Many people will see auditing as a path to early retirement and in some ways, this is a good opportunity to slow down but keep an income coming in. Becoming an auditor is relatively straight forward, becoming a good auditor is a separate subject matter but I thought I would lay down the general principles and steps someone needs to take to become an auditor.
First, you need your head read as you’re mad, only kidding, the job is enjoyable even though it can sound boring and a conversation stopper. You get to see a lot of things and learn many things about business and general personal conduct and relationships.
The real first thing is to be prepared for travel, anyone who applies to IMS for a job underestimates the amount of travel involved, no matter how much I explain and ensure they understand I always get people tell me they didn’t realise how much. Auditing is not done on your doorstep, there is never enough work in a local area to keep someone from traveling at least some of the time. This may not be every night but expect a night or two a week based on full time position.
I always tell people that I can teach you how to audit but I can’t teach you is the logical approach and demeanour that you need to take and the industry knowledge that should be in place for the sectors you plan on auditing.
Now there is a lot of suggestions in the industry that you need to attend an IRCA (International Register of Certified Auditors) (or equivalent (other countries etc)) Lead Auditor course and be registered with them for the relevant standard, this is a myth. Some Certification Bodies also require it but there is nothing within our standards that require this process to be in place. Although not spelled out within the accreditation standards, auditors need to be competent in the requirements laid out in ISO 19011 which is what an IRCA lead auditor course should deliver against. ISO 19011 is the guidelines for auditing management systems and it is there to inform you how you should conduct yourself during an audit, how to write audit plans, how to interview people etc. Any training that you receive should ensure that these skills are taught but there is nothing that states it should be IRCA (or equivalent), Certification Bodies can also deliver this training internally if they wish. If we can demonstrate the auditors are competent to perform auditing, then we would be compliant. A lot of Certification Bodies will just expect IRCA as it ticks a lot of boxes.
In any case, passing the IRCA course is the first step and would not deem you as competent, you would need to demonstrate your competence and knowledge through a series of tests, witnesses, interviews or any other method defined by the Certification Body. It is advisable that after you have passed your course that you attend some audits with an experienced auditor who can show you the ropes, you should only witness these audits and ensure you ask a lot of questions of the auditor but not in front of the client as this would distract from the audit. Just watch and make notes of questions and then ask them during lunch or after the assessment at appropriate times.
Whilst you are taking part in these witnessed assessments you should be completing the competence records for the Certification Bodies to demonstrate your knowledge in various sectors. Unfortunately, there is a lot of paperwork involved and no matter what a Certification Body does to reduce this, there will always be some element. If you don’t want to fill in paperwork, then you should reconsider auditing as everything we do needs to be evidenced. You need to be able to demonstrate your knowledge in a sector such as manufacturing as working somewhere for 30 years does not mean you know all aspects of that sector, you may just know the activities within the organisation you worked within. This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to audit, it just means that you would be confined to certain organisations. There are 39 EA codes that all businesses are within, and each Certification Body will break those down into technical areas which could double that number. You must be able to demonstrate your knowledge and competence in the relevant codes you feel you can audit.
Once you have completed your competence records and have witnessed enough that you feel is necessary then it’s time to get involved a little more, each Certification Body is slightly different in this approach but IMS will let you team up with an experienced auditor for a couple of audits and you share the work, they will ask you to do some parts such as management review, complaints etc and they will check over your shoulder. Depending on your confidence and experience in general, then you may do this once or you may do these multiple times. When you are both comfortable that you have got enough knowledge and comfort in the process then the tables will turn, and it will be your opportunity to perform an audit on your own, but you will have an experienced auditor with you who will check everything you do and make sure you are performing the audit correctly and asking the right questions, following the audit trails etc. There will be a checklist in place that the person witnessing you will complete and will basically score your performance and determine if you are free to go or you need a little more time.
If you are free to go, then the Certification Body will often team you up with someone else for a little while longer until a little more experience has been gained or send you on the more simplistic audits. Personally, I like to let auditors go off and find their feet for a few months and overcome obstacles they come across and will then deliver some additional training internally to hone the skills a bit more. If we deliver too much training straight off the bat it can be information overload and can make auditors get confused with the entire process. Having some time to find your own way and methods helps your understanding and then we can fine tune your skills.
I have said this to new auditors many times, it will take you 12 months of consistent auditing before you are at a point where you should be able to tackle any organisations system without thinking too much. Every organisation and system is so different that you need to experience many variables before you have covered enough systems to know what you are doing without thinking too hard. Your brain will ache and be constantly churning before it becomes second nature. I don’t think people believe me when I say this, but they have all come back and agreed.
The auditing world is interesting, and you will learn a lot and meet a lot of new people, you will get out of it what you put in much like a lot of things in life. Personality comes into play a lot and there have been horror stories of auditors taking the “god like approach” to auditing which is wrong, we are there under invitation and as a service and although we have a job to do there are means and ways of communicating the requirements. We focus a lot on the personality of the auditor rather than the skills as per my fourth paragraph I can teach you auditing but I can’t teach you to be a logical person who has a nice demeanour. Don’t go in with a hammer fist as you will find that clients will not open up and you will find any audit a challenge, you won’t impress anyone by barking orders and threats.