Those entering the internal audit and compliance professions often wonder what they need to do to succeed in their new careers. There is a lot to learn. In fact, the general advice is to become a lifelong learner. This is because there is constant pressure from within the department and from clients to understand complex subject areas quickly so they can be reviewed competently, efficiently, and effectively.
The following are nine skills and actions essential for success.
You will need to present the results of the work done to your team leader and others within the department. Later, you will also need to present the results of your work to the client, who may not be too enthused with your presentation of reportable conditions. Since you need to explain what you did, what you found, why it matters, and what are some possible ways to solve those issues, public speaking skills are very important for audit and compliance professionals. This also includes the ability to deal constructively with confrontation and remain cool, calm, and collected while handling difficult questions.
Auditors write a lot. You will be required to take copious notes during meetings with clients, prepare test plans, write narratives, document walkthroughs, and write e-mails and memos to operational and senior management. Also, after you verbally explain the nature of the issues found during fieldwork, you need to write that down clearly, concisely, and accurately in a report for the board.
Auditors are expected to be competent in their line of work and engage in lifelong learning. In short, you were not done learning when you graduated from your college or university. In fact, you are highly encouraged to obtain professional certifications, which require passing exams. Then after you obtain these certifications, you will be required to obtain a minimum of 40 hours of continuing education per year, so don’t forget your study skills because you will need them to succeed in this line of work and remain knowledgeable. If you decide that furthering your education through advanced degrees is the way to go rather than through certifications, there are many choices available as well and they will be worth the effort, especially if your employer will help cover some or all the expenses. Through it all, remember to develop coping strategies to deal with adversity and remain resilient and optimistic. You may fail during your journey. It is a part of life, but success is not determined by how many times we fall, but by how many times we get up.
Technical and personal development is one thing, but you will likely work on your projects in teams and interact frequently with your clients. You will need to communicate and interact with others individually and in groups. These interactions may be tense at times so skills like teamwork, conflict resolution, listening, questioning, understanding body language, and emotional intelligence are essential for success.
Aim for work-life balance by setting personal and professional goals. These life goals should be SMARTER (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reviewed, Time-Bound, Extend your capabilities, and be Relevant). But setting goals is just the beginning. Make sure you are committed to them and align your daily actions with your goals. It is a good idea to write them down, share them with those most significant in your life, and ask them to hold you accountable for following through on them.
Develop time management skills so you work smarter, and not only harder. It is important to manage priorities, set deadlines, and avoid procrastination so you accomplish your short- and long-term goals. There are many manual and technology-enabled time management tools, so take advantage of the options available to you. Effective time management will help you reduce the number of last-minute emergencies and achieve a greater work-life balance. Everyone gets 24 hours a day, the difference is what you do with those hours, so make the most of your time.
The auditing profession tends to be stressful. It is true that most jobs are stressful these days, but auditors review the decisions other people make and the things they do. As a result, your clients sometimes don’t like what you do. Even though it is nice to be liked, in the audit profession, the goal is to be respected. Developing the ability to handle the stresses that your job produces is essential for creative thought, building strong client relationships, providing superior results, and achieving long-term happiness.
An essential aspect of our jobs is the ability to analyze facts to form a judgment. You’ll face complex subjects, you must review volumes of data, documents, and records, interview multiple individuals, and must make sense of it all while working under tight deadlines. You are expected to be objective, rational, and unbiased and possess strong decision-making, reasoning, reading, analysis, and problem-solving skills. Critical thinking is essential to understand the scope of every engagement, determine what information you need to achieve your objectives, evaluate the evidence obtained, and provide an opinion about the quality of internal controls.
The audit profession is changing. What you audit, how you review things, the tools you use, and the ways you present the results are changing. Along the way, you will probably move horizontally into a similar job, diagonally into another one with more responsibilities, or vertically through promotions. You may change organizations and even industries. But through it all, you need to take ownership and control of your career. Choose a direction, think about the next job you want, and the one after that, and go for it.
If you do these things you will become a powerhouse as you advance in your career. Plan, prepare, get organized, work, evaluate and reflect on your progress, and course-correct if necessary. There is a bright future in internal audit, compliance, and related fields and if you are curious and want to learn how organizations really work, you are in the right place.
Interested in learning more about this topic? Dr. Murdock teaches High-Impact Skills for Developing and Leading Your Audit Team and Managing the Internal Audit Department. Check out AuditProTV for online, on-demand courses. It’s audit learning for life.
Dr. Hernan Murdock, CIA, CRMA, serves as the VP of Content and Programming at ACI Learning. As a certified internal auditor, risk management expert, and instructor, Dr. Murdock has seen up close how giving and receiving feedback is an essential element in every internal auditors’ development. In this article, he shares the best practices that can help internal auditors more effectively give, receive, and adopt feedback.