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Building a Better Auditor: Advancing Your Career in Internal Audit

Blogs Hassan Khayal, CIA, CRMA, CFE Apr 05, 2022

Hassan Khayal, a 2020 Internal Auditor magazine Emerging Leader, talks about the hard skills, soft skills, and educational qualifications found among most leadership-level internal auditors, and ones that younger auditors should be working toward.

The internal audit career path has been growing in popularity in recent years, thanks in a significant part to the efforts The IIA has put in to spread awareness about the industry.

The reasons for the growth are obvious, as the internal audit career path has several attributes that make it very attractive, especially to the younger generations. The internal audit field is resilient to change. It is constantly developing along with its corresponding industries, which provides a high level of job security if the internal auditors themselves continue to invest in their professional development. Also, the demand for internal auditors is continuously increasing as organizations become more aware of the importance of the role, as regulatory requirements grow more stringent, and as the business landscape continues to become more complex. Internal audits have been put in the corporate spotlight as their value addition has been more apparent. In addition, with exposure to all parts of the organization, an internal audit career path leaves internal auditors well poised to undertake a variety of management and leadership roles throughout the organization.

Here are some of the top competencies, skills, and milestones to work on to grow in the internal audit industry.

1. Hard Skills

  • Data analytics: As business become more and more entrenched in technology, the nature of the audit work changes. No longer are auditors asking for piles of paperwork and verifying signatures. The modern auditor is obtaining digital data from ERP systems and databases to conduct their analysis on. The digitization of data has allowed for increasing sample sizes of even covering full populations, greatly enhancing audit confidence and value addition, but have also introduced a new set of challenges for auditors who are not tech savvy. Having a solid grasp on data analytics and its tools is one of the most important skills for the modern-day auditor to succeed and grow.
  • Emerging technologies: Businesses are implementing all different types of technologies in their day-to-day operations. Applications such as virtual reality and augmented reality, robotic process automation, machine learning, the internet of things, cloud computing, blockchain, and big data are no longer the exclusive domain of science fiction movies and novels but are a normal part of everyday business that is even no longer all that innovative. The modern-day auditor looking to grow their career can no longer simply audit around those systems as if they were a black box; they need to see through the systems and audit them from within.
  • Cross functional training: Internal audit professionals are well poised for career growth and management because they are exposed to many areas of the organization, such as finance, procurement, human resources, marketing, information technology, and operational functions. Thus, the internal auditor needs to continuously ensure they are upskilling themselves not only in internal audit-specific disciplines and fields but in all fields relevant to their organization to truly be able to add value.

2. Soft Skills

  • Communication: Consistently ranked as the single most important skill for an internal auditor, business communication is a must for all internal auditors looking to advance their careers. That is not limited to verbal or written communication only; nonverbal communication, such as teamwork improvement techniques and presentation skills, are also vital to gain trust and collaboration from audit clients.
  • Business acumen: As internal auditors are exposed to the many aspects of the organization and as they endeavor to add value to all those areas, an understanding of the business nature, industry, and goals is a must for internal auditors looking to truly make a difference and grow in their careers.
  • Critical thinking: The way an internal auditor adds value is not always straightforward. Making observations on factual matters is important, but also adding value by providing unique insight that the management would not have otherwise thought of is an essential element to truly shine. Management is busy with day-to-day operations, so sitting back and simply thinking about how to add value is a large part of what internal audit does to truly shine within their organization.

3. Education

  • Post graduate studies: While a bachelor's degree is essential for most internal audit jobs, internal audit is a unique industry in the sense that it remains strongly academic into advanced stages of the career. Perhaps more than any other industry, going back to university for post-graduate education will expedite the internal auditor's career and help them add much more value to the organization.
  • Professional certifications: The best way to ascertain one's quality is with accreditation. Professional certifications offered by The IIA, such as the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) and Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA) are the best ways to do so in the internal audit field, as The IIA is the world's leader in internal audit. Other professional certifications such as the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) are also great value additions and will provide internal auditors with much more credibility.
  • Digital learning: The growth of digital learning in recent days has been a huge blessing. Thousands of learning materials and online content is available either for free or for nominal fees, including the straightforward LinkedIn Learning platform. Not only is it a great way to upskill all the above-mentioned skills, but it also provides much needed CPEs to maintain professional certifications.

A combination of these hard skills, soft skills, and educational qualifications are found among most leadership-level internal auditors and are definitely apparent in younger leaders. For younger internal auditors, such attributes provide a more streamlined and expedited path to leadership, as opposed to many years of experience.

Hassan Khayal, CIA, CRMA, CFE

Internal Audit Professional, United Arab Emirates