Government Job Profile: Internal Auditor

Here's How You Can Be Nosy for a Living

two business people looking at financial report
Drazen Lorvic / Getty Images

Do you want to get into other people’s business for a living? Well, a career as an internal auditor can satisfy your curiosity and bring you a nice paycheck. Internal auditors look into an organization’s operations and recommend ways to reduce the potential for waste, fraud and abuse. They play critical roles in organizational improvement and in safeguarding public funds. 

The Selection Process

Internal auditors are selected using the normal government hiring process.

Since internal auditors tend to hold professional certifications, government organizations may require proof of those certifications. Organizations want to know candidates actually obtained the certifications and that the certifications have not expired if they are subject to doing so.

Some organizations have career ladders for their internal audit staff. When career ladder promotions are competitively selected, organizations often follow the normal hiring process in these instances as well. This allows managers to take advantage of a system that already has widely-accepted credibility and fairness.

Sometimes, career ladder promotions are not competitively selected. In these situations, jobholders complete requirements as laid out by the organization. Upon achievement, employees move up a pay grade, get a pay raise and are allowed to take on more important assignments. Internal auditors at the highest levels of the career ladder are often tasked with the project manager role in large, complex audits.

The Education and Experience You'll Need

New college graduates can start their careers as internal auditors. Most likely, they will work as part of an internal audit shop within a large organization. Since many large organizations have career ladders for internal auditors, young professionals can grow in their first jobs and promote to positions with more responsibility and higher pay without changing their core job functions.

As young professionals gain experience, they begin to pursue professional certifications. For instance, The Institute of International Auditors, or IIA, offers the Certified Internal Auditor, or CIA, certification as the first of many certifications an internal auditor can earn. The CIA certification is a generalist certification, but there are many others where internal auditors can prove they have particular skills in specialized areas of the profession.

These certifications come in handy when internal auditors try to push themselves up the career ladder or apply for jobs at other organizations. Certifications are required for some jobs. Other times, organizations use them as tiebreakers when two candidates are equally qualified.

What You'll Do

Internal auditors are employed by government organizations to play a watchdog role within the organization. While most people think about internal auditors as an organization’s second set of accountants, this perception of the profession is far too narrow. Yes, internal auditors inspect an organization’s financials for fraud, waste and abuse; but they do so much more.

They make recommendations to organizational leadership on how processes can be more effective, efficient and with appropriate controls in place.

They make these recommendations in reports where they have backed their assertions with data analysis and professional judgment.

The vast majority of government organizations take these recommendations seriously. First, the recommendations are aimed at preventing fraud, waste and abuse from happening. Second, the recommendations are subject to open records laws. If a citizen wants to see an internal audit report, the organization must show it. Many organizations post their internal audit reports online as a matter of practice.

Through management responses and follow-up actions, organizational leaders show how they respond to the recommendations. It is rare for an organization to dismiss an internal auditor’s recommendation. When leaders disagree with internal auditors, they document their rationale clearly so they have a historical record if they need to explain again later.

Before an internal auditor or an internal audit shop conducts an audit, they conduct risk assessments of their organizations. They do this so they can put their effort to the best possible uses. They focus audits on areas or issues where risk is greatest. Risk can take many forms, but the most common risk is financial. Another big risk factor is negative media attention.

Internal auditors have many different methodologies for assessing risk. Most include gathering qualitative input from personnel within the organization and applying mathematical formulas to perceived intensity of risk and potential harm to the organization.

Internal auditors can specialize in particular types of auditing work. For example, some internal auditors focus on information systems. They make sure these systems have appropriate access controls and security. This role within an organization is critical as more and more data is stored in government systems.

To be successful in internal audit jobs, people need to be strong in several areas. First, they need strong analytical skills. Internal auditors look at the ways things are to see what is working and what is not. Second, they must be organized. Data sources can be overwhelming at times, so internal auditors have to organize themselves, their information and their work effectively. Third, they should be good communicators. In order to affect organizational change, they need to clearly articulate what is working less than optimally and how it can be improved.   

What You'll Earn

According to May 2012 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, accountants and internal auditors earn an average annual salary of $63,550. The top 10% of earners make more than $111,510, and the bottom 10% bring in less than $39,930.

Accountants and internal auditors working in the public sector have a median salary slightly below that of those working in other sectors. Government accountants and internal auditors earn on average $61,490 per year. Still, when compared to jobs such as child protective services caseworkers and correctional officers, this salary far outstrips that of many other government jobs.