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Internal auditors help organizations maintain accurate records and compliant financial operations. They perform regular audits to catch errors, waste, or fraudulent activities. They also identify short-term and long-term financial risks and opportunities.
To access this career, aspiring internal auditors take similar steps as aspiring accountants. Here, we explore career expectations, including the minimum internal auditor education requirements, experience, and credentials. We also highlight alternative paths and opportunities available to individuals hoping to break into the industry.
Steps to an Internal Auditor Career
- Earn a bachelor's degree in accounting: A bachelor's degree in accounting provides the best foundation for internal auditors. Programs with auditing or financial management specializations may be the most effective for graduates. Bachelor's programs typically take four years to complete.
- Gain experience: Experience can come from internships or co-ops while in school or entry-level jobs. Typically, internships last for a semester or two during the senior year.
- Pursue certification: Though not mandatory, professional certification can help auditors. Along with passing an exam, certifications may require a bachelor's degree or a minimum amount of professional experience.
- Continue your education: Once certified, professionals may need to maintain their credentials with annual continuing education credits. Internal auditors can also keep their skills up to date with continued education opportunities.
Alternative Career Path
- Complete an educational program: Finish a two-year associate degree or an accounting certificate program. Certificate programs typically take less than a year to complete.
- Acquire an entry-level job: Pursue an entry-level accounting or auditing job to build experience, such as an accounting or auditing clerk position.
- Complete additional training: Once employed, entry-level accountants and auditors can advance their education and credentials while maintaining employment and building experience.
Internal Auditor Education Requirements
Internal auditors come from many educational backgrounds. While most employers and positions require a bachelor's degree at a minimum, an associate degree and other credentials may be acceptable in some cases. A master's degree can greatly improve a candidate's employment prospects and earning potential.
Accounting is the most straightforward major for aspiring auditors — particularly programs that offer auditing concentrations. Students can sometimes develop specializations by stacking auditing electives or pursuing targeted internships.
Without a professional license requirement, auditors can come from other disciplines, such as business or finance. These programs provide accounting fundamentals courses, along with many electives and specialization options. Master's programs offer auditing specializations through financial control and management tracks.
- Read about bachelor's degree programs in accounting
- Read about master's degree programs in accounting
Required Credentials for Internal Auditors
While internal auditors do not need specific certifications to work professionally, employers may seek candidates with credentials. These certifications may include the general certified internal auditing (CIA) credential or the more advanced certification in risk management assurance (CRMA).
Other useful programs include financial services audit certificate and the internal audit practitioner designation. These certifications and programs apply unique education, experience, testing, and renewal requirements.
Optional Certifications and Degrees
Once they meet the minimum internal auditor education requirements, professionals can improve their qualifications through continuing education and accounting certifications. The Institute of Internal Auditors provides several certifications and programs to help auditors advance professionally and earn higher pay with greater job security.
Professionals typically start with the internal audit practitioner program or the financial services audit certificate, which demonstrates entry-level skills in these fields through examination. The CIA credential requires a bachelor's degree, internal audit practitioner designation, and five years of auditor experience. Finally, the CRMA credential requires the CIA credential and a minimum of five years of auditor experience.
Both the CIA and CRMA require candidates to pass an examination. Individuals must complete continuing professional education credits each year to renew their certifications.
Internal auditors can also pursue advanced accounting degrees to improve their job responsibilities and salaries. A master's in accounting, business, or finance can considerably improve an auditor's professional opportunities.
Required Experience for an Internal Auditor
In addition to the internal auditor education requirements, these professionals may need experience to qualify for certain positions. Many auditors start as auditing clerks, learning to accurately code and fix issues in documents.
Experienced professionals with accounting certificates or associate degrees may qualify for entry-level auditing jobs. Aspiring internal auditors can accelerate the process of gaining experience by pursuing accounting internships while still in school. Accounting bachelor's programs regularly feature internships that provide targeted on-the-job training and mentorship for students, typically during the senior section of the program.
Should I Become an Internal Auditor?
The internal auditing profession has many pros and cons. In general, these professionals enjoy positive growth projections and average salaries when compared to all occupations. With experience and continued education, auditors can receive higher salaries, increased job security, and opportunities for management positions.
Internal auditors can pursue membership in various organizations and industries. This freedom and flexibility can be a comforting prospect for professionals at all stages of their careers.
However, internal auditors face stressful periods at work, particularly during tax season or monthly and quarterly audits. While technology has made internal auditors more efficient, advancements in the field can also change their roles over time.
The Job Hunt
Finding the right employment opportunities can take time and patience, but job-seekers have many available resources to become internal auditors. While in school, students can leverage their internships and mentorship programs to earn full-time jobs or develop valuable relationships and references.
Many schools host career fairs or networking events for candidates to learn about and apply to new opportunities. Students and new graduates can also join professional organizations to access job boards, conferences, and networking events. They can use the following public job boards, as well.
- Accounting Jobs Today: Users can find accounting-related job posts filtered by job title and location.
- Accountingfly: This site posts remote accounting and tax-related jobs across the country. Job-seekers can access completely remote and hybrid positions.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn offers users access to one of the largest online professional networks. The site allows users to upload resumes and search job posts.
- Glassdoor: Glassdoor users can search through job posts and company information, including reviews and salary details.
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With the right educational background and professional experience, internal auditors can move between accounting positions, such as external auditor or forensic accountant roles. They may need training or a certificate program to sharpen their skills, but these lateral opportunities are often available.
With time and experience, internal auditors can also advance into more senior roles or positions with more responsibility. These may include financial analyst and financial manager careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), financial analysts earned a median annual wage of $81,420, while financial managers earned $131,710 as of May 2021.
While these positions typically require a bachelor's degree at a minimum, internal auditors may need additional credentials. For example, they may need an advanced degree, such as a master's in accounting or a graduate certificate in accounting. Some organizations only hire certified public accountants or chartered financial analysts, which have specific education and experience requirements.
Questions on How to Be an Internal Auditor
What degree do you need to become an internal auditor?
According to the BLS, a candidate needs a minimum of a bachelor's degree to become an internal auditor. They should study accounting and specialize in auditing, if possible.
What certifications do you need along the internal auditor career path?
The internal auditing career path has no mandatory certifications, but the CIA and CRMA credentials can be helpful.
How long does it take to become a certified internal auditor?
Earning a bachelor's degree usually takes about four years, but internal auditors can take different paths to the field, such as a two-year associate degree or a certificate program, which may take less than one year.
How do I become an internal auditor with no experience?
Many organizations hire internal auditors with no experience. These professionals usually need a bachelor's degree at a minimum.
Is it hard to be an internal auditor?
Internal auditors have to be very precise in their work. During their audits, they may encounter high-stress situations, which can be difficult to manage.
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