As internal auditors and accountants, we often wonder which internal audit certification is the best for enhancing our careers. And in the internal audit, compliance, and securities industries, we have several certifications from which to choose, such as the CISA, CIA, and CISSP. What’s more, each of these certifications is beneficial in its own way. So, if you’re trying to decide between the CISA vs. CISSP or the CIA vs. CISA, then you can use this information to determine which one you should pursue based on your career goals.
What is the CIA? The CIA is the Certified Internal Auditor certification, the most recognized certification for internal auditors. The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIIA) awards the CIA certification. And because the IIA is a U.S.-based institution with local chapters and members around the world, you can expect people to value the CIA just about anywhere you plan to live and work.
While more people know of the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification than the CIA, the CIA still maintains a strong reputation within the internal audit industry. So, if you have any aspirations to become Chief Audit Executive or hold any other senior audit positions, but you don’t have the CPA, then you’ll want to earn the CIA.
The Certified Information Systems Analyst (CISA) certification is for IT auditors. Compared to the CIA, which is more useful for internal auditors in a general/management role, the CISA is for specialists.
ISACA, an association established in 1969 for information systems audit, assurance, security, risk, privacy, and governance professionals, grants the CISA along with 3 other certifications. ISACA has more than 140,000 members in 180 countries. ISACA launched the CISA certification specifically in 1978. Since then, more than 140,000 people have obtained the CISA certification to validate their IS expertise.
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.
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.
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?
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, a CISA performs mostly auditing functions. A CISSP focused mostly on security issues. There are two completely different career 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.
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.
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). It intends 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 the right choice. If it pairs up with CPA, then it is an excellent 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.
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.
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).
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. Still, based on a presentation from the University of Virginia and the LinkedIn conversation, you can expect a passing rate of around 50% every year.
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.
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.
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.
CIA UK: How to Become a Certified Internal Auditor UK
CIA Canada: Pass CIA Exam Canada for Certified Internal Jobs in Canada
CIA UAE: How to Pass the CIA Exam UAE for Certified Internal Auditor Jobs in UAE
CIA Saudi Arabia: How to Become a CIA in Saudi Arabia