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Building a Better Auditor: The Building Blocks

Blogs Frank Holloman, CIA, CFE Jul 11, 2023

When I reflect on my internal audit journey over the past 25+ years, I think of four important building blocks that have given me a solid foundation in my career. These were not building blocks ready and waiting for me when I started as an associate auditor. At the beginning of my career, I knew almost nothing about the internal audit profession. In college, I majored in international business, not in accounting. 

I did not take any auditing classes, and I did not have any previous internships or jobs related to auditing. I imagine that I am not the only one who has begun in this way, so perhaps recapping these lessons can help others build a good foundation in internal audit.

The first building block for me was gaining knowledge and credibility as an auditor. Other than time in my role, getting a certification was my way to earn that credibility. I quickly identified the IIA's flagship certification, the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), and started studying. At the time, candidates could only sit for the four-part exam a couple of times a year, but luckily times (and exam parts) have changed. Even with a heavy travel schedule, I was motivated, and I attained the CIA two years after I started in internal audit. Not only did attaining the CIA give me credibility with audit customers, but it also positioned me to lead our department's first internal quality assessment. There were a couple of people being considered as project lead, and I was chosen because I was CIA certified.

The second building block was learning more about the audit profession. I became involved in my local IIA chapter and eventually served as both secretary and president. This gave me an even better understanding of the profession's goals and needs, as well as an opportunity to benchmark with other companies in the area. It also provided additional leadership experience by running a volunteer organization and working to meet the training and guidance needs of the members. In addition, being IIA chapter president allowed me to attend an IIA leadership conference, where I gained good insights into the thought leadership of the time.

A third building block was developing my business acumen to be more knowledgeable about the company. I was lucky that my first years in audit were spent in operations audit. I traveled all over the U.S. visiting operations locations and building a foundation for how things should be done consistently to ensure efficiency. I became an operations audit subject matter expert and could even quote page numbers of the policies most often neglected. As I rotated through the department, I always made sure I was an expert in some area, which included anti-corruption compliance, control self-monitoring, post-acquisition, and post-acquisition, depending on my responsibilities at the time.

It was when I was on the international internal audit side that I realized I needed to work on a fourth building block. I needed to become more intentional about building relationships and developing my network. As an audit manager, I began scheduling occasional lunches with my peer audit managers. It provided an opportunity for us to benchmark processes across the department and to discuss challenges we were facing. Outside my department, I often travelled with my audit teams, visiting various locations with audit customer management. When on-site, I made sure I met with every manager, managing director, and vice president that would give me time, so I could make a connection and provide more information and context about internal audit. Often in the regional headquarters, the people I met with were not part of the current audit. However, these meetings helped them understand our goals for future audits that sometimes included them. In addition, it gave me points of contact for various functional areas, and these people could assist in other types of audits.

As you are building your internal audit foundation, these four building blocks will not always come naturally. However, intentionally adding the areas of certification, service to the profession, business acumen, and professional relationships to your annual development plan is a great starting point. Each block that you add to your internal audit foundation contributes to your growing stature and reputation as a value-adding leader in internal audit.

Frank Holloman, CIA, CFE

Frank Holloman, CIA, CFE, is an audit director at FedEx Services in Memphis, Tenn.