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​​Managing an Internal Audit Career: How Do You Know When It's Time to Go?​

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(First published on Mar 30, 2015)

This summer, I have been taking the opportunity to share blogs from my archives that generated a lot of interest at the time they were published. This week, I reexamine the age-old question of how does an internal auditor know when it's time for a career change.  

One of the most rewarding aspects of my job as president and CEO of The IIA is the opportunity to meet young professionals just starting their careers in internal audit. These interactions remind me of the reasons I joined the profession and they never fail to re-invigorate my own passion for what we do.

Recently, I met with a group of newly minted internal auditors at the South Pacific and Asia Conference (SOPAC) hosted by IIA–Australia. As is often the case in these meetings, my young colleagues quizzed me about career advice. For the most part, their questions were similar to those I typically hear: "Should I specialize in a particular area of internal audit?" "What qualifications and certifications will help me most?"

But there was one question I was not expecting. One young woman asked, "How do you know when it's time to leave?" I fashioned a quick answer, but the more I considered it over the following days, the more it became clear that this is a complex question.

There are so many factors involved in making career moves that there is no simple answer. After long thought, it became clear to me that making career decisions is more art than science, and it sometimes requires a degree of blind faith.

There are some things I would advise without hesitation, such as, be deliberate in your consideration, and don't make a career move decision based on emotion. Here are a few fundamental questions that anyone cons​idering a career move should contemplate:

What are my strategic goals, and would a change further those goals? I often counsel internal auditors to develop a career plan with clearly defined strategic goals and milestones. Such career plans should be reviewed on a regular basis and modified as necessary. The IIA's Career Map tool is built on this philosophy. If you are contemplating a move that does little to move you forward on that path, it may be time to reconsider.

Have I been in my current role long enough to benefit from the experience? Every assignment should offer you an opportunity to learn new skills and further hone the expertise you brought to the job. If your current position continues to challenge you, you may want to think twice about leaving. I typically counsel people to stay in an assignment at least one year before even considering a change.

What am I giving up by leaving? It is easy to get caught up in the allure of a new job opportunity, but it is important to consider what you will lose by leaving. For example, you may have to give up a strong mentor relationship with a co-worker or supervisor. Also, there is no guarantee that you will fit in with or thrive in the new job's corporate culture.

Why do I want to move on? This is probably the hardest question, and one that requires being honest with yourself. Make sure you are leaving for the right reasons. Are your reasons for wanting to move on all about the work environment, or are outside factors feeding your wanderlust?

In my book Lessons Learned on the Audit Trail​, I offer a number of lessons gleaned from my career in internal audit that now spans 40 years. One of the "life lessons" I share is appropriate when considering a career change: Be careful what you wish for. There's more to a career than the next raise or promotion; make sure that next job is something you truly want to do.

There are legitimate reasons for changing jobs. Maybe the corporate culture doesn't fit you, or your supervisor doesn't appreciate the work you are doing. Work/life balance should be a consideration, and certainly being stuck in a job with limited opportunities for advancement is a legitimate reason for leaving. In a recent post on, Liz Ryan shared "Six Signs Your Job No Longer Deserves You." They are worth contemplating when considering a job change:

  1. "There's no forward path. There's no place to go from here. There's no way to learn more, have more impact, or use more of your talents. Scram!
  2. There's no one to learn from. No one around you looks like a mentor or coach. You're the smartest person in the place. Get out of Dodge!
  3. The people around you don't want to hear your ideas. They like things just the way they are. So what, nothing works properly? They don't care. Flee!
  4. You don't get to use your mind and your heart at work. You're stuck in a little box. You're a cog in someone else's machine. Hit the bricks!
  5. Your boss doesn't get you and you don't get him or her. It's an energetic mismatch. You can't grow as a person or a professional in your job. Move on!
  6. You don't enjoy your work or look forward to it on Monday morning (or any morning). That's your body telling you 'Run away!'"

Whatever your reasons for contemplating a move, it is imperative that you go through a patient and deliberate process. I recommend asking the questions I've outlined and contemplate the signs that it is time to move on to ensure your answers remain consistent.

​As much as possible, make a career move that allows you to advance in your career plan. Too many lateral moves reflected on a resume can work against you.

If your considerations involve leaving the internal audit profession altogether, I urge you to reconsider. Internal auditing is in the midst of one of the most exciting eras in its history. Increasingly, our stakeholders are relying on internal audit to do more. We are being valued not just for our hindsight, but our insight and foresight, as well. Who wouldn't want to be part of that?

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