Internal Auditing: Is It a Career or a Career "Stepping-stone"?

Richard Chambers, CIA, CGAP, CCSA, CRMA, shares his personal reflections and insights on the internal audit profession.


When I joined the internal audit profession in the 1970s, it was widely understood that internal auditing was a career path. Young professionals, like I was back then, joined internal audit departments staffed with career internal auditors who often had been in the profession for decades.

My, how times have changed. Today’s internal audit departments use diverse staffing models, often employing a mix of staffing approaches to ensure the right “fit” for both staff and the department. Full-time, part-time, career positions, rotational positions, outsourcing, cosourcing, “borrowed” staff, work-from-home employees… these days, internal audit has it all. And while some departments are still staffed completely by career internal audit professionals, others groups are purely rotational. It’s not unusual to find internal audit groups where absolutely no one has been serving as an internal auditor for more than five years.

So, is internal auditing a career, or is it merely a career path? The good news for people considering entering the field is that it’s completely up to you! The even better news for aspiring new auditors is that there’s no need to decide on a career path immediately. Internal auditing has become one of the few professions with skill sets that are so transferrable to other business units within the organization that you can wait to decide your path until after you have some experience.

For those undecided about their future careers, internal auditing offers opportunities to visit different departments and locations, work with professionals in various areas of the company, and come to understand the risks and opportunities encountered in business units throughout the organization. It can be an unparalleled opportunity to make important career contacts and learn about company operations from the inside out. An assignment in internal auditing can be so beneficial for future career growth that a growing number of companies have started to mandate a rotation in internal audit for participants in executive development programs.

Almost paradoxically, the trend toward rotational auditing also has been beneficial for those of us who prefer to stay in the internal audit profession for the long term. The great majority of internal audit groups depend on a core team of seasoned audit professionals to supervise audit teams and perform management duties, and as rotational auditors leave the department and are replaced by inexperienced new staff members, promotional opportunities for the remaining experienced auditors are enhanced.

At the start of our careers, most of us are undecided about the best personal career path. Luckily, internal auditing has become one of the few true professions that will enable incumbents to pursue one of several excellent career paths. I personally have found that the versatility and challenge of internal auditing made it the right career for me. I thrived on the almost unlimited opportunities to have an impact on my organization. But I also have seen talented new auditors who eventually decided that they needed to “make things” rather than “improve things,” or who decided they wanted to move their careers in completely different directions for other reasons.

A few weeks ago, I met a young bank internal auditor who had been offered a position as a loan underwriter just months after he had audited loan operations. After serious consideration, he turned down the offer, preferring the dynamic opportunities found in internal auditing. At the same time, another member of the internal audit team made a different decision. Both reportedly face bright futures.

Is internal auditing a career, or is it a career stepping-stone? My experience is that for sharp, creative, and motivated individuals, it can be the right choice for either role. I would appreciate hearing about your thoughts and experiences on this topic. If you have spent time in internal auditing, how has it worked for you?


Posted on Jun 12, 2012 by Richard Chambers

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  1. I joined the public sector internal auditing in 2007 as an assistant Internat Auditor . 5 years and I am an Internal Auditor now. And I am wanting to make a career out of it. I am so determined to earn a certification..

  1. I'm currently in internal audit for a community bank and still don't know ultimately what I'd like to do with my career, but it's promising to know that IA skills are transferrable to many other positions. Perhaps as I gain experience with my company I may become interested in another department. Fraud is also something I've pondered over. I know additional certification is key, but I don't know whether to aim for the CIA or CFE in the near future.

  1.  For me internal auditing was never on my cards during my early career days. However, once I made the decision to join IA, it became clear that it was the right path for me. I immediately took on the challenge to take on specialized information systems audits. It has been more than five years and I still love what I do.

  1. In my department, I've seen that staff come here, work for about six to twelve months, and then try to find a job within the company in another division.  I feel that this provides opportunities for them as well as career auditors like myself.  Gradually, I'm becoming the more experienced auditor in my department.  This has made me the experienced auditor or the go to person for high risk audits.  I also think that I will have a better chance of promotion over others. 

    As an auditor, I have developed excellent critical thinking skills. This type of thinking is not easy to develop, especially if you are working in routine situations such as loan operations.  You see the same thing over and over again in these types of positions.  But, auditing is different each time you go in.  The objectives are different and you have to keep researching in order to come up with good recommendations.

    Personally, I'm going to stick to auditing.  For one thing, it gives me excellent exposure to other departments in my organization. Not only that, I feel that I'm flexible enough that I can move to any other part of the organization. Also, I think there is less competition for jobs and also good promotion potential within an audit department.  Auditors are needed everywhere and having this skill is valuable professionally.

