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*New* Junior Auditor Column
By Kharis Eppstein

I’ve been auditing about five years now, first with the Colorado Department of Education and now with the City and County of Denver. People frequently ask me how I got into auditing.
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It sort of started with a belligerent dog.

I have a BA in psychology with an emphasis in neuroscience from the University of Colorado in Boulder. I was working toward becoming a pharmacist, but I quickly found that counting pills was terribly dull and calculus was for the birds. I wasn’t very good at math.

I was also the proud owner of a territorially aggressive and deaf dog named Harley. To manage his behavior, I started taking classes at the Humane Society. As it turned out, I had a knack for working with animals, and a few weeks later, I had a new career in animal welfare at the Humane Society.

Sadly, Harley was so aggressive, I had to have him put down, giving me a real understanding of the pain involved in having to euthanize a pet. I spent the next 10 years working in various capacities in animal welfare. I even developed a continuing education program for foster parents of animals to streamline providing information to hundreds of these volunteers.

But answering the same questions about puppies and kittens gets old.

During my last few years in animal welfare, I worked for a company that transported dogs from high-kill facilities in the South and Midwest to Boulder. I coordinated the transport of thousands of dogs. When the company dissolved, I was left wondering what to do with the next phase of my life.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the skills I was using in animal welfare—organizing, improving processes, evaluating systems—would later serve me well as an auditor.

I decided to craft my resume in a way that highlighted my analytical and organizational skills while minimizing the animal component. I focused on my attention to detail, interest in process improvement, ability to work well with others, ability to coach, and love for creating standard operating procedures. I applied to more than 40 jobs ranging from event planner to volunteer manager to project coordinator.

I received calls for two interviews—turns out people had a hard time looking past the dog and cat aspects of my previous employer. Luckily for me, I interview well, and I was offered a job as a project coordinator with a school district.

During my time with the school district, I primarily worked on locating and providing documentation for the state pupil count audit. I also developed training manuals, educated school officials, and conducted an informal internal audit of supporting documentation. While providing documentation to Department of Education auditors, I realized there were gaps and discrepancies in the state’s guidance. Coincidentally, there was also a job opening for an auditor with the education department. I jumped at the opportunity and found myself working in my first auditing profession.

The Department of Education’s audit team performed compliance audits related to funding. While we had internal standard operating procedures, the team did not formally follow any type of auditing standard. To be honest, I didn’t hear the term “Yellow Book” until applying for my current position with the Denver Auditor’s Office. I loved working with school districts and the investigative work involved in auditing, and I frequently found myself immersed in trying to understand the “why” behind the district’s audit findings. Because we were not performance auditors, however, we did not evaluate the internal control structure of each school district.

I’ve always been an ambitious person, and after realizing I had hit the ceiling with the state, I started looking elsewhere again. I applied for a senior auditing position with the City and County of Denver. To prepare for the interview, I read the Yellow Book front to back to understand how the state education department’s auditing processes were in line with GAGAS. I was offered the position, and two years later, I’m now a lead auditor with the city.

I think people have a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be an auditor. I am frequently met with surprise when I tell people this is how I make my living. For one thing, I don’t look like what people might think an auditor should look like. I have bright, short, red hair; tattoos, and a nose ring. I’m energetic, vibrant, and a people person.

I also get asked a lot if I’m a CPA. I’m not, nor have I taken any sort of accounting course. As I said, I was never very good at math.

To me, being a good auditor means you can critically think and to see the big picture. It also means you understand what makes for sound processes or internal controls. You probably like to learn and have a natural investigative nature and strong attention to detail. And, despite what people may think, you probably have a genuine desire to help agencies and people do things better—especially if you’re auditing in the public sector.

Since joining the Denver Auditor’s Office, I’ve continued to sharpen these skills while also bringing my own personal flavor of fun to work every day. I’ve learned about child welfare services, botanic gardens, and the hospitality industry, and now I am immersed in property tax assessments. Every project is new and exciting. I’m so grateful life took me on the twisty path it did. I love what I do and where I work and would encourage anyone with the kinds of skills I used in my earlier careers, regardless of where you got your start, to consider the field of auditing.

While I’m sad about what happened with Harley, I’ve got a new dog now who’s really sweet. And a sweet new career.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kharis Eppstein was born in Northfield, Minnesota, and raised in Thousand Oaks, California. Her parents transplanted a family of seven to Colorado in 1995, making her “native-ish” to the Denver area. She holds a bachelor’s degree psychology with a focus in neuroscience from the University of Colorado at Boulder. When she’s not auditing, you can find Kharis training to be an alpine search and rescue volunteer, tending to her garden and flock of hens, backpacking with her dog, practicing banjo or piano, baking, loving on her niece and nephew or attending some local music.