Thursday, April 06, 2006

Compliance & Ethics As A Career?


Some FAQ’s about an exciting career opportunity.

Most people don’t have any idea that compliance and ethics is a possible career. Even many of those who do this work do not know the full scope of this field. Yet for those who enter now the opportunities are truly exciting.

What is “compliance and ethics”?This is a new and rapidly developing field for those who work with organizations to prevent them from causing harm. Compliance and ethics people devote their careers to preventing companies and other organizations (e.g., partnerships, non-profits, unions, governments, etc.) from breaking the law and acting unethically. They do this working inside companies to prevent violations and to fix ethical problems when they occur.

Who is in this field? It includes anyone in an organization who does this work, and those outside who provide services to them. It is not the regulators and prosecutors. Instead, it is company employees and their outside advisors who take action before a company breaks the law and before the public is harmed.

Are there many types of jobs in compliance and ethics? The answer is an emphatic “yes,” although many people in the field do not realize this. Our research has uncovered more than 700 job titles in compliance and ethics. These range from high-level compliance officers to entry-level compliance analysts. They include people in privacy compliance, environmental work, internal investigators, compliance trainers, compliance auditors, corporate ombuds, compliance lawyers, workplace safety specialists, etc.

What types of things do compliance and ethics people do? The range of activities is amazingly varied. Compliance people conduct investigations. They train their fellow employees. They create imaginative communications tools to spread the message. They work with lawyers, HR specialists, auditors and executives. They travel around to all parts of the business. They help employees who need advice on difficult ethical dilemmas and help introduce new employees to their company’s code of ethics.

Do you have to be a lawyer to do this? People in compliance come from all walks of life. One compliance organization reports that only 25% of its members have law degrees. Certainly knowledge of law is helpful, but a good compliance manager can do a very effective job and rely on the company’s lawyers for the legal side. The most important skills in compliance are management and people skills; it is not necessary to be a lawyer.

Can I get from my current job into this, or do I need a special degree? You can go directly into this field without a special degree. You can learn on the job, and there are educational programs available that will give you the basics but not interfere with your current work schedule. If you are already in a compliance job, learning about the rest of the field can open up an enormous range of new options.

What if I am still in college? There was a time when there were only a few compliance officers and almost no entry-level opportunity. But like so much of this field, that has changed. There are things you can do while still in school to prepare you to enter this field.

What kinds of companies have compliance or ethics officers? Is this just for highly-regulated industries? Every kind of company has and needs compliance and ethics officers. While some areas and industries are legally required to have compliance people, every industry needs them, because every business faces an increasing array of legal and ethical risks.

Is this a big field, or just a job for a single compliance officer in each company? The compliance officer is just the start. While there have been no global studies, we estimate that there are no less than 150,000-200,000 full and part-time jobs in this field. One consumer goods company alone, for example, estimates it has between 500 to 1000 compliance and ethics jobs.

Why would companies do this? There may have been a time when companies only did this when there was an especially enlightened CEO, but not any longer. Compliance and ethics programs and the people who run them are unquestionably a business necessity. The legal risks faced by companies are just too dangerous to ignore, and the environment gets tougher with each passing year. The government expects companies to have compliance programs; an effective program can help a company escape indictment and deal effectively with increasingly aggressive prosecutors and regulators. These programs can also help prevent astronomical punitive damages. In some industries, the big companies are requiring their suppliers to have programs. And in an increasing number of instances, compliance programs are required by law and the stock exchanges. Today they are an essential part of doing business.

Is this something that only exists in the US? No, companies all over the world have compliance people. In some areas outside of the US it is even a requirement. For example, companies in Germany and Canada are required to have privacy compliance officers. Stock exchanges in India and South Africa require listed companies to have compliance officers.

Is this just a trend that comes from Sarbanes-Oxley? Compliance people and compliance programs were widespread well before Sarbanes Oxley. In fact, Sarbanes Oxley just piggy-backed on existing standards in the compliance field.

Would this be like doing social work – personally fulfilling if you don’t have to support a family? Compliance work is certainly personally fulfilling, but there is no financial sacrifice involved. Potential employers include the largest, most successful companies in the world. These corporate salaries and benefits packages are on the same scale as other top corporate jobs. Compliance and ethics is one field where you can do good and do well at the same time.

How can I find out more about this field? Until now it was very difficult to find out about this field, but that has changed. The Society for Corporate Compliance and Ethics now brings you the perfect guide to getting into this exciting field. You can get all your questions answered in our new book, Murphy & Leet, “WORKING FOR INTEGRITY: FINDING THE PERFECT JOB IN THE RAPIDLY GROWING COMPLIANCE AND ETHICS FIELD,” published by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics,, 888-277-4977.