CIA vs CISA vs CISSP: 3 Respected Internal Audit Certifications

cia vs cisa vs cisspCISA vs CISSP? CIA vs CISA? They have more in common than you might think. There are so many options out there. We often wonder which certification is the best in enhancing our careers. In the internal audit, compliance and securities world, we have a few to choose from.

In this article, I’m going to explore these options and tell you more about each of the certifications and what they entail. This will help you make an informed decision about which one(s) are right for you. As you are reading over the information below, the most important thing to keep in mind is what career path you plan to take.

While each of these three certifications is good in its own right, you’re going to be looking for the one that will further you in your career the best.

Certified Internal Auditors (CIA)

What is a CIA? This is the most recognized certification for internal auditors. The certification is granted by the IIA, a US-based institute with local chapters and members around the world. This means the CIA is an option for just about anywhere you live and plan to work.

While CIA is not as well-known as the CPA for most people, it is a strong brand within the Internal Audit industry. If one doesn’t have a CPA, having a CIA is a must if you want to move up the career ladder as an internal auditor aspiring to become a Chief Audit Executive (CAE) or other senior audit positions.

Now, let’s take a look at what CISA certification means.

Certified Information System Analysts (CISA)

What is a CISA, or Certified Information Systems Analyst? CISA is a certification for IT auditors. Compared to CIA, which is more for a generalist/management role, CISA is for specialists.

The CISA certification is one of the four granted by ISACA, an association established in 1969 for information systems audit, assurance, security, risk, privacy and governance professionals. ISACA has more than 140,000 members in 180 countries.

The exam itself isn’t too hard — there is only one part of the exam — but the experience requirement is strict. A candidate needs to accumulate 5 years of relevant experience to get the certification. As you can imagine, this is not a qualification for entry-level auditors.

The CISA certification itself was launched in 1976. In the last decade, the number of ISACA members quadrupled, with more than 27,000 IT professionals taking the exam every year.

Now let’s take a look at what CISSP certification means.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

CISSP is one for IT security. I would say it is the most “tech” out of the three certifications. The exam itself is also the most technical. Similar to the CISA exam, there is a 5-year working experience requirement.

As you may already know, CISSP stands for Certified Information Systems Security Professional, and it’s a certification created by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium.

A lot of the info on CISSP overlaps with the five domains of the CISA. Therefore, if you’ve taken CISA, you may find CISSP easier. In general, however, CISSP is more technical. Even where it covers the same info, it will cover the securities side of them, rather than the auditing side of them. This does make a difference in how difficult the exam is to complete.

Now that you know what all three of them are, at least the basics, let’s explore how they compare to one another.

CIA vs CISA vs CISSP

So, how do these three qualifications measure up to one another? Let’s look at CIA vs CISA vs CISSP. How do you know which one you should take?

How hard are they? Let’s explore.

In terms of how technical the qualification represents, I would put CIA as the “generalist” side of the spectrum and CISSP on the “technical” side, with CISA in between.

In practice, they are meant for a different niche within the internal audit and IT security industry. When choosing which certification to go for, I wouldn’t pick based on the fact the one exam is easier or that one leads to a better salary. I would choose based on your passion.

If you have the passion, you will be much more likely to excel in your profession, leading to a much higher success (and salary premium) when compared to your peers. This is the more practical way to do it, since each is a great qualification in its own right.

Now, let’s break those comparisons down a bit more. Shall we?

CISSP vs. CISA

Let’s look at CISSP vs. CISA. What do they have in common? I mentioned above that some of the material is the same, but they actually have more differences than similarities when it comes to the certifications.

While both are based on information systems, CISA performs mostly auditing functions. A CISSP focused mostly on security issues. There are two completely different carreer paths you could take, based on which of these you choose.

Or rather, you should choose the certification based on the career path you plan to take.

How Much Work Experience? CISSP vs. CISA

What else can we look at when comparing CISSP vs. CISA? How about work experience? The CISA and CISSP certifications both require at least 5 years of work experience.

As you can see, it’s not going to be a cakewalk to get either of these. However, the hard work and dedication pays off when you get a high-paying career you can depend on.

Each of these will typically lead to a high-paying job. With CISA and CISSP you can expect to make your way to $100,000 a year or more.

CISA vs. CISSP Differences

Let’s explore the differences between the two certifications a bit more. First, CISSP is bodied by the ISC (International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium). Its intent is to help ICT workers in the information security sector. It’s very highly regarded in the industry and for its usefulness in data security.

In short, CISSP is often branded as “IT security”, which is a very different thing from CISA.