  1. Good morning professionals,

    Hope you are all well this Friday.
    I started my internal Audit career in 2009 at one of the Big Four audit firms and now I am in retail. Personally I have enjoyed Internal Auditing and at times well up with excitement about the new developments and the diverse nature of internal auditing. However of late, I have found that I sometimes get discontent, and have this growing desire to make an impact, be part of a change, and make a difference.
    My initial idea of internal audit was "a constant life changing experience", and it has met that expectation. In a nut shell, I agree with all of you, you can make it a career and also implement the IA skills into any and every other department. This gets me excited, because basically, once you are an auditor, you never actually stop being one; you use your audit skill in everything. So whether I change careers or not, there is always a risk, control and recommendations I can make, I will always have those skills and use them for the benefit of the departments I venture into.
    In addition, what also helps is being part of an IA department which is constantly growing, which is diverse and risk-taking in nature. Not just impacting the monetary (cost saving) or processes elements of organisations, but actually impacting lives, communities, and countries as a whole. That is the kind of department I am searching for (where I can make a career of IA).
    Thank you so much Richard for this. :) You have re-kindled what I thought I was loosing.
  1. I have been in the internal auditing field for the past decade. Before that, I started my career with the Big 4 as a junior assurance officer. Recently, my company's internal audit department was dissolved due to IA management incompetence and anomalous activities. That affected the whole IA team especially when the Board and the Chairman decided to dissolve the team and send the rest of the auditors to other departments. It was a frustating period in my career and once thought of resigning from the Company. What happened was out of my control. Accounting, IT, Procurement, etc. wouldnt want us to be part of their respective teams. However, our Administration department's Head offered me something interesting. I am now his process improvement and development consultant cum advisor. The job title i guess is a bit odd and i'm thinking of a better one. Let me know your suggestion. ;-) Thanks
  1. As I rekindle my passion for countinuous learning experiences, and have a go at breaking into IA once again, this article has really been quite a treat to have reinforced the enthusiasm! Many thanks! 

  1. Not many department heads view risk management and control as an area that is directly useful or directly contributing to the organization's overall vision. Many see it as a 'necessary evil', especially when a staff auditor pay a visit to their departments, a task to get it over with quickly and implement the audit recommendations as cost effectively as possible. Yet others 'grudgingly' embrace the internal audit process with a view to better their own KPIs.

    Paresh P, I agree with you completely because I am thinking about getting back into IA after a long break for the same reason. Great article, Richard. Thanks! To make a career of IA, you must assess your suitability for the role (everything about it) and then if you are in it, what you really want out of it.

  1. Internal Auditing can be a career path or a stepping stone.  I believe management at progressive organizations realize this and will oftentimes use the internal auditing talent pool to fill positions that are good fit for specific auditors within the organization.  From an organizations standpoint, it is a good opportunity to groom individuals.  For auditors, it is an excellent opportunity to be exposed to many different areas of the organization.  Auditors can not only be exposed to various organizational functions, but they can also build solid relationships along the way.  It is these relationships that can bode well for the organization and the auditor who transitions to operations.

  1. Richard:

    Great article.  It appears that I am one of those dinosaurs (34 years in auditing (30 in the same Army Internal Review Office)).  When I first started in my office, I was one of the younger auditors.  Over the 30-year period, the auditors on staff moved on to other careers (e.g., budget analysts, program analysts, cost accountants, procurement analysts) or retired.  Now I am the director and the oldest in the office and the person with a varied background.  The profession has its ups and downs but one must learn to persevere and stay focused on the job, otherwise, you tend to start feeling whether auditing is what you want to do.  During my tenure, I have been on a lot of great audits that produced monetary savings and helped my organization to improve their internal controls.  Also, I have been on 10 fraud cases, assisting our criminal investigators and ultimately provided the detailed work that supported the case and landed the employees some time in jail and restitution to repay what they stole.  I have written two articles based on two of the cases.  The articles have appeared in two books (available through the ACFE).  I have also been involved with administrative investigations (situations that could put a black eye on the organization and its leader).  Now we are facing a new accounting system where my office and my peers have a major part in getting the Army "Audit Ready".  I like to end with two words - Challenges and Opportunity.  One needs to rise to the challenge and explore every available opportunity to find your niche.  Thanks.

  1.  I am so glad I stumbled across this article while writing a paper for one of my classes. I am currently enrolled in an accounting program and was unsure whether to pursue internal auditing or not. I've heard it from professors and professionals who I have talked to that internal auditing could open up many doors for me. But reading it from someone I do not know really helps me realize that this may be the right career path/start for me. This was definitely an encouraging article to read at this point in my educational career. Thank you!

  1. Great article Richard! 

  1. Hello everyone, I stumbled upon this article and it is very valuable. I currently work as a Manager in a Big 4 accounting firm and have an offer with one of the top investment banks to work in their IA department. I have been thinking hard about it and have to decide in a week or so. I have enjoyed my time in Public accouting and prefer to deal with numbers. I hear that IA is more risk and process driven and hence a little hesistant. However, we dont really get an opportunity to learn about business operations in Public accounting and this is what is attracting me to IA. In addition, i could also use this as a stepping stone to one of their other departments that i like. I would appreciate insights from any body who has made this switch or considered at some point in their career and what feedback they might have.

  1. This is very helpful article for me. As I ahve to prepare for interview. IA is the area where you apply your skills and at the same time you get to learn new. Person gets experience in different businesses, different areas and it is not a repetitive task. Everytime you have something new to do which keeps you motivated.
  1. Hallo sir , The Artical was very Good and well motivated . My profession is Internal Auditor based on ISO 9001:2008 in Pharmaceutical and Health care field. Before one year back i became CERITIFIED LEAD AUDITOR from IRCA . Conducting Intrenal audit since long more than 5 years and total experience is 12 years. I like to do audit because continous work in the same field we become more efficient. But being a LEDA Auditor to do conduct Intrenal audit , it is very small responsibility which i do consider . I want to increase my responsibility and further move forward my career . But not understanding what to be done . Kindly suggest what are all segments i should include along with Internal audit , so that i can build-up a good career.

  1. Dear All, I have gone through the aforesaid comments.I want to know whether as an internal auditor we can change the plan/policy and bring the system efficiency?

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