Degree vs. certification: Entry-level IT auditor
Earning a degree and earning professional certifications are the two main ways to demonstrate acquired competency through education. The IT auditor career path has room for both, but what if you were to choose only one of those methods for the sake of saving time in making it to the entry-level position?
This article will detail the degree requirements and certification requirements for the IT auditor career path and will give a well-founded recommendation for which you should choose. Think of it as an advanced look at your options if you were faced with this career credential conundrum.
What do IT auditors do?
IT auditors are cybersecurity professionals responsible for risk and internal controls within an organization’s network and information security environment. The role of IT auditor does not solve security issues within an organization; rather, they focus on finding and documenting these issues. Examples of what IT auditors are commonly responsible for include identifying security flaws in an organization’s information security, creating action plans to fix said flaws and writing reports to communicate these findings to executives and other decision makers.
This role is directly mapped to the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education’s (NICE) CyberSeek model, which identifies this role as entry-level.
IT auditor degree requirements
With limited exceptions, organizations seeking IT auditors will require a degree of some kind, and the best way to see this is to examine the statistics. According to CyberSeek, 76% of organizations require a bachelor’s degree and 22% require a graduate degree. This means that cybersecurity professionals will be hard-pressed to find an organization that does not require a degree of some kind.
Organizations generally prefer Bachelor of Science degrees, based on the greater technical focus of B.S. degrees compared to B.A. degrees.
In terms of what the degree should be in, there is not one specific degree geared towards IT auditors. Instead, entry-level IT auditors can make connections between their degree and the IT auditor role and then communicate it as sort of circumstantial preparation for the role. For example, those with bachelor’s degrees in accounting can explain how this applies to the role of IT auditor.
There are several different bachelor’s degrees that can help candidates land this role, including:
- Computer science
- Information security
- Information systems
Those that have earned a B.S. degree in an adjacent field (finance, administration and so on) will find that they will have to relate this knowledge and skill set to the IT auditor role.
The good thing about earning a graduate degree is that they not only will show that you are more educated than a professional with a bachelor’s degree only, but they are also slightly more suited to the IT auditor role. Some schools offer a master’s degree in information systems and audit control, which is the most on-point degree that you can earn towards this role at the time of writing.
IT auditor certification requirement
Like other information security-related roles, certifications can help assist candidates seeking an entry-level IT auditor role. Unfortunately for the vast majority of certifications that would otherwise apply to this role, they are not fit for those seeking an entry-level role due to strict minimum experience requirements. Below is a list of certifications that are unencumbered by this requirement.
The GIAC®️ Systems and Network Auditor, or GSNA, certification is a solid choice for an entry-level IT auditor role. GSNA certifies a bearer’s knowledge, abilities and skills to conduct audits of essential information systems and to apply risk analysis techniques.
This is a good starting point for those at entry level because there is no minimum experience to sit for the certification exam, which means self-study will be the order of the day for many preparing for it.
Hosted by IIA, the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) certification has been said to be a good starting point for those looking to enter an IT auditor role. This certification does not specifically focus on the IT end of IT auditing, but it does teach governance standards and auditing best practices that can be applied to the IT auditing role.
CIA has a two-year experience requirement, so to earn this certification before you shoot for that entry-level IT auditor role will require two years of internal auditing experience.
While IT auditors can choose between a degree and certifications to help them earn this role, this applies more to IT auditors in their mid-to-late career. Things are a little different for those looking for an entry-level role.
Entry-level IT auditors will be required to earn a degree for almost every organization, with 76% of hiring organizations requiring a bachelor’s degree. Certifications that apply to IT auditing require more experience than an entry-level IT auditor would have accumulated unless this experience was earned in another field, including internal auditing and information security. So, for 99% of those seeking this role, I would strongly recommend the degree route.
- Cybersecurity Career Pathway, CyberSeek
- Cybersecurity Auditors: Information Security Experts with the Good Kind of OCD, Cyber Security Masters Degree
- Description of an IT Auditor, Chron
- GIAC Systems and Network Auditor (GSNA), CSIAC