If you’d asked me for the definition of internal audit a few months ago, I would have guessed it was some sort of self-help cleansing ritual involving crystals and quinoa. You know, the type of exercise where afterward you annoy all your friends by telling them how mindful and present you are now. And they swear they’ll try it for themselves just to get you to go away.
But after some rigorous research, interrupted only by brief periods of attempting to determine the proper pronunciation of quinoa, I learned that internal audit is a profession that involves “evaluating and improving the effectiveness of risk management, control and governance processes within an organization.”
Um, ok. I still had questions.
So I reached out to a couple of leading experts on internal audit to learn more. And in doing so, I discovered that internal audit is a unique career path for financial professionals that can lead them to duties, fields, and even physical locations they never dreamed would be part of their jobs.
While there’s undoubtedly a few internal auditors out there reading this, there’s probably scores of accounting professionals curious about what internal auditing jobs are all about. Here’s my attempt to share my findings with you and shed some light on the mysteries of internal audit. And for future reference, it’s “keen-wah.”
If you had to define internal audit with one word — and you don’t, unless you’re playing the world’s worst party game — it would be this: risk. Internal auditors identify the biggest risks within the company, assess their potential impact, and then help create a plan to mitigate or minimize them.
“We talk about internal audit being something that offers assurance and advice,” says Richard Chambers, President and CEO, The Institute of Internal Auditors. “We’re providing assurance almost exclusively within the organization about how well risks are managed and about how well controls are operating.”
In contrast with external audit, where assurances are primarily given to shareholders, investors, and regulators, internal audit is all about granting advice to the company itself. That means you’re part of the team — an essential and integral collaborator who works to ensure compliance and smooth operation across the entire enterprise.
Your duties, should you choose to accept them
So what would you actually be doing as an internal auditor? Functions vary by industry, but in general the process looks like this:
- Develop a periodic (typically annual) audit plan prioritizing risks within the company;
- Submit the plan to an audit committee and pray for approval;
- Assess risks by communicating with employees and gathering data;
- Analyze the data and prepare reports;
- Make recommendations on how to mitigate risks and improve operations;
- Recalibrate the plan as requirements and goals evolve.
Put your running shoes on, because unlike many traditional accounting tasks, item three on that list will require spending large chunks of time away from your desk.
“There’s not too many internal audit roles where you don’t have to go out into the field,” says Francine McKenna, reporter at MarketWatch, founder of the blog re: The Auditors, and former internal auditor at PwC. “You have to go out and talk to people who are actually doing the work you’re reviewing.”
While I’m admittedly not the most extroverted person (more on that later), I think this is a checkmark in the “Pro” column for internal audit. You get to go to places and talk to people. Being chained up inside all day didn’t work out too well in Saw, and I don’t think it’s particularly healthy in real life either. Science agrees.
Seeing way more than dollar signs
While internal audit often recruits from the financial industry, much of the work falls outside the realm of the filthy lucre. Many of your duties will involve cooperation with departments that don’t deal exclusively in dollars and cents, exposing you to more parts of the business and allowing you to grow your skillset beyond accounting.
“It’s a persistent myth that we are somehow an extension of a finance function or a CFO function, because quite honestly the vast majority of internal auditing doesn’t get into financial controls or financial management risk at all,” says Chambers.
According to Chambers, the diversity of responsibilities in internal audit make it an ideal launching point for a career in a wide array of disciplines within the business.
“Internal audit affords you an amazing view of an organization,” he says. “A lot of people come into internal audit and prosper there, but then they move on into the business where they can have a very successful career in another line of service.”
Internal audit can even help prepare you for a job in a completely different industry. McKenna, for example, parlayed the skills she learned in internal audit into a successful journalism career.
“You learn very specific, marketable skills in internal audit,” she says. “It gave me a sense of skepticism and an operational understanding of how companies work, both of which have helped me be a better investigator.”
Already feeling the internal audit itch? Does internal audit sound like the right path for you? If so, scroll down to the bottom of this article to see some open opportunities from homebuilder PulteGroup. In PulteGroup, you’ll find an employer that strongly believes in a culture of teamwork and outward mobility.
As you’ll be doing a lot of work in the field and interacting with many people across the business, internal audit requires a level of extroversion that some accountants might find intimidating. If you’re strictly an inside cat or are solely focused on the numbers side of the business, it might not be the right fit for you.
But that doesn’t mean natural introversion is an internal audit stopgap.
“I was told one time that I was a ‘learned extrovert,’” says McKenna. “I think a lot of people who have an accountant’s frame of mind are naturally introverts. But with practice, we can be ‘outside people’ when we need to be.”
While she found the social aspects of the job intimidating at first, McKenna developed techniques over time that helped her become a successful communicator and team player.
“[Having to be an extrovert] doesn’t irritate me as much as it used to,” she says. “When I have to do something like public speaking, I think about it as talking to one person at a time. I actually get some enjoyment out of it now.”
In any case, you’ll have to learn some extroversion skills if you want to move up into a leadership role in the company. Internal audit is as good a place to start as any.
We have the technology
As with most modern jobs, internal audit requires you to develop specific technological skills. And no, your ability to reach the kill screen on “Pac-Man” doesn’t count.
“A lot of internal audit departments operate on a technology platform, an audit management system that helps keep up with the end-to-end functions,” says Chambers. “That’s where you’ll document your audit work and keep your audit plan.”
Leveraging technology to turn information into insights may also be part of your role, as data analytics becomes an increasingly vital component of modern business strategy.
“With the amount of data that’s out there today, you can’t be an effective internal auditor unless you know how to use data mining and analytics tools,” says Chambers.
Specific technology platforms you might want to investigate include Tableau, ACL, and TeamMate. Specific technology platforms you might not want to investigate include the Nintendo Virtual Boy, as it is useless in both internal audit and life.
Ready to make the jump to internal audit? Homebuilder PulteGroup is currently looking to hire corporate auditors for its Atlanta office. If you’re searching for an intellectually challenging position that gets you out of the office and serves as a launchpad for a variety of careers, this might be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Click the link below to apply now. Check out careers at PulteGroup.