Internal auditors ensure their company complies with codes and regulations. Depending on the size of the company, internal auditors may work alone or with a team, and they may be assigned to a specific sector of the business. Internal auditors who work in publicly traded companies are required by law to report directly to the chief executive officer.

Internal auditors need at least a bachelor's degree, and many positions require a master's degree. Some internal auditors become certified internal auditors, who earn an average annual salary of $85,000, according to PayScale. This guide provides information about how to become an internal auditor, details the necessary skills and education for the position, and explores common certifications for these workers.

What Skills Do You Need to Become an Internal Auditor?

While internal auditors can work in a variety of industries, all auditors need certain skills. Individuals often acquire these skills during bachelor's and master's programs, while completing internships, and while gaining experience in entry-level auditor positions.

All internal auditors must understand regulatory compliance. Many businesses offer industry-specific regulatory compliance training, and auditors typically learn about relevant federal laws during internships.

Many businesses offer industry-specific regulatory compliance training, and auditors typically learn about relevant federal laws during internships.

Auditors also need skills related to risk management -- the process of evaluating the risk level associated with various areas of a business. For internal auditors, risk typically involves potential profit loss.

Internal auditors must be able to efficiently analyze financial data. Data analysis methods and programs vary by company. However, most internal auditors learn foundational skills in data analysis during their bachelor's program.

Auditors also need strong computer skills, specifically with products provided by Microsoft and Google. Internal auditors work with digital spreadsheets while integrating data sets, analyzing data sets, and arranging information so it is easier for others to understand. Auditors must also be able to communicate effectively using these products.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Internal Auditor?

The first step to becoming an internal auditor is earning a bachelor's degree. Most bachelor's programs require four years of full-time study. However, learners who study online or who take summer classes can sometimes graduate in about three years.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some employers hire internal auditors with only an associate degree. However, associate degree-holders rarely secure internal auditor positions, and those who do typically have multiple years of bookkeeping or accounting experience. Earning a bachelor's degree typically requires less time than what associate degree-holders must devote to gaining professional experience before qualifying for internal auditor jobs.

Internal auditors often pursue a master's degree to become more competitive when applying for high-paying positions.

Internal auditors often pursue a master's degree to become more competitive when applying for high-paying positions. Most master's programs require two years to complete, though learners in online or accelerated programs may graduate more quickly. Students can also pursue accelerated five-year programs that award both a bachelor's and a master's degree.

At some point during their career, most internal auditors pursue certification. The Institute of Internal Auditors offers the certified internal auditor (CIA) credential. Many employers require newly hired internal auditors to obtain CIA certification.

The time necessary to earn the certification depends on a candidate's education level and work experience.

The time necessary to earn the certification depends on a candidate's education level and work experience. CIA candidates with a master's degree must have at least 12 months of experience as an internal auditor. Alternatively, bachelor's degree-holders need at least 24 months of experience, and associate degree-holders must have at least 60 months of experience.

Considering the work experience requirements and the time necessary to obtain each degree, no route to CIA eligibility is significantly faster. However, master's degree-holders generally have the highest chance of securing an internal auditor position, which means these candidates often complete the required work experience more quickly. Prospective internal auditors who earn a master's degree typically complete five years of education and one year of professional experience before pursuing certification.

What Education Do You Need to Become an Internal Auditor?

Internal auditors must have at least an associate degree, but candidates with a master's degree typically have more job opportunities and are able to earn certification more quickly. However, no degree guarantees a position as an internal auditor.

To pursue a master's degree, students must first earn a bachelor's. Aspiring internal auditors usually earn a bachelor's degree in accounting or finance. Some schools offer undergraduate programs in auditing or internal auditing. Learners planning to become internal auditors should earn a degree through a school of business.

Earning a degree with a specialization in the field can improve employment opportunities.

Graduate students typically earn a degree in accounting or business administration. Some schools offer relevant specializations, such as an MBA with an emphasis in internal auditing. Earning a degree with a specialization in the field can improve employment opportunities.

Bachelor's and master's students often complete part-time internships in accounting, finance, or auditing. Not all programs require internships. However, internships provide valuable professional experience and networking opportunities that can increase a worker's competitiveness in the job market.

Aspiring internal auditors should also ensure their school holds appropriate accreditation. Many employers and graduate schools do not recognize degrees earned from unaccredited institutions.

Internal Auditor Career Development and Credentials

No specific certification is required to work as a professional auditor, but most employers prefer internal auditors to have at least one form of certification. Certified professionals typically need to complete continuing education hours to maintain their credential.

Various credentials and licenses exist that can help internal auditors secure positions in niche industries, and some positions may require multiple certifications or licenses.

Certifications and Continuing Education

At some point during their careers, most internal auditors earn CIA certification from the Institute of Internal Auditors. Many employers require that job candidates either hold this credential or obtain CIA certification within a year of assuming an entry-level internal auditor position.

To maintain CIA certification, internal auditors must complete continuing professional education (CPE) credits. Newly certified CIAs automatically earn 40 CPE credits for the year in which they obtain certification and 40 CPE credits for the following year. After the first two years, practicing internal auditors must complete 40 CPE credits each year, 20 of which they can also apply toward continuing education requirements for other certifications.

Additional certifications offered by the Institute of Internal Auditors include certification in risk management assurance, qualification in internal audit leadership, certified professional environmental auditor, and certified process safety auditor credentials. These certifications demonstrate leadership; management skills; and environmental, health, and safety skills.

Credentials and Licensing

Internal auditors can work in nearly any industry. Positions in certain industries may require specific credentials and licenses. However, CIA certification qualifies professionals for most internal auditor positions.

Candidates interested in pursuing specific jobs may earn the certified public accountant (CPA) or certified fraud examiner (CFE) credential. For example, an internal auditor who works for a large accounting firm may hold CPA certification, while a professional who specializes in fraud monitoring and detection may be a CFE.

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