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Considering a career in compliance? Heed these warnings first

So you want to pursue a career in compliance? I can’t really blame you. With a median salary of more than $60,000, it can certainly pay off — and the sky’s the limit moving forward. Of course, money’s not everything. Sure, it ranks up there with oxygen — but there’s certainly more to a career in compliance than the financial aspects alone, right?

In my past 11 years working as a consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of compliance officers and managers. These roles have evolved from policy pushers to gain a much more respectable seat at the table when critical IT and business decisions are being made. Many businesses even have their own lawyers that serve in a compliance oversight role. There’s no doubt that compliance, and the need for intelligent people to manage it, has certainly gained traction in the last decade.

There are, however, still some potential issues you need to be aware of before running down the compliance career path at full tilt. Here are some aspects about the role compliance plays in organizations I’ve seen time and again:

  1. It can be overwhelming. With government and industry rules expanding all over the world, IT compliance regulations seem to change every week. Add to that the complexity and verbosity of the lawyer-speak you’ll be subjected to, and you have to keep up with a lot of information.
  2. Compliance is not sexy. It’s important, no doubt, and one of the most important roles in business today. But working with policies, procedures and audit processes may not be the most elegant and appealing work. And don’t forget the endless number of meetings.
  3. If they need a scapegoat, expect peers and management to throw you under the bus during and after a data breach. After all, you’re the person who wrote the policies and oversaw the security assessments and controls leading up to the event, right?
  4. IT staff will think you’re out to get them. There can be continual paranoia — even if they need to be called out for their oversights. It’s not normally all that terrible — just know that it can be. Admit it: Those of us working in IT can be hard-headed.
  5. Staying on top of what’s happening in and around IT can require more technical skills than many people assume. You don’t necessarily need a technical degree or certifications to get by — just some sharp insight and well-placed questions (periodically and consistently, of course) to ensure no one is pulling the wool over your eyes.

In the end, you have to ask yourself if you have the right personality, level of patience and raw ability to put up with a lot of nonsense necessary for a career in compliance. If your organization’s culture and leadership embrace compliance and your role in it, however, you can definitely go places in the business — all while making vital decisions that determine its success.