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What Does an Internal Auditor Do?

Internal Auditors | What do they do?

As businesses grow, their operations become more complicated. Identifying every potential problem and inefficiency seems impossible—unless you’re an internal auditor.

Internal auditors act as management’s eyes and ears, peering into the organization’s financial activities. Businesses that hire internal auditors can save a significant amount of money as potentially costly mistakes are identified and avoided. But what does an internal auditor do, and what is it like to be an internal auditor? Read on to learn more.

What is an Internal Auditor?

Internal auditors are professionals who work within organizations to assess operations involving risk management, control processes, and governance processes. They delve into everything from financial reporting and compliance to IT and HR. If an internal auditor spots signs of trouble, like an inefficient system or improper financial handling, they report their findings to management and recommend solutions. Their role is critical as they help ensure that the organization is functioning at an optimal level and being compliant with business regulations. A Certified Internal Auditor, or CIA, is an auditor who has passed the CIA exam. The Institute of Internal Auditors (The IIA) administers the CIA exam and sets the requirements that candidates must meet. The IIA is the internal auditing profession’s global authority and sets standards that internal auditors must follow.

What does an Internal Auditor do?

Being an internal auditor is a bit like being an investigator. They carefully analyze company data and try to find issues that they then communicate to management. Their specific duties vary depending on the organization, but a typical day might include:

  • Reviewing financial statements
  • Conducting audits
  • Identifying risks
  • Developing control systems
  • Investigating fraud or misconduct
  • Advising management
  • Creating processes that mitigate risks

An internal auditor’s work can be very broad, requiring expert knowledge across accounting, business, and compliance practices.

Internal Auditor qualifications

Business leaders expect internal auditors to have specific qualifications, such as:


Most internal auditing positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, although that degree does not necessarily need to be in accounting or finance. A master’s degree usually isn’t necessary, but it can make you a more attractive candidate for internal auditor jobs.



Some companies may prefer hiring Certified Internal Auditors. These are auditors who have passed the three-part certification exam offered by The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). Candidates need to satisfy education and work experience requirements before taking the exam. 

There are other certifications that may help your career as an internal auditor, such as being a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), or Certified Public Accountant (CPA). The CIA is the gold standard for internal auditing and opens up the most opportunities in internal audit. Certifications like the CISA are for auditors specializing in a niche—IT audit in CISA’s case—and certifications like the CPA are a lot broader than the CIA. The CIA is the best way to signal internal auditing expertise.


Skills needed for being an Internal Auditor

Succeeding in an internal auditor job requires a diverse skill set. These skills include:


As an internal auditor, you might spend all day examining business records and searching for the smallest discrepancies. Superior organization skills are crucial. If you miss something, it could directly impact the company’s business standing and bottom line.


Attention to detail

If problems were easy to spot, companies wouldn’t need an internal auditor’s services. Internal auditors are valuable because they can uncover issues that no one else sees. They need to be able to carefully examine and categorize complex data. 



Identifying potential problems is just the first step. Internal auditors then need to explain what’s wrong in a way that’s easy to understand. They also must be able to communicate their solutions and processes to put in place to mitigate risks.


Accounting skills

Being an internal auditor will be much easier if you have at least intermediate math abilities. The job requires you to be immersed in numbers all day. Thorough knowledge of accounting procedures will help as well.


Internal Auditor salary & job outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Opens in new window doesn’t provide specific data for internal auditors. Instead, it groups internal auditors together with other types of accountants and auditors. The BLS reports that the median salary for this group was $77,250 in 2021. It also expects the industry to grow 7% by 2030.

Internal Auditor vs. External Auditor

Internal and external auditors have similar roles, but there are several key differences, including:

  • External auditors work for a third party, while internal auditors are usually company employees.
  • Internal auditors work throughout the year, performing multiple smaller audits. External auditors are more likely to conduct a single comprehensive audit.
  • Internal auditors can offer advice.
  • Internal auditors report to management; external auditors report to investors, shareholders, lenders, etc.
  • External auditors are more likely to be auditing financial statements. Internal auditors look at the company as a whole and review processes and controls as well as financials.


The CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and CIA (Certified Internal Auditor) are each prestigious accounting credentials that can boost your resume. They’re both earned by passing a difficult exam, but they’re managed by different organizations. 

