A few weeks ago, I served as a panelist at an internal audit student event during which a student asked, "What is the most important advice you can provide us as we begin our careers?" This was a great question, and as I prepared to respond, I considered some of my successes and failures since I joined the internal audit profession nearly 20 years ago. In thinking about this post, I thought an overview of both my insights and the insights of others on the panel may help others who are either starting their internal audit careers or who may be seeking greater responsibility within their current roles and organizations.
My response to the question was "Don't turn down opportunities." Some of my most valuable experience in the profession has come from saying yes to assignments or activities that my peers didn't want to be involved in. Whether it was a location that wasn't exciting, an assignment where I knew I would have to work with demanding people, or a complex situation that would include long work hours or challenging conditions, I often volunteered for these opportunities.
Saying yes to these opportunities not only showed the organization that I was eager to contribute but also allowed me to approach future situations with a more well-rounded perspective. Saying yes to these opportunities provided experiences for me to draw upon that others may not have had.
Several practitioners on the panel emphasized the importance of certification, for which I also wholeheartedly agree. Achieving certification early in your career not only demonstrates your understanding of the
International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing and basics necessary to be a successful internal auditor, but also shows your commitment to, and investment in, your profession. Particularly for anyone who may be seeking additional responsibilities within your role, certification is a great way to demonstrate both your interest and readiness.
Another panelist highlighted the importance of not being afraid to ask questions, another essential to the role of internal auditors. I've seen time and again in meetings where acronyms or certain terminology was used, and once one person asked for additional insight, others in the meeting indicated that they also had the same question. Further, moving beyond assumptions about how something should or does work and asking questions to truly understand the "whys" and the "hows" is something every internal auditor should strive to do.
Other panelists also discussed the importance of keeping an open mind. It can be easy to visualize what you want your career path to be and the steps that you need to take to get to where you ultimately want to go. However, keeping an open mind, similar to embracing opportunities, can position you for experiences that you would not have otherwise had.
I know several people who, due to their willingness to be open to different paths, have had success in IT auditing after starting out in general business process auditing. In addition to their career success, they truly love what they do.
Additionally, another member of the panel shared the concept that a career is not week to week or month to month, but something that happens over a much longer period of time. It is sometimes easy to get frustrated over small things that don't go your way, but keeping the big picture in mind can provide valuable perspective.
The ability to bounce back from setbacks is something that is important no matter where your career takes you. These setbacks can include situations such as not passing your certification exam on the first try, not getting that next promotion as quickly as you'd like, or something as simple as having an internal audit that could have gone better.
Regardless of your level of experience or length of time in internal audit, periodically thinking about lessons learned, things that went well, and things that we can improve is important for everyone. Also, being receptive to advice and feedback from those around you, particularly those who have experienced things firsthand, can better position you for continued success.
With that in mind, what is the most important advice you could provide someone who is beginning their internal audit career?