What Is A Certified Internal Auditor

Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) is an accounting certification for people who perform internal audits. The designation can only be given by the Institute of Internal Affairs (IIA) and is accepted worldwide.

The CIA certification is similar in function to certified public accountants (CPAs). Both are trained in accounting; furthermore, some of their functions even overlap. However, someone with a CIA designation will have a much more focused skill set.

Another difference between the two is that CPA credentials are only recognized within the United States, while the CIA designation is recognized internationally. And although it is not very common, an accountant can hold both the CPA and CIA designations.

What Does A CIA Do

What Does A CIA Do?

CIAs test and evaluate internal control systems. This means they set up systems to prevent loss, theft, fraud, and damaged goods during business operations. They do so by reviewing effectiveness of management, regulation compliance, and safeguarding of assets.

Internal auditors also ensure that all financial data they work with is reliable and up to date. This includes reviewing monthly balance sheets, financial reports, and capital expenditures. Everything reviewed by an internal auditor must follow both internal policies and external regulations.

To put the position in simpler terms, CIAs help upper management mitigate risk and safeguard company assets.

How can you earn the CIA certification?

How Can You Earn The CIA Certification?

Becoming CIA certified is a difficult process that requires several years to complete. You can find a detailed breakdown of all these steps below:


To qualify for the CIA exam, you must first ensure you have the proper education.

All CIA candidates must have a 4-year degree or higher from a university accredited by the IAA. You will be asked to prove this by providing either a copy of your degree or your official transcripts. Alternatively, you can qualify for the CIA exam if you have two years of college education and five years worth of work experience in internal auditing.

If you still wish to qualify for the CIA without any post secondary schooling, you need seven years of verified work experience in internal auditing. More on that below:

Work Experience

After completing the necessary education, you must then meet a work experience requirement.

Though you may apply for exams before meeting this requirement, you will not receive certification until you complete your work experience. How much experience is needed is dependent upon your maximum completed level of education.

The requirements for the program are:

Education Level Years of Required Work Experience (Internal Auditing or Equivalent)
Master’s Degree (or equivalent) 12 months
Bachelor’s Degree (or equivalent) 24 months
Associate’s Degree, three A-Level
Certificates, grade C or higher (or equivalent)
60 months

Source – Institute of Internal Auditors Eligibility Requirements

Character Reference

In order to meet with the strict moral and character requirements, all candidates require a Character Reference Form. It must be signed by a CIA, CCSA, CGAP, CRMA, CFSA, or other supervisor. This requirement ensures you have a high level of integrity to go along with your professionalism.

You can find the Character Reference Form here.

Take The CIA Exam

Once you have met the eligibility requirements for the CIA exam, the last step is to take and pass all three parts of the test.

The first part of the exam is Internal Audit Basics. It contains 125 questions and lasts 2½ hours. Topics tested include mandatory guidance from the IPPF, internal control and risk concepts, and tools and techniques for internal audit engagements.

Part two of the test is Internal Audit Practice, which has 100 questions and lasts 2 hours. It tests internal audit function management and the establishment of a risk-based plan. This part also tests students’ knowledge of the required steps for the management of individual engagements as well as fraud controls and risks.

The final portion of the CIA exam is the Internal Audit Knowledge Elements. Here you will be tested on governance and business ethics, risk management, and organizational structure. This portion is also 100 questions and is 2 hours long.

How can I prepare for the Exam?

How Can I Prepare For The CIA Exam?

There are a few options for getting ready for the CIA. The IIA has issued a number of Global Technology Audit Guides (GTAG) that review issues related to information technology, management, control, and security. Each of these guides can be purchased from the IIA bookstore, but IIA members can access them for free.

There are also several great CIA review courses that can help you study and pass the exam. Luckily, each part of the exam is taken at different times and your completion of each part is permanent. This lets you prepare for each part individually, drastically cutting down on the amount of material you need to memorize at once.

How much does it cost?

How Much Does The CIA Exam Cost?

Prices for the CIA exam vary based on your membership status with the IIA. Though you don’t need to be an IIA member to take the exam, most join for the professional benefits of the organization as well as the exam fee discount.

