“Internal audit, it’s like accountancy or finance” is what I hear a lot. There’s a common misconception that a career within internal audit is defined by lots of hours, numbers and constant policing. Sounds fun right? Luckily the role has hugely evolved in recent years and now there’s a lot more to internal audit. What was once a reactive and control-based practice is now a highly proactive and transformative profession; attracting highly analytical and successful communicators, adept at fostering relationships to inspire change.
As an internal auditor in the industry, you reduce risk in the broadest sense of the word. You have an important role in contributing to an organisation’s success, working across all areas; from culture and ethics to IT, supply chain and, of course, finance. But internal audit also follows the latest trends: topics such as cultural behavior, social media, sustainability, etc. In fact, literally anything that has an impact on the effective operation of an organisation may be included in internal audit’s scope.
Like all professions, internal audit has its own skills and qualifications. A good internal auditor likes to travel the world, is bilingual or trilingual, openminded and curious.
Oh, and don’t forget: adventurous!
Internal auditors work for large corporations operating globally. For this reason, most auditors spend 50% of their time overseas, visiting each and every subsidiary. Some travel 100% of the time. They live like a backpacker, out of their suitcase and they go from hotel to hotel while the company pays for their costs and living. Is this not the dream of every twenty-something nowadays?
For the adventurous among us, look no further! Each project can find you somewhere else in the world, sometimes in the middle of nowhere. Last week I spoke with an auditor who was in the jungle in Brazil, auditing the plant of a large global business. There was no Wi-Fi, no electricity and he needed to stay for two more weeks than planned. It was time to light a fire and enjoy the experience to the fullest.
Because auditors come to work in so many countries, most speak more than one language. They love to learn new languages and are skilled communicators, building great relationships with any member of an organisation, from operator to director.
Linguistic prowess is not the only important thing when working internationally; the ability to acclimatise to different cultures is key. It’s really important to be openminded and a ‘people person’ in order to adapt to new teams and different ways of working. To achieve an agreement on recommendations and action plans that add value to the business, it’s important to be an expert negotiator. Negotiating in your own language in familiar work culture is a skill, negotiating with a new team, in a different language is an art.
Curiosity is also key to being a great auditor. Since the techniques of internal auditing have transitioned from being reactive and control based to more proactive and risk orientated, you have the chance to be the first to spot great opportunities for every single part of the business, and to share best practices to improve efficiency. Due to this cross-functional knowledge gathered throughout your internal audit career, you become a highly valued talent within the organisation with the possibility to permanently move into the business.
In my job, recruiting across the internal audit field, I’ve spoken to many happy internal auditors who love their jobs. So much in fact, that most of them aren’t ready for a new opportunity just yet. A shame for me, but good for them: ensuring people are happy in their jobs is one of the most rewarding parts of mine.
And a police officer? Not at all. In the end, it’s about being innovative, an excellent communicator and making a substantial difference to businesses all over the world.