I learned early on in my venture into internal audit the importance of certification. As a student at Louisiana State University (LSU), I received a concentration in internal audit through the LSU Center for Internal Auditing program. One of the requirements for completing the program was that all students had to take the fall Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) exam (at that time, the exam was only offered two times per year). My professor strongly encouraged me to focus my time and attention on not only successfully completing the exam, but also attaining the student highest achievement award on the exam. With this goal in mind, I put a lot of time and effort into studying for the exam.
A few weeks before I was scheduled to take the exam, the LSU Center for Internal Auditing program was fortunate to have then-IIA President Bill Bishop speak to our classes. I had the unique pleasure of giving Bill a tour of the LSU campus, which afforded me the opportunity to visit with him about my goals for the exam. He told me that if I did receive the student high score on the exam, he would personally call to let me know. A few months later, during the Christmas holidays, Bill called me at my parents' home to let me know that I had, in fact, achieved the highest student score on the exam.
When I began my first full-time job in internal audit, I had already passed the CIA exam, as the student highest-scorer. This was beneficial in multiple ways: It set me apart from my peers, who were starting full time at the same time as me, and it allowed me to focus completely on my work and learning the important aspects of my new job versus trying to juggle work and study. Moreover, it helped me demonstrate my knowledge of internal audit, as well as hard work and dedication to achieve a goal I had set for myself. In addition, it helped me fully appreciate the benefits of certification and how certification can be a catalyst for further career growth.
Fast forward to today, I have multiple certifications. Following completion of my CIA, I also obtained my Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Fraud Examiner, and Certification in Risk Management Assurance credentials. And just last fall, having recently assumed more and more responsibility for IT auditing, I decided to pursue my Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) designation. It's not often that a partner-level employee is working toward a new certification. However, I felt that the CISA would not only position me well to continue to work in the IT audit space, but also provide a good example to my team members of continued goal setting, learning, development, and balancing exam prep with work and family obligations.
Each time I set out to attain a new certification, I did it for myself — not because it was required for my job or because of outside pressure. Rather, I saw certifications as an opportunity to demonstrate my commitment to my profession. Most interestingly, when I was pursuing my CPA, the company that I worked for at the time didn't place a high value on the CPA designation as it related to my particular role. I basically was told that it was fine if I wanted to pursue the certification, but it was my responsibility. That meant I would have to use vacation days to take the exam and pay all costs out of pocket. Because it was important to me, I set out to tackle it. Several years later, when I decided to make the leap to public accounting, the CPA made me much more marketable than I would have been otherwise.
In conversations with my team members and other internal auditors in my community, one question that frequently comes up is "What certification is right for me?" I believe, in most cases, this is a personal decision, based not only on the job the individual has today, but also his or her ultimate career goals. However, I fully believe the CIA is the designation of choice for anyone who wants a career in internal audit.
For anyone on the fence about certification, my advice is to go for it. It is easy to come up with reasons not to pursue a certification (being too busy, not being a good test taker, etc.). However, in my opinion, the benefits that come with obtaining a relevant certification in the field far outweigh any costs to pursuing the certification.
Furthermore, as a hiring manager, if two candidates are equal across the board with the exception of certification, I'm more likely to extend an offer to the candidate with a relevant certification. In addition, many companies will pay a premium for individuals with relevant certifications, compared to their noncertified counterparts.
So who's ready to begin studying for their next certification exam?