Compared to auditing, a consulting career is more open to various backgrounds, offers higher salaries and perks ($80,000/year base for consulting vs $50,000/year for auditing), along with a wider range of high-level exit opportunities. Meanwhile, auditing recruits candidates with strong financial/accounting backgrounds, and most of the work, learning and opportunities are confined within these industries.
Overall, the scope of work for consultants is broader than that for auditors.
The focus of auditors is to detect, control audit risk and financial risk within an organization. The job is historical and number-oriented. Auditors basically review financial records of the organization and ensure money, assets and other entities are operating properly and legally.
Consulting is a fancy word for giving advice and solving business problems. It focuses on business risk and is future-oriented. The scope of consulting is much wider than auditors, which covers the strategy, implementation, management and operation of the clients.
A consulting career is undoubtedly more open than auditing.
For consulting, people from all backgrounds can join the fields just fine. As long as you are smart, possess the core attributes of a consultant – problem-solving, leadership, achieving – you have the same opportunities as others.
Auditing, on the other hand, is a technical field that requires knowledge about accounting principles. Hence, to become an auditor, you have to have a bachelor’s degree in business, accounting, or related majors. Some firms even require candidates to acquire the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) to officially get in the recruiting process. This immediately shuts the door to many smart people who just happen to choose the “wrong” college major.
The Big 4 firms pay their consultants over 30% more than auditors. A first-year auditor at Big 4 firms has an average salary of $58,000/year. Meanwhile, entry-level consultants are paid around $80,000-90,000/year. McKinsey, BCG and Bain – the most high-paying consulting firms, offers even better salaries and perks than the Big Four, frequently reaching six digits at entry levels.
Salary of Consultants and Auditors in the Big 4 firms (US – 2019)
Source: Management Consulted
As a consultant, you will normally work whatever hours are needed to finish the jobs on deadline. It usually takes up on average 60-70 hours a week, and you sometimes even have to work on weekends. Although it depends largely on the client, the project, and your position, the work-life balance is quite intense.
Auditors might enjoy a more balanced lifestyle. Aside from the busy season which happens between December and April, the working hours of auditors normally are less than 60 hours a week. During the peak season, auditors usually have to review a large amount of paperwork and strict deadlines; hence, 60+ hours of work is expected. That said, compared to the average white-collar employee, auditors are still required to work harder and longer.
Traveling is an integral part of consulting and auditing. Despite being influenced by the projects, clients, and the role, consultants generally travel more often than auditors.
For consulting, traveling mostly depends on where the project is. In the first 1 or 2 projects, you typically just go wherever the office assigns. However, after several projects, you have more flexibility to influence the staffing choices. You can ask the EM to let you travel with him on his projects to pretty much anywhere in the world.
For auditors, you will have frequent travel to the clients’ office. Thus, the traveling depends on the location of the clients, either in your home country or overseas.
In both cases, most people find traveling more of a chore than a bonus – but try to make the most of it, at least you get some more “life” for work/life balance.
Working in both of these roles offer you a wide range of exit opportunities. However, thanks to the highly diverse skill set gained, chances of networking, and prestige, consultants often have a slight edge over auditors.
Consultants work across different sectors, functions, and industries all the time. This diverse exposure equips them with the transferable, comprehensive skills that allow them to excel in other professions. Industry prestige and a strong network with C-level executives and alumni also widen the options for consultants after they leave the field. The most common consulting exit routes are:
- Corporate Management
- Finance and Banking
- Nonprofits and NGOs
- Public sector
On the other hand, since auditing is more technical and financial-focused, the gained skillset is less varied. Therefore, auditors might encounter more difficulties when it comes to start-ups or public sector paths. In terms of client-facing, auditors often have fewer chances to work with top executives at large companies than consulting fellows. Hence, they benefit less from the network to facilitate their exit choices. Some common options are:
- Analyst roles or Internal Audit roles
- Corporate Management
As mentioned, although both fields are potential grounds for employees to develop skills, consultants still practice a wider range of skills than auditors – who usually acquire more specialized abilities.
#1. Communication skill (people skill)
Due to the nature of their work, both consultants and auditors have dozens of client-meeting and collaboration with other departments. Hence, people skills are essential to maximize productivity as well as communicate effectively with others.
- For consultants: Communication is a weapon. You need to convince clients to work with you, navigate the conversation between different stakeholders in the right direction, communicate with people both directly and virtually, etc.
- For auditors: Communication skill is the second-ranked quality auditors must-have, just 1% lower than technology skills. Mainly, auditors have to work with other departments such as finance, accounting, and administration to proceed with their workflow.
#2. Analytics skills
Both consultants and auditors have to excel at analytics – but the analytics consultants do are more widely applicable elsewhere.
For consultants, to solve a difficult business problem, analytics skills are a must. The hypothesis-driven approach of consultants is a tried-and-true, highly efficient and effective method of problem-solving that makes them successful in many fields after exiting.
On the other hand, numerical aptitude is the core of auditing, and such an ability requires a strong analytical mind with meticulousness to be able to detect and control risks.
#3. Management skills
Consultants have it better than auditors in terms of management learning.
Entry-level auditors typically work on their own and climb up the ladder to take charge of more challenging projects involving more people.
Consultants, on the other hand, have to be managers from day 1: the client, the supervisors, and abundant support teams (functional expert, industry expert, research & intelligence staff, visual specialist, writers, translator, etc.). With such highly varied resources, you must master the skill of management to leverage the efficiency of your work.
#4. Business acumen
Both auditors and consultants work in several industries during their jobs, with the daily work of evaluating the information and facts to produce actionable insights. This allows them to develop strong industry and business senses.
However, consultants usually need more business tuition to deal with big business problems and offer large corporations the strategy to tackle such problems. Many consulting firms also offer the implementation of the suggested strategies for their clients, which means business acumen becomes even more important for a consultant to be successful.
Meanwhile, although auditors need business knowledge to understand the specific firms, auditors often face an audit or more technical problems.
Both fields allow you to work with exceptional people within the firms – but consultants do have better networking opportunities than auditors.
First, consultants have the chance to work closely with C-level clients from large companies, so the chances of widening the network with outstanding individuals are high. Second, consultants typically have strong support from the alumni group, those who have thrived in their post-consulting paths.
Such large and diverse networks usually are not available for auditors. In general, auditors mainly interact with middle managers, and auditing work does not require you to interact with many types of people in different situations as in consulting.
If you are wondering between auditing and consulting, you do not need to worry too much. Your career options are quite wide, even if you started out with auditing, you can still switch to the consulting arms with the same opportunity chances as others.