CPA is a US-based license, while CIA is an international certification. The CIA job description includes analyzing a company’s internal practices. The role is laser-focused on performing internal audits. CPAs can perform audits as well, but the scope of their role is broader. CPAs may be responsible for consulting, risk management, income tax preparation, and more.  

The CIA and CPA licensing requirements differ as well. CPAs need to be licensed in every state where they practice, but CIAs do not.

You don’t have to choose just one credential. Dual certification is a great way for both CIAs and CPAs to increase their expertise.

Reasons to become a Certified Internal Auditor

If you’re planning on making a long-term career out of internal auditing, then becoming a Certified Internal Auditor is probably a good idea. You can find numerous online resources to help you prepare, including Gleim’s Premium CIA Exam Prep Course.

Here are five reasons why becoming a CIA is worth the investment:


Higher salary

According to The IIA, CIAs earn significantly more than their non-certified counterparts. And that pay increases with time. Being a CIA can bring you much closer to financial stability and success.


Greater job security

Few career avenues are guaranteed, but you can feel confident in your chances of finding employment as a CIA. The IIA’s 2021 Internal Audit Leadership Survey shows CIA is the certification employers value the most for internal auditors. If two applicants have similar qualifications, the CIA is more likely to get the role.

Job titles for CIAs include:

  • Auditing specialist
  • Internal controls auditor
  • Risk manager
  • Compliance auditor
  • Financial analyst
  • CAE (Chief Audit Executive)

Professional credential

Becoming a CIA isn’t easy. It requires intense dedication and focus to meet The IIA’s requirements. By achieving your certification, you’ll deepen your internal auditing knowledge. Business leaders search for “CIA” on internal auditor applications because they know CIAs are experienced and committed auditors.


International recognition

As we mentioned above, CIAs obtain international certification. Want to live abroad? The value of your credential is recognized and respected in every country. Most IIA members are CIAs.


More achievable than you may think

There are no “easy” accounting certifications. However, many professionals find the CIA exam requirements to be more flexible than others. Why? You don’t need to commit as much time. CIAs have fewer work and education requirements to meet than candidates preparing for exams like the CPA and CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst). In addition, the CIA exam itself is shorter. CPA Exams are 14 hours and cover four sections, while CIA exams cover 3 parts that only last for 6.5 hours.

The CIA exam pass rate is slightly lower than the CPA Exam pass rate, but you have more time to take the test. You have three years, while CPA candidates only have 18 months to pass.

Plus, if you’re eligible, you can expedite the process by taking the CIA Challenge exam.

Steps to become a Certified Internal Auditor

Are you ready to take on the challenge of becoming a CIA? Here are the steps:


Determine your eligibility

The IIA has specific requirements for candidates. You must have either:

  • A Bachelor’s degree, or
  • An active Internal Audit Practitioner designation, or
  • Five years of internal audit experience

Students are eligible as well if they’re in their final year of college or are attending an approved Internal Audit Education Partnership (IAEP) school.


Join The IIA as a student affiliate member or regular member

You can join The IIA at any point during your candidacy, but we recommend doing so before beginning your exam prep. You aren’t required to become an IIA member, but membership has many benefits, including discounts on study materials, IIA events, and publications. 


Purchase the Gleim CIA Review Course

Gleim’s course is the most popular in the world for a reason. It’s comprehensive, convenient, and effective. You can study on your own time and at your own pace with our flexible, customizable online format. Plus, you can take practice quizzes and mock exams to gauge your understanding of each concept.


Pass the exams

You must pass three CIA exam parts to earn your certifications:

  • Part 1: Essentials of Internal Auditing
  • Part 2: Practice of Internal Auditing
  • Part 3: Business Knowledge for Internal Auditing

You have three years to pass all three parts. You can take them in any order, but we recommend starting with Part 1. It covers general concepts that will be useful on the other exams.


Maintain your certification

The IIA requires practicing CIAs to complete 40 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits every year. Gleim can help you fulfill this requirement quickly and easily with our CPE packages.

Earning your CIA certification is a major accomplishment. It’s also just the beginning of your journey as an internal auditor. Stick with Gleim as your resource throughout your career to ensure you maintain compliance and stay ahead of the curve.

Start your CIA journey today!