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Tips for Pursuing a Job in the Field of Compliance

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at CTU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This article is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

Compliance officers and compliance departments perform essential functions for organizations in all types of industries, and depending upon the specific job role, those working in compliance departments may have vastly different responsibilities. In the financial industry, for example, compliance could entail conducting risk assessments to evaluate the health of financial institutions or monitoring lending activity to ensure that borrowers are treated fairly.1 Meanwhile, someone working in environmental compliance might be responsible for informing others about pollution control regulations and inspection findings and how to correct problems, or ensuring that permits, licenses, and records adhere to licensing requirements.2 Yet, despite the seemingly limitless array of compliance functions out there, pursuing a role in compliance, regardless of the industry, generally requires a specific set of skills and level of educational achievement.

What Is Compliance?

If working in compliance means that specific duties vary depending upon the industry you’re in, then what is compliance? The International Compliance Association defines compliance as “the ability to act according to an order, set of rules, or request,” and notes that business compliance is concerned with internal rules as well as external rules and regulations.3

Looking at some compliance-oriented occupations can help shed even more light on what compliance is. For instance, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, compliance officers evaluate and investigate eligibility for (or conformity with) laws and regulations that govern contract compliance of licenses and permits, in addition to carrying out other compliance- and enforcement-related activities.4 In the business and financial sector, financial examiners are responsible for enforcing compliance with laws and regulations governing financial and securities institutions and financial and real estate transactions, and they may also be required to examine, verify, or authenticate records.1

In business compliance, responsibilities may include:

  • Performing risk assessments and advising about those risks
  • Designing and implementing methods to protect the organization from those risks
  • Monitoring and reporting on the effectiveness of these methods
  • Resolving compliance issues as they arise
  • Advising the organization on current rules and regulations3

What to Expect as You Pursue a Compliance Career

As with any other career pursuit, getting a job in compliance may not happen immediately—in some cases, the most effective route to moving into a compliance role at an organization could be taking a different job at the same company. Some positions may offer on-the-job training in the form of working under senior compliance employees, which could mitigate the need for prior compliance experience—but at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree is generally required to get your foot in the door if you’re looking to become a financial examiner, for example.5

Those seeking compliance jobs should expect to encounter competition, and relevant compliance experience could be an asset. But for those who lack direct compliance experience and want to pursue opportunities in financial compliance, for example, having a background in banking, insurance, or accounting should provide the best prospects.1 In light of the organizational, managerial, and evaluative skills needed to be successful in a compliance role, certain candidates may be able to leverage previous work experience in project management, operations, or a similar position.

Those who are seeking to enter the compliance field should generally be inquisitive and possess strong attention to detail. Compliance jobs entail reviewing large amounts of information to ensure that it adheres to rules and regulations, and because these roles also require synthesizing and communicating that information simply and effectively to coworkers and decision-makers, an ability to communicate effectively is desirable. Soft skills such as critical thinking, complex problem solving, systems analysis, and judgment and decision making, among others4, 6 may also be crucial to performing the responsibilities required of those in compliance.

What Kinds of Compliance Positions Are There?

Wherever there are internal or external rules to be followed, there is likely a need for someone to work in compliance. Compliance positions may commonly be found in financial fields, where adhering to extensive government regulations is mandatory, and the estimated job growth for compliance occupations varies by role and sector. As one example, employment of financial examiners, who perform compliance functions in the business and financial sector, is projected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028.5 Meanwhile, employment of “compliance officers”—an umbrella term that includes a number of non-financial occupations—is projected to grow 6 percent between 2018 and 2028.7

What Degree Do I Need?

Those interested in pursuing a compliance career path as a financial examiner will typically need a bachelor’s degree along with some coursework in accounting, finance, economics, or a related field (examiners at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) typically must have taken at least 6 semester hours in accounting).5 Since working in compliance most often involves understanding and following laws, rules, and regulations, a project management or an accounting degree could be applicable. For more senior roles, a Master of Business Administration could prove helpful, although requirements can vary.

For those interested in pursuing financial compliance positions, earning a CAMS (Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist) credential and working toward taking FINRA’s (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) Series 24 Exam could help signal to employers that you possess industry-relevant foundational knowledge. Ultimately, however, the exact requirements for getting a job in compliance will likely depend on the nuances of the role and the preferences of the company to which you’re applying.

While this quick look at how to pursue a career path in compliance may seem daunting, the admissions advisors at CTU can help provide guidance and information to assist you in selecting a degree program that’s right for you.

Looking to enter the business world? Learn about CTU's business degree programs.

1. National Center for O*NET Development, O*NET OnLine, “13-2061.00—Financial Examiners,” https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2061.00 (last visited February 20, 2020).
2. National Center for O*NET Development, O*NET OnLine, “13-1041.01—Environmental Compliance Inspectors,” https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-1041.01 (last visited April 7, 2020).
3. International Compliance Association (ICA), “What Is Compliance?,” https://www.int-comp.org/careers/your-career-in-compliance/what-is-compliance/ (last visited April 7, 2020).
4. National Center for O*NET Development, O*NET OnLine, “13-1041.00—Compliance Officers,” https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-1041.00 (last visited April 7, 2020).
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Financial Examiners,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/financial-examiners.htm (last visited April 7, 2020). Conditions in your area may vary.
6. National Center for O*NET Development, O*NET OnLine, “11-9199.02—Compliance Managers,” https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/11-9199.02 (last visited April 7, 2020).
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, “Data for Occupations Not Covered in Detail—Compliance Officers,” https://www.bls.gov/ooh/about/data-for-occupations-not-covered-in-detail.htm (last visited April 7, 2020). Conditions in your area may vary.

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