Here’s a breakdown of the different fees for different students:

Membership Type IIA Non-IIA Student
Membership fee $250 NA $40
Application $115 $230 $65
Exam registration total $740 $1085 $590
Part One $280 $395 $230
Part Two $230 $345 $180
Part Three $230 $345 $180

In order to receive the student discount, candidates must be full-time students. If you are enrolled in at least 12 credits for a Bachelor’s program or 9 credits for a Master’s program, you are considered a full-time student.

Job Prospects for CIAs

Job Prospects For CIAs

According to eFinancialCareers, these are the most common sectors for CIAs:

Work Sector Percentage
Accounting/Finance 40.4
Consulting 8.3
Asset Management/Hedge Funds 3.3
Investment Banking/M&A/Commercial Banking 4
IT/Operations 8
Other 35.1

Though a CIA traditionally works in accounting, there has been an increase of demand for internal auditors in other fields. Indeed has listings for CIAs in fields as varied as healthcare, call centers, insurance, public safety, and much more.

Consequently, any CIA has a wide range of choices when it comes to careers. Although the knowledge base is specific, the truth is that understanding risks and developing audit plans is always relevant when it comes to commercial entities. Hence, this allows internal auditors to be much more flexible in the role they fill in the workforce.

Who uses Internal Auditing Procedures?

Who Uses Internal Auditing Procedures?

The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) requires all publicly traded companies to periodically conduct internal audits. While most private companies and small businesses are not legally required to conduct audits, many still do to improve business procedures.

Additionally, government agencies and nonprofit organizations also employ internal auditors to cut back on unnecessary spending and keep an eye on financial activities. The General Accounting Office and the Defense Contract Audit Agency are two prime examples of federal internal accounting departments.

How much money can a Certified Internal Auditor expect to make?

How Much Money Can a Certified Internal Auditor Expect To Make?

According to the Robert Half Staffing Firm, many businesses are increasing the level of compensation offered to skilled internal auditors.

Listed below are some of the midpoint starting salaries for internal audit positions:

Position Salary
Chief Audit Executive $175,250
Internal Audit Manager $112,750
Internal Auditor (Senior) $87,250
Internal Auditor (1-3 years of experience) $71,000
Internal Auditor (up to 1 year of experience) $46,250

In addition to these salaries, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for internal auditors will increase by 10 percent between 2016 and 2026. The continued globalization of businesses is leading to an increase in demand for internal auditors related to international trade and international mergers and acquisitions.

Deciding between a CPA and a CIA

Deciding Between CPA and CIA Certifications 

While the CPA is a more sought after certification in the in the United States, the CIA is the only internationally recognized accounting certification. The CIA is a good option for someone who wants more flexibility in where they can work. With the general increase in globalization in business, possessing a certification that lets you work anywhere in the world is a tremendous advantage.

Alternatively, if you only plan to work in the United States, then the CPA is a better choice. Many hiring managers look for CPAs due to their reliance with traditional accounting. CPAs are also typically employed as an external resource for a company, while CIAs work within one company, as their name implies.

The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line

Completing the CIA exam will grant you a useful accounting credential. If you become CIA certified you are likely to get a stable job in a rapidly growing industry. Many private and public companies are experiencing a new demand for internal auditors as their companies grow and embrace the global market.

It is important to remember that earning a CIA certification is a large time investment. There is a minimum of six years of work required to become eligible for a CIA certification through education and work experience. You will also need to pass all three parts of the CIA exam, which will likely take, at the very minimum, another year.

If you are willing to commit to the time requirement or have already completed the prerequisites, go ahead and earn your CIA certification. It will drastically increase your odds of gaining employment in a stable internal auditing position.

Kenneth W. Boyd

Kenneth W. Boyd is a former Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and the author of several of the popular "For Dummies" books published by John Wiley & Sons including 'CPA Exam for Dummies' and 'Cost Accounting for Dummies'.

Ken has gained a wealth of business experience through his previous employment as a CPA, Auditor, Tax Preparer and College Professor. Today, Ken continues to use those finely tuned skills to educate students as a professional writer and teacher.