These days, financial accountability is essential across all areas of public life – and that’s where auditors step in. There are many different types of auditor, and there are many well-paid jobs on offer around the world for them.
So, what will I actually be doing?
An auditor’s job is to ensure that an organisation is using its resources in the most efficient ways – whether for the sake of the taxpayer in the public sector, or shareholders in private businesses. And your job security is pretty-much guaranteed as all public companies and publicly-funded bodies have to – by law – undergo an annual audit.
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The nitty gritty
As an auditor, you will need strong communication skills, lots of tact, and confidence in your own ability. People will question what you’re doing – especially if you uncover any problems with their records… Think of yourself as the Columbo of the financial world!
You’ll not only have to write reports on your findings, but you may also find yourself in a boardroom giving PowerPoint presentations to managers and directors. You’ll be expected to keep on top of the many – many – changes in the law and keep a rational view of the best way ahead when all around you people are flapping in a panic.
Money, money, money
On a graduate trainee scheme straight out of college, your starting salary will be £18,000-£22,000 a year. Once fully-fledged, an auditor can expect to earn £35-£45,000 in a public sector position, rising to well over £60,000 as a senior manager. Much higher salaries can be earned by high flyers in the commercial sector.
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The good points...
Despite the blow that was dealt to the job-for-life reputation of public sector auditing by the decision to shut down the Audit Commission, there’s still a very solid career structure in place for auditors in central and local government, the NHS and beyond.
Wider opportunities exist for external auditors in the private sector – whether by specialisation in areas such as tax auditing or the increasingly fashionable environmental auditing – or by going international. For a UK-trained auditor, the world truly can be your oyster.
...and the bad
At some point during the week most auditors will be involved in collecting financial data, recording it in spreadsheet form, analysing it and coming up with recommendations. If admin floats your boat then lucky you, but for many people it can be a dull part of the job.
Is there study involved?
To get onto the first step of the ladder you will need a bare minimum of two A-levels. But the majority of new entrants are graduates, preferably with a degree at least vaguely relevant to number-crunching or business practice. You then need to study – either on a trainee scheme or independently – for an accountancy qualification from an accredited body, such as the ACCA, CIPFA or CIMA.
On top of this you will also need two years’ accountancy experience and a recognised practicing certificate before you can conduct an external audit. One favoured route is to join a big accountancy firm, a local authority or the government’s National Audit Office as a graduate trainee.
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OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
The auditing profession is split between external and internal auditors. The former are the Stormtroopers of the auditing world – they descend on a business in packs, not leaving until every last invoice has been checked. Their role is to verify the accounts, to identify mismanagement or fraud, to minimise financial risk and to advise on efficiency. Their conclusions can mean life or death for any company.
Internal auditors have a different focus. They tend to look at policies and procedures more than at balance sheets, although they also prepare the accounts that external auditors scrutinise. All auditors have a licence to grill - which is why they are usually feared more than loved.