I will start this out, one more time, with an apology. No I won’t. I’m going to start with the statement that leads to the apology. This all started because, tomorrow, I will be retiring after 30 years of working with Farmers Insurance. And the obvious question that follows is”How can someone work in one profession for so long?” My apology is for the long-winded, somewhat self-indulgent posts that have resulted in my attempt to answer that question. (As an example, look how long this preamble has become.) But something about retirement makes me feel like it’s all okay. If you aren’t enjoying what I have to say, think of it as a trip to the dentist – it will all be over soon. (Or, you can think of it as an ad on television – just change the channel. NO! Wait! Don’t change the channel!! What’s that you say? Storage Wars is on? Okay, go ahead and change the channel.) On Monday I focused on the point that you should never be in a job you don’t love. Tuesday I started explaining why I loved the job – with primary focus on the atmosphere of the job, the company, the people, and the opportunities. Now it’s actually time to talk about the profession itself. Tomorrow I’ll talk about life after a thirty-year job.
If you’re going to spend 29 and one-half years in a profession, one of two things better be true; you better love what you do or you better be getting filthy rich.
I didn’t getting rich.
Let me start my explanation of why internal audit is such a great profession by admitting that I have a serious case of myopia; I have never really worked in any other profession. Nope - no experience in marketing or production or HR or sales or claims or customer service or legal or compliance or whatever professional services may exist within your company. I did work six months in Accounting. But, based on six months of tedium, that is a job I can say, from my experience, pales in comparison to internal audit. (I would apologize to all the accountants out there, but they are probably too busy doing their boring jobs to pay attention.)
Experience in other disciplines? I’ve got nothing on which to base my appraisal – just the years of seeing how other professions did their jobs as I completed audits over their areas. And, after seeing what makes up those professions, after seeing what they consider the benefits of working in their chosen fields, I seriously have trouble understanding why anyone would want to be anything but an internal auditor. I can’t imagine a better profession. (Okay, being a professional musician is better. That one I tried. That one I don’t know how to quit. That is a great job. I’ll rephrase my point – I can’t imagine a better profession within the business world.)
Why is it so good? Let me count the ways.
Few other professions fully throw you into projects so quickly. And, depending on the audit shop, the new auditor may find him or herself, in short order, the sole person responsible for important projects that make a real difference – determining risks, coordinating meetings, analyzing data, building workpapers, writing notes, writing memos, writing reports, defending decisions, presenting results – running the entire project.
And that leads us directly to the next one. Few other professions allow you to combine so many critical skills. Every audit has the potential for the auditor to use critical thinking, creativity, communication, debating, compromising, writing, analytical, audit, and linear thinking skills. A completed audit is the culmination of incredible foot-pounds of mental work that tasks all aspects of the mind.
And here is the one I think is most important. Few other professions put you in front of senior executives so quickly. (Well, maybe interns get there quicker, but that is not a profession, it is a sentence.) And more than just put you in front of senior executives, it puts you in front of them in situations that make a real difference. You are in front of senior executives and they are not patronizing. They are actually listening. They are watching closely as you provide information that makes a difference to them, and a difference to the organization. You can, in an incredibly short amount of time, be in front of senior executives explaining how your work will save the company money, reduce expenses, keep it out of court, keep the regulators at bay, in general save the posterior structures of those involved. You are in front of them providing information that makes a real difference.
(And did you notice how I keep repeating that word “real”? It is partly a lack of communication skill on my part as I struggle to find words that can really [oops – there it is again] express the impact. But mostly it is that, while we do no original work [to steal a worn phrase], the work we do has incredible impact throughout the organization. It is “real” in the sense that it makes a difference.)
And while we’re listing things (and running out of time/space/pixels), let me quickly add a few more. Few other professions give you the opportunity to learn how the entire organization works. Few other professions allow you to have such a direct impact on the way the company runs. Few other professions can put you in the heart of the action. Few other professions allow you to look in the eye of a potential fraudster as you try and find the truth. Few other professions give you freedom from “what was done yesterday.”
And I would argue that no other profession combines all these opportunities into one job.
Why do you think it is that, when asked what you do, you are sometimes stymied to come up with an answer? It has less to do with our jobs being esoteric, and more to do with the fact that we do so many things. It is just too hard to put a box around everything that being an auditor entails.
All that is why, in spite of leaving the company, I can’t leave the profession.
Which will lead us, finally, to my last post…tomorrow. The future of the old man or “Have a Strong Third Act.”