Congratulations! You've just earned your Certified Internal Auditor designation from The IIA and landed that internal audit position at that company you've been so eager to work for. You're likely focused on making a good impression, launching your career, and making it a long-term success. How do you accomplish that as a new auditor? Three key steps can help make your experience positive, productive, and fulfilling as you embark on your career.
1. Make It Your Business to Know the Business
While most new employees have a limited understanding of the business, it is inexcusable for that deficit to persist for an extended time. Internal auditors need to understand the products or services their company offers. Asking good questions is essential, but auditors need to know what to ask and who to ask it of — and they need to do their own research.
One of us started our first job in an internal audit department at a large technology company. The company's products were complex, and there was an implicit notion that anyone who worked in finance, accounting, or internal audit didn't really need to understand the technology — that was for the engineers and sales personnel. While auditors may not always need to possess in-depth technical knowledge of company products, they should at least have a general understanding to demonstrate basic knowledge and "speak the language" of the organization. For example, an auditor in the manufacturing industry could request a tour of the production line or reach out to the research and development team. In the services industry, auditors could contact sales personnel to learn more about customer offerings. Understanding the company's products or services can help auditors connect their observations with risks.
2. Cultivate Client Relationships
Audits are not conducted in isolation. The job involves scheduling pre-audit meetings, conducting interviews, and presenting critical audit findings to management. Internal auditors' ability to build effective client relationships will largely determine their success as practitioners. If possible, they should not let the pre-audit meeting be their first interaction with the client.
Suppose, for example, that internal audit is scheduled to review the organization's payroll in the next quarter. The assigned auditor should take the initiative to introduce him or herself, before the engagement begins. This can happen organically if the auditor is working on premises — for example, upon seeing the audit client in the organization's break room or hallways. Otherwise the auditor could set up an informal chat via phone or video conference.
Some of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences we've had as auditors came from presenting significant audit deficiencies during the exit meeting. Although these discussions can be difficult, clients typically recognize their value — partly because we take the time to build the relationship. Of course, auditors should avoid letting client relationships impact their ability to objectively assess processes and controls. But maintaining independence and objectivity does not preclude relationship building across the organization.
3. Get a Mentor
Mentoring can be a powerful tool for professional development. The right mentor can increase a practitioner's visibility within the company or industry, help visualize a long-term career path, and provide tactical support along the way. If the mentee is thinking about transferring to a different area of the organization, a mentor from that area can help determine whether a transfer would make sense, and if so, advise on how to get there. Working with a mentor within internal audit can also provide tremendous benefit, as he or she can support professional development and counsel on how to navigate the less defined areas of the job (see "Mentorships That Work").
Many large companies have well-established mentoring programs that will match candidates with a more experienced professional. New auditors should take advantage of this resource. In the absence of a formal program, auditors should leverage their professional network to seek out mentors on their own. When selecting a mentor, auditors should consider choosing someone who:
- You can feel comfortable discussing your goals and challenges with.
- Can offer a different perspective — picking someone who thinks like you limits growth opportunities.
- Can be trusted to provide sound professional guidance.
Kick Into High Gear
The internal audit profession can be dynamic and rewarding, but the quality of the experience depends largely on the effort practitioners put into it. The early days in audit are critical, and they set the stage for opportunities that follow. Auditors who can speak the language of the business will be recognized. Those who network and view themselves as part of a broader organization, rather than just a member of the internal audit team, will approach their work with a value-add mentality and build key relationships. And those who find a mentor they can trust will gain a line of sight they wouldn't otherwise have to navigate their current role and their career.