Furthermore, CISA is focused on auditing. The acronym literally stands for “Certified Information Systems Auditor”. If you want a career more leaning toward auditing work, CISA is the choice. If your career path is in security, then CISSP is the path preferred.

Make sense?

CISA vs. CISSP – Which is More Technical?

The CISA is typically considered less technical, although it is a thorough exam with a lot of important parts to it. Because CISSP deals with security, it is typically considered the more technical of the two. Even experienced IT professionals will consider CISSP to be a challenge.

You’re looking at around the same study times and exam times for each, so if that is part of your consideration, then they’re about the same.

CISA vs. CISSP Salary

As mentioned above, you can expect to get into a great paying position with either of these. If we want to break down the numbers, the starting pay for CISSP might be just slightly behind starting pay for CISA, but both have the room for advancement, too.

The average for someone who passed the CISA exam is $96,000, whereas the average salary for a CISSP is $94,000. It can vary according to your state, who you work for, and how many years of experience you have.

CISA vs. CIA

Now let’s take a look at CISA vs. CIA. These have more in common that CISA vs. CISSP. In what ways are they the same and in what ways are they different? These are questions that a lot of candidates ask when trying to make the same decision.

Certification courses are a great way to grow and succeed in the workplace. In fact, in many career paths, they are mandatory. So, when we think about CISA or CIA, know right away that they are both beneficial.

That said, it will take a lot of time, effort, and money for either certification so you want to be sure you’re getting the right one for you. Both the CISA and the CIA are related to the audit and control field. They are both considered high standards in the industry and important certifications.

What’s Good about CIA?

If you want to be an internal auditor, but are not sure which area to specialize or that you prefer to stay at a general/management role of internal auditing within a corporation, then the CIA is a good choice. If it pairs up with CPA, then it is a great combination for senior positions as head of internal audit or CAE.

CISA is useful only if you want to pursue or break into IT auditing. If you’re not seeking a career in IT auditing, then there is no point in putting the time, money and effort into CIA certification.

What’s Great about CISA?

CISA is the gold standard for IT auditors. If you like the job nature of IT audit, and you believe that the future of audit is moving towards more technology-based audits, then I say go for it. CISA is highly recommended and respected in the industry. There is a wealth of information out there (including our site) to help you study and prepare for it.

Another practical benefit of CISA is, that for most people, it’s an easier and faster exam. There is only 1 part and the scope is narrower. At the same time, a typical candidate can get it done within 6 months (even 1-2 months if your work involves IT audit).

In comparison, it may take 1-2 years for candidates to complete the 3-part CIA exam.

This is more of a short-term consideration but the CISA exam itself is more affordable. You cost you around $1,500 for a CISA certificate, vs ~$2,000 for the CIA certificate.

Read our post here for more about CIA vs. CISA.

CISA vs. CIA Salary

It can be difficult to find updated, specific information regarding the salary of these two certifications, since it can vary greatly. However, a report done in 2012 by the IIA shows that the CISA certification could pay slightly more on average. Your mileage will vary, as things like your number of years of experience, specific job title, and what company you work for can affect it.

IIA Survey: CIA vs. CISA Salary (2012) In 2012, the IIA did a survey that showed auditors holding the CISA certification are paid more than those holding the CIA, about $6,000 (median).

CIA vs CISA Pass Rates

If we compared CIA vs CISA pass rates, you’re looking at 40% for CIA and CISA is unknown. ISACA has stopped disclosing the CISA exam pass rate in recent years, but based on a presentation from the University of Virginia and the LinkedIn conversation, you can expect a passing rate around 50% every year.

IT Audit Certifications Overview

As you can see, there are different branches of study and specialty you can go in. Whichever you choose, there are many great study guides, course materials, and certifications to help you advance in your career. Between CIA vs CISA vs CISSP, all are respected IT audit certifications.

Each of these three will get you a great job, with a high-paying salary. Any one of the three will land you in a respected position in your field. It’s all about knowing where you want to go in the future. What kind of specialty area do you want to focus on?

Specifically, what kind of job title do you want to hold in the industry? These are the most important questions to ask to help point yourself in the right direction.

What’s Next?

Now that you know more about CIA vs CISA vs CISSP, you’re ready to move forward. Have you made a decision about which you are going to pursue? If so, you can browse our site for more information if you’ve chosen CIA or CISA. There is a lot of in-depth information here to help you along the way. If you have questions, leave them for me in the comments.

We have information on the CIA and CISA exam on this site. For CISSP, please check out the website of ICS2, the administrator of the CISSP exam:

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About the Author Stephanie

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites.

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