Becoming a CISA: 5 steps to a new career

Information technology is integral to today’s business systems. It’s essential for achieving efficiencies and competing on commerce stages worldwide. But with every upgrade to the latest software and apps, there are dangers. The slightest misstep can put sensitive information at risk of misuse and theft.  As businesses mine IT for its competitive advantages, they also are on the lookout for watchdogs who can safeguard vulnerable systems. IT auditors are in high demand, and those who earn the Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) credential are especially valuable. With the expertise accumulated through the CISA, IT auditors qualify for more jobs, higher pay and career opportunities that can lead as high as the C-suite. Earning the CISA requires a combination of testing and experience, but the rewards make it worthwhile.

What is a Certified Information Systems Auditor?

The CISA certification attests to an IT auditor’s knowledge, expertise and skill in assessing vulnerabilities and instituting an enterprise’s IT controls. As a globally recognized standard, it allows holders to operate across international boundaries.  ISACA issues the CISA to candidates who complete a comprehensive testing and application process. Meant for IT auditors, audit managers, consultants and security professionals, the CISA equips its holders to monitor, manage and protect IT and business systems in a fast-changing environment. Look up job postings in IT audits and security information management, and the CISA is usually a prerequisite. Recruiters demand IT auditors who adhere to the highest standards in the field, and the CISA opens doors to job opportunities that are closed to those lacking the credential. 

Qualifications to become a CISA


The road to CISA certification and its rewards begins with a five-step process. 

  • Complete and pass the CISA exam. 
  • Apply for CISA certification. 
  • Adhere to ISACA’s code of professional ethics. 
  • Follow ISACA’s continuing professional education program, completing 20 contact hours annually, plus 120 contact hours during a fixed three-year period. 
  • Comply with ISACA’s information systems auditing standards. 

There are no prerequisites to taking the CISA Exam, but earning certification requires documented experience. All CISA applicants must complete five years of professional IS auditing, control, assurance or security work, although some existing experience can count toward several substitutions and waivers. For instance, one year of IS experience or one year of non-IS auditing can be substituted for one year of experience. A two- or four-year degree earned through 60 or 120 university semester credit hours, respectively, can replace one or two years of experience. Serving as a university instructor in the related field for two years can replace one year of experience. Work experience must be completed within the 10 years before submitting an application or within five years of passing the CISA Exam. The candidate also must adhere to ISACA’s strict code of professional ethics and information systems auditing standards. Once all these criteria are met, it’s time to apply for certification.

Responsibilities of a CISA


What does a CISA do? From design and implementation to evaluation and management liaison, CISAs perform responsibilities crucial to safe operations of enterprise IT systems.

At the foundational level, responsibilities include: 

  • Implementing an IS audit strategy based on risk management. 
  • Planning audits that determine whether IT assets are protected, managed and valuable. 
  • Executing the audits in compliance with the organization’s set standards and objectives. 
  • Sharing audit results and making recommendations to management based on the results. 
  • Re-examining audits to ensure that management has performed the recommended actions. 

 CISAs also have a hand in strategic matters, working with management to confirm organizational processes, plans to implement and operate the deployed systems, and promote the organization’s objectives and strategies. This includes: 

  • Risk management practices. 
  • IT portfolio and resource management. 
  • Strategies for business-IT alignment. 
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery strategies. 
  • Organizational IT policies, standards, processes and procedures.  
  • The value of the IT control framework.  
  • Management and monitoring of IT personnel, organizational structure and controls. 

 After systems are implemented, CISAs ensure successful deployment by conducting project and post-implementation reviews. Other responsibilities include evaluating the proposed system’s business case, IS controls, IT supplier selection and contract management processes, project management framework and controls, and preparedness of the IS. 

 After implementation, the CISA evaluates: 

  • IT service management practices and structure. 
  • End-user computing. 
  • Change and release management operations. 
  • IT continuity and resilience. 
  • Database management system execution. 
  • IT operations and maintenance. 
  • IS reviews. 
  • Complications and incident management practices. 
  • Data quality and life cycle management. 


Finally, a CISA works closely with management to ensure that organizational security standards, policies, procedures, and controls align to assure the integrity, confidentiality and availability of information assets. 

How to prepare for the CISA Exam


While earning CISA certification depends on experience and success on the exam, taking the test is open to anyone interested in IS auditing, control and security. The four-hour, 150-question exam covers five job-practice domains: 

  • Information systems auditing process
  • IT governance and management 
  • IS acquisition, development and implementation 
  • IS operations and business resilience 
  • Protection of information assets 

Passing requires a score of 450 or higher. Candidates can take the test any time in testing locations worldwide and remotely online. The CISA Exam is offered in English, Chinese Mandarin Simplified, Chinese Traditional, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish and Turkish. Preparation materials from ISACA, including the ISACA review manual, help candidates study for the test, and many ISACA chapters host CISA Exam review courses. Candidates are urged to take as many practice tests as possible to familiarize themselves with the format.  This is the time to “think like an accountant.” Why? Because most of the CISA Exam writers are accountants or work in financial services. By thinking like an accountant, test-takers gain insights into the questions and, more importantly, the answers. When you pass the CISA Exam, you will receive the information needed to apply for the CISA certificate, but of course, you’ll also need to line up and document that work experience needed for certification. 

Surgent can help you earn CISA certification

How you carve out your experience is up to you, but getting expert help in studying for the CISA Exam is the key to success. Surgent CISA Review has one of the best pass rates in the industry and, with study processes streamlined through adaptive learning technology, can help you pass the CISA Exam faster than most other exam review courses. Surgent CISA Review is the only truly adaptive CISA Exam prep course on the market. Surgent’s award-winning software creates a fully customized study plan that credits your existing knowledge while targeting your weaker areas of comprehension, ultimately reducing study time by 70%.  

Surgent’s distinctive features combine into a methodical approach that makes efficient use of your study time: 

  • A.S.A.P Technology: Your journey with Surgent CISA Review begins with a thorough assessment of your existing knowledge, so you don’t waste time studying the things you already know. 
  • ReadySCORE: Am I ready for the test or not? Surgent eliminates the guesswork. ReadySCORE delivers a remarkably accurate prediction of your score if you were to take the test that day. You sit for the test when you’re ready – not a moment too soon or too late. 
  • MyMCQ: Surgent harnesses the power of practice exams by not only familiarizing you with the test format but by tailoring the tests to your progress. The multiple-choice questions, similar to those on the real exam, are designed to push your proficiency to new heights. 
  • Daily Surge: Sign into the dashboard and get customized recommendations on the topics you need to study that day. No need to squander time wondering what should be next on your study agenda. 
  • 100% pass guarantee: The Surgent approach offers one of the highest pass rates in the market, but just in case, your investment in a study course is protected.  

Surgent even remembers that maintaining CISA certification requires CPE/CE credits, so we offer resources for continuing education, as well. If you’re ready to put your IT auditing career into high gear, learn more about passing the CISA Exam and get your free trial of Surgent CISA Review today!