A Look Ahead: Internal Audit Hiring and Salary Trends

By Robert Half August 29, 2016 at 9:00am

Demand for internal auditors is likely to be strong in 2017, just as it was in 2016. Robert Half’s latest Salary Guide for the accounting and finance profession once again listed internal auditor as one of the hottest positions. 

The outlook for the profession over the next several years also looks bright: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for internal auditing professionals will grow faster than the average for all occupations from 2014 to 2024.

One reason demand for internal auditors, including those who work on a consulting basis, is strong is that many companies are launching new revenue-generating initiatives. And while these pursuits create opportunity, they also can invite risk that internal auditors must help the business to assess and monitor.

However, there is an even greater driver of internal audit hiring today: the increasingly complex and continually evolving regulatory compliance environment. Businesses need professionals with expertise in risk and compliance to help them meet diverse mandates. The Salary Guide reports: “As organizations push to improve internal controls and transparency, they are also looking for internal auditors.”

Internal auditor salary trends

With increased competition for top performers, many businesses in the United States are stepping up the compensation they offer to boost their recruitment and retention of internal auditors.

For example, according to Robert Half’s Salary Guide, the average starting salary for a senior internal auditor working at a large organization ($250 million or more in revenue) in 2017 is expected to increase by 4 percent. Starting compensation for a senior internal auditor at a midsize company ($25 million to $250 million in revenue) is expected to rise by 4.1 percent.

Internal audit managers in corporate accounting departments can expect to see similar gains — 3.9 to 4 percent, depending on the size of the company. And in financial services organizations, base compensation for internal auditors is expected to rise by 4 percent in 2017, the guide reports.

To determine internal auditor salary levels in your area, go to the Robert Half Management Resources Salary Center and use our Salary Calculator.

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In-demand credentials

Internal auditors who have the following certifications are highly sought, according to the Salary Guide:

Many employers also look for candidates who have earned a master of business administration (MBA).

For candidates, earning in-demand credentials not only can help them to advance their careers, but also earn higher compensation. According to The 2015 Internal Audit Compensation Study Executive Report from The IIA, which was authored by Robert Half senior executive director Paul McDonald, salaries for internal audit roles are notably higher for professionals with advanced certifications. The report also noted that “the gap is widening.”

This echoes research from the Robert Half Salary Guide, which found, in general, that professionals with a certification or advanced degree can earn starting salaries up to 15 percent above the market average.

Wanted: both technical and soft skills

To succeed in a management position in internal audit, professionals need proficiency and experience with common job functions, including:

  • Examining financial statements for accuracy
  • Ensuring conformance with laws and regulations
  • Making recommendations on best practices for financial operations
  • Suggesting ways to increase efficiency and reduce costs
  • Reporting and addressing risk management issues

Data analytics skills are also becoming a required skill set for internal auditors in many organizations. As McDonald notes in a blog post about the rise of “hybrid jobs” that meld specialized expertise like auditing with technology skills like data analysis: “I recently participated in a conference for internal audit professionals [and] several of my fellow attendees mentioned the need within their organizations for finance professionals who have strong backgrounds in technology. Data analytics kept coming up again and again.”

Technical skills are only part of the equation, however. A solid range of in-demand soft skills are often equally important for success in the internal audit field today. In a white paper, McDonald and The IIA’s president and chief executive officer Richard Chambers outlined seven nontechnical attributes 21st century internal auditors should possess:

In addition, according to the 2016 North American Pulse of Internal Audit report from The IIA’s Audit Executive Center, interpersonal skills like diplomacy and active listening have never been more important for internal auditors to possess as the function moves into more of a trusted advisor role in many organizations.

The report also notes that while some internal auditors may find it “new and uncomfortable” to focus on developing and applying these skills, these abilities “are necessary to meet the growing expectations of internal audit as it engages in emerging risks.”

It would seem, though, based on the findings of the latest Global Internal Audit Common Body of Knowledge (CBOK) study, administered through The IIA Research Foundation (IIARF), that many internal auditors are confident that they are competent in soft skills such as communication, persuasion and collaboration, and critical thinking.

For those internal auditing professionals who want or need to improve interpersonal skills, the CBOK report suggests that training designed to “improve tools and techniques for working with others” can be a path to improvement. As for critical thinking, on-the-job experience coupled with dedicated feedback and coaching from internal auditors is the way for professionals to earn what the report cites as “the most sought-after skill by internal audit hiring managers.”

The good news is that development of personal skills has become an area of focus for many internal auditors, according to Protiviti’s latest Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey. Respondents to the survey ranked presenting (public speaking), developing outside contacts/networking, and strategic thinking among the top five internal audit personal skills priorities. The number-one priority is developing audit committee relationships.

As Protiviti, a Robert Half subsidiary, underscores in its report about the survey findings: “These skills, which have ranked consistently as priorities over the past decade, are key to building more collaborative relationships with the organization and marketing internal audit internally in the most effective manner.”

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This post was originally published in October 2014 and has been updated to reflect more current information.

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