Life Beyond Audit



Both internal and external audit, as well as compliance, assurance and risk-related careers can all offer a structured, hierarchical career pattern, at least up to a certain point.  But in the twenty first century, our career working lives are longer than ever, we might wish to step off the ladder, pursue a zig zag career, or even pivot to a new role or sector.  In Life Beyond Audit, we explore where else an audit background might take you…


Today I am sitting in a lush coffee shop, 200 miles from home, writing this article while I await a briefing meeting with a new client.  We will spend an hour or so getting to know one another.  Also known as a chemistry session, we’ll share stories and anecdotes, finding rapport, building empathy, a fun, interesting and highly fulfilling 90 minutes.  An awesome way to spend the morning, almost an extension of the weekend!

I am an auditor.  I held a traditional role in external, financial, statutory audit for around 20 years.  Even during my tenure as a Big Four employee, I fully appreciated and embraced the sheer scope, depth and breadth of my audit training.  I pushed the boundaries even then, recognising the marketability, formidable value and adaptability of my skills and competencies.  Having recently completed a PhD on career boundaries, I now know that I was demonstrating Psychological Mobility.  Academically, this is described as the perceived capability of the individual to be able to make career transitions (Sullivan & Arthur, 2006).  In other words, and in reality, the key is perception, do we have even the capacity to imagine, to visualise, what might be possible in our careers?

Twenty years on, I’m still an auditor, and accountant, that’s how I identify, but I also do a wide variety of additional activities, take on a diversity of roles, earning my living from a plethora of different sources.

Notice that at the start of this article I didn’t mention the services that I was engaging to provide for the potential client.  In many ways, that doesn’t matter!  Look instead at how I was leveraging my auditor skillset: developing new client relationships, drawing on my well-honed communication and interpersonal skills to establish credibility and trust, using an enquiry led approach with attuned, active listening.  My training and experience has given me the confidence to tackle these meetings to quickly get comfortable with a veritable stranger, taking it all in my stride without feeling undue stress.  My finely sharpened questions support a problem-solving skillset, so I can rapidly get to the nub of the matter and understand the client need.  And then, as appropriate I can communicate this back to my client using an array of presentational tools, incorporating visuals and/or data to match their business style or requirement.  And that’s before I have even started to help fix their ‘problem’.

What I am demonstrating here is, of course, the wonderful transferable skillset of the auditor.  Constant readers will know this is a topic, about which, I regularly wax lyrical.  Look back at the articles and series that I have written for over the years: the Audit Advantage series, The Softer Side of Auditing, The Resilient Auditor – they all capitalise on the rich, transferable, professional skills that we often underappreciate.  I am even known to brazenly expound that foundational audit training is the BEST for any business career, for any organisational career… for any career???

And just to add a little more substance to my bold exposition, let me tell you a little more about what I have done in the second half of my career, building on, leveraging, polishing and embellishing my audit experiences and skillset.

First up, I mentioned completing my PhD, so I am now a fully-fledged Doctor of Business.  While I haven’t chosen the tenure route, I do work with universities, research institutes and professional bodies, writing, researching, lecturing and advancing thought-leadership on a variety of topics, relating to the accounting and audit profession, as well as wider business.  I have roles on committees and boards, pro bono and paid, executive and non-executive.  This is where I employ insightful questioning, often driven by professional scepticism and my natural (and now professionalised) curiosity.  Beyond subject matter expertise, my facilitating prowess was honed in my hands-on auditing days.  I can navigate stakeholder perspectives and chair an equitable discussion, while influencing and negotiating with diplomacy.  Nor have a lost the audit knack of beaming out to appreciate the bigger picture, while zoning in on the detail. 

Sometimes I train and teach, but more often, I coach and mentor.  This is a value-add approach which aligns strongly with my personal ethos around leveraging natural strengths over trying to ‘fix’, to empower with sustainable learning, ultimately fostering independent personal ownership.  In other words, very much in accordance with the old adage: 

“Give a person a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime” (anon)

Coaching and mentoring are also the core of my methodology in providing individual and organisational consulting services.  And this too goes back to my early years of hands-on auditing, team working and client relationship building.  As auditors we are stakeholders, along with our clients (internal and external), all of us engaged are in achieving a mission.  While independence is at the core of audit, compliance, regulation, assurance or safeguarding, we don’t march as crusaders seeking to conquer, we work collaboratively to understand, to negotiate, to achieve better outcomes with co-operation through a shared purpose.

Think of all of the personnel in all the organisations you have audited, individuals across departments and functions, all of the different business models, industries and sectors, the range of processes and systems that you have been involved with.  These are all potential areas for career expansion, from regulatory, technical, advisory, business consultancy, teaching, training, coaching or mentoring – is there any limit to where the psychologically mobile auditor could venture?



Dr Carol McLachlan FCA, theaccountantscoach, is a qualified accountant, NLP Practitioner and professionally qualified coach. For two decades she worked in Audit and Assurance at EY as a client handler and as Director of Resources, and this hands-on experience has equipped her with a real understanding of the professional and personal issues that auditors face.

If you have a career question for our Audit Agony Aunt, contact Carol here or read through answers to questions asked by other Audit & Governance professionals here.


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