Job growth for auditors has been very strong for much of the past decade. That has made internal auditing a great option for those entering the workforce or considering a career change. However, picking a job and flourishing in it is about more than opportunity alone. Is the position a right fit for you, and are you the right fit for the company or organization? I first explored this question in a 2014 blog, and took a much deeper dive into the attributes of those who succeed in internal audit in my 2017 book, Trusted Advisors: Key Attributes of Outstanding Internal Auditors.
We all seek jobs that we will enjoy and be good at, but one size doesn't fit all. Based on my years in internal auditing and observing the experiences of others in our profession, I believe there are five signs that indicate you are likely to be a great fit for a career in internal auditing.
1. You are a critical thinker. Critical thinking is a disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information. As an internal auditor, that's what you will spend most of your time doing. If you are good at critical thinking and you enjoy the challenge, you will find internal auditing rewarding. There is even better news: As we have seen in the past, The IIA's most recent Pulse of Internal Audit report shows that critical-thinking skills are among the most highly sought by chief audit executives (CAEs).
2. You are naturally curious/skeptical. Asking "why" is one of the most important and fundamental responsibilities of internal auditors. They want to know what happened, but intellectually curious internal auditors are not satisfied until they know why it happened. And they will not relent until they fully understand the root cause of the issue. The best auditors never stop asking questions and challenging assumptions. They take nothing for granted and know that, even where there is trust, there still is a need to verify. If you are naturally curious and skeptical, and are adept at keeping an open mind to all possibilities, you are more likely to unearth problems that other, less-inquisitive auditors might miss.
3. You are great at building and sustaining relationships. One of the common myths about internal auditing is that it's only about numbers, not people. But without relationship-building skills, you may miss important messages about potential problems, or some of your conclusions may be rejected unnecessarily. According to a study by Professors Kirsten Fanning of the University of Illinois and M. David Piercey of the University of Massachusetts, internal auditors who combine likable personality traits with well-presented arguments do better at influencing managers' accounting judgments and financial reporting estimates than auditors who are rude and provide information in a jumbled way.
4. You are an agent of change. The fundamental purpose of internal audit is to protect and sustain the value of the organization it serves. Internal auditors have the opportunity to positively affect operations, enhance accuracy and efficiency, reduce fraud, promote safety, and offer myriad other suggestions to bolster the value of companies and organizations. If you love making a real impact, you will find internal auditing highly satisfying.
5. You are a great communicator. As I wrote in my book, with the advent of operational auditing in the late 20th century, we had to be able to do more than communicate numbers. It became essential that we be conversant on the risks and controls that confront the business, and for many internal auditors, that was a game changer. Today, communication skills are table stakes (alongside integrity) in the minds of many CAEs. If you are not a strong communicator, then there is no place for you on many of the world's leading internal audit staffs. An outstanding internal auditor with extraordinary communication skills is often seen as a crown jewel in any internal audit department.
That's my list of some of the most important traits of successful internal auditors, but other attributes also can be helpful. I invite you to share your ideas with me.