Auditor), that will enhance your credibility within the industry. As for skills, hiring managers are looking for candidates with good communication, strong stakeholder management, confidence, and individuals who are accessible and eager to listen to others. Critical thinking, as well as the ability to tackle complex problems and cast a helicopter view of the business without getting caught up in the details, is key. Also being able to empathise with the business and understand their situation is a highly valued trait, as being audited is not always a pleasurable experience so it helps to position yourself as an empathetic business partner.