Auditing is not a career cul-de-sac.
On the contrary, it can lead to many career opportunities once people have acquired that invaluable experience in an organization. Auditing is quite something!
At the end of the nineties, life decided that it was time for me to change job. This was totally unexpected and happened after having spent several years in quality assurance, research and development, and plant management’s leading roles with two different major food industry players. I then decided to start a new job as external auditor for a renowned global certification body, realising that it was the beginning of a new career at — what I thought then — the bottom of the career ladder. This later proved to be a great decision and a fantastic opportunity for a wonderful and exciting new career path that took me where I am today.
I would nowadays make the same choice and recommend the audit function as a step — or even a destination — in a career trajectory for three key reasons:
- Auditors gain a deep understanding of an organization
Auditors are in a very unique position. They see and get to understand the high level end-to-end operations of organizations. As such, their career opportunities are only limited by their potential and competencies.
Working for a few years as an external auditor and later much longer as an internal audit manager helped me understand the processes and dynamics of organisations. It evidenced also some of the reasons why enterprises succeed while others struggle or even fail. As opposed to positions in fixed locations and departments within an organisation, the audit function is unique in that it usually has a scope that covers the entire organization, from end to end. I had the opportunity — and privilege — in my career to audit the end-to-end supply chain processes and steps, from innovation to customer experience, through manufacturing and distribution. This helped me gain an in-depth understanding of what makes organisations successful and customers delighted. I discovered how companies can achieve sustained success if they decide to do so.
I cannot think of a better way for someone to experience a global company culture and learn what an organisation does from so many perspectives. An auditor interacts on a day-to-day basis with many different stakeholders and has numerous opportunities to build diverse relationships and networks within a company.This wide exposure helps decide which future opportunities are of interest for the auditor’s career and next steps.
Many multinational companies have a very strong international presence. Within these, auditing provides an opportunity to see the world and learn how diverse the international business environment can be. I remember well my time in a global audit organisation, being exposed to different cultures and my experience in auditing compliance and risks in diverse environments. It definitely did influence my way of thinking and refined my communication, relationship-building, and leadership soft skills.
- Visibility for the auditor’s work and making a difference
The auditor’s work is highly visible to a broader audience, including senior leadership, mainly through audit reports. In addition, audit meetings give auditors the opportunity to present themselves and their work professionally to peers and company leadership. Many companies also use the independent internal audit function to share best practices and look for value-adding opportunities. Nothing can be more rewarding than making an impact and helping drive positive change within an organisation.
On top of the usual career path in an external audit company or within an internal audit organisation, auditors have a lot of opportunities outside audit, depending on the functions (e.g. quality, environment, sustainability) they perform as an auditor.
- Unforeseeable situations and exciting experiences
Every audit is unique and dependent on the situations encountered. Auditors never know how the work will evolve and what tomorrow will look like. I have had some very exciting moments during audits that I could have never predicted. I was one day in Morocco auditing a manufacturing facility and the other one in China evaluating a supplier for compliance to requirements and specifications. I changed my plans often during these audits based on what was being observed and discovered, practicing audit agility while keeping the focus on the value to be obtained.
Travelling for audits brought so many experiences and unexpected moments. I remember spending nine hours at the Karachi airport waiting for a well delayed flight back home. I have been walking on
The Great Wall of China, visiting the Taj Mahal, and looking across the Amazon River in Manaus, Brazil. I had to renew my passport several times and lived in China for a year. I will definitely remember all these experiences as they contributed to make the person and professional I am today. Auditing is definitely not what one would call unsurprising. Auditing is exciting, challenging and very rewarding.
The audit profession is vital to an organisation. Many companies are recognising the need to go back to the basic management principles so they can identify questionable management practices and non-compliance situations, and rectify them. Audit plays a crucial role in this as only a true and effective assessment can help improve risk management procedures within a company.
Auditing can lead to many opportunities of progress to other numerous roles once a person have gained that key experience in an organization. It is a career path that may lead someone to positions such as chief audit officer on up to chief executive officer. Auditors gain an in-depth understanding of the processes, policies and procedures of an organization. They are able to provide invaluable operational knowledge and industry insights to companies, with frequent exposure to the board.
That experience may frame the rest of their careers. If they wish.
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By Marc Cwikowski
August 4, 2020