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Career Profile for Jobs in Auditing

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Auditing can be described as the first line of defense for companies trying to ensure profitability and the tool set that lets them evaluate whether or not a given project is the most efficient use of resources. The traditional role of auditors is to prepare reports for stakeholders in an operation, shareholders in a corporation, and financial disclosure documents for regulatory services and government agencies. Most accountants work in an office environment, putting in a 40-50 hour work week. More than 2/3 of the accountants surveyed by the Department of Labor are reported as fixed salary employees; most accountants in private practice bill by (and are paid by) the hour.

The entry level auditor position requires a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field. Further opportunities abound for auditors who pass the Certified Public Accountant exam, or who go on to get a master’s degree in the field. Personality traits that make for good auditors include an attention to detail, basic mathematical insight (the ability to look at a set of figures and go “No, that’s not right…”), and a sense of integrity – auditors are trusted with a company’s most precious financial information. Auditors need to be familiar with computer literacy and basic accounting procedures; knowledge of accounting software packages is critical, as is knowledge of Excel. (There are some who use free software for this, but for high end auditing jobs, Excel’s performance advantages are important.). Knowledge of a programming language is a definite plus, particularly visual basic for applications. Knowledge of good programming practices (including designing data structures and making maintainable, documented code) is even more important.

Auditor jobs tend to rise in quantity when there are new businesses forming, or when state and federal regulations change, or when a given market segment comes under public scrutiny. Most auditors offer other services, such as document verification, budget analysis, IT consulting, and legal services pertaining to their specialty.

In general, there are four distinct subspecialties of auditor—Public, management, government accounting, and internal auditing. Each specialty has several common skill sets and specific areas of expertise that must be assimilated.

Public accountants are broadly analogous to general practitioners; they cover accounting, auditing and tax expertise to the people or organizations that hire them. Most governmental agencies have a public accountant, and non profit organizations and individuals often have them. Within their duties, most public accountants take on a particular focus, such as comparative tax advantage analysis or preparing corporate and individual tax returns. Somewhat wider a field public accountants focus on health care and compensation benefits, or the design of data processing and accounting systems tailored to the specific needs of their clients, along with generalized asset controls and safeguards.

Another specialization of public accountant is an external auditor – they examine the financial statements issued by their clients for accuracy and transparency and ensure compliance with federal reporting guidelines. Most public accountants eventually work towards a CPA certification, and this type of work lends itself to an individual practice or joining an accounting firm. Related to external auditors are forensic accountants, who try to back track how fraud has happened or reconstructing the financial records or interlinking between organizations for investigatory purposes. Typical cases involving forensic accountancy include fraud, embezzling and money laundering. Forensic accountants will generally work with law enforcement, or be called upon as expert witnesses in trials.

One important change in accounting regulations, as a result of Sarbanes-Oxley (Sarbox), are firewalls keeping accountants that provide auditing services from providing analytical services to the same clients – the same accounting firm that provides you with advice on human resources or investment banking cannot be your auditor – the primary exception is your tax advisor may also provide auditing services.

While public accountants are generalizes, management accountants (sometimes called corporate or industrial accountants) record and analyze the financial information for the firms they work for. Primary responsibilities include budgeting, performance evaluation of specific projects and cost and asset management. Management accountants are generally executive tier employees, and are compensated appropriately, around $120,000 or more per year. Their most public job function is the preparation of financial statements provided to government regulators, creditors, and shareholders.

Government accountants work in the public sector, maintaining and examining governmental records, and when the agency they’re working for has the authority to do so, they provide audits of private individuals and organizations. There are government accountants at all tiers of the US government – federal, State and local governments all have public auditors. Government auditors make anywhere from $40,000 per year to about $120,000 per year.

The last major specialization within the accounting and auditing field are internal auditors, who check and verify the extent and effectiveness of their organizations internal controls for mismanagement, waste, or fraud. The striving, over-arching goal of an internal auditor is to ensure accuracy and compliance with internal regulations and requirements. They are critical for evaluating internal efficiency of an organization, and often work within the direct data streams from automated accounting packages, effectively working in real time. Internal auditors work regularly with IT staff to ensure that their internal networking systems are secure, and that fraud is readily detected if committed.

In large part, technological progress has resulted in many accounting jobs growing in scope. With automatic transaction recording, less time is spent on book keeping and record management, and more on analysis, which is driven by computer visualization tools. This is not a career path for people who aren’t comfortable with at least the basics of computing.
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