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How to Become a Compliance Officer

January 3, 2024
6 min read


Reviewed by:

David Merson

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 1/3/24

Interested in upholding the law but don’t want to go through the extensive process of becoming a lawyer? Becoming a compliance officer might be the perfect career for you!

When you hear about a job that requires you to ensure people don’t violate any local, state, or federal laws, you may immediately think of either lawyers, judges, or cops. However, compliance officers are lesser-known law-enforcing professionals who also perform these duties!

In fact, they often act as the middleman between lawyers, judges, and cops to prevent companies from violating regulations that could lead to lawsuits, fines, and charges.

If this type of career interests you, then read on to learn more about how to become a compliance officer, the exact roles these professionals play, their salary, and much more!

Steps to Becoming a Compliance Officer

It will take you at least four years to become a compliance officer. Here are the steps required to join this profession:

Steps to becoming a compliance officer

Step One: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

The first and potentially only step to becoming a compliance officer is completing an undergraduate degree at an accredited university. 

The compliance officer career path offers various opportunities, from business compliance officers ensuring companies follow rules to environmental protection officers safeguarding the environment's well-being.

While there is no specific degree that focuses on compliance risk or management, popular degree choices for those interested in pursuing this career include:

  • Accounting
  • Public Administration
  • Business
  • Economics
  • Management
  • Manufacturing
  • Legal Studies
  • International Relations
  • Health Science

While these are the most common degrees compliance officers pursue, it’s worth noting there is no perfect major for this career. There have been various compliance officers who had majors outside of these listed options, such as liberal arts, engineering, nursing, marketing, and more. 

Step Two: Gain Experience

If your major itself doesn’t give you the advantage to learn the technical skills required to be a compliance officer, having experience will! In any case, experience is sure to boost your resume and make you stand out amongst other applicants.

Understanding how to start a career as a compliance manager is is key. Consider applying to internships related to compliance management during your undergrad. If these internships are difficult to find, you may want to consider working in any corporate setting to become familiar with the intricacies of internal rules and regulations. 

A popular way to become a compliance officer is to work your way up in a company. If you start working for an organization during your undergrad, you may be able to progress into a compliance position soon after graduating!

Step Three: Consider Higher Education

While there aren’t specific major requirements to become a compliance officer, completing a master’s degree related to compliance risk and management can provide you with the specialization and skills needed to stand out!

While many compliance officers choose to attend law school instead of completing a master’s degree, this option may not be feasible or attractive to you, considering law school is notoriously competitive, rigorous, and expensive

A Master’s degree will also take less time, meaning you can enter the field as soon as possible! Most of these advanced degrees take around one to two full-time years to complete. But, for those who want to gain some experience in the field while pursuing higher education, many of these Master’s programs also offer part-time studies!

 Popular Master’s programs in this field include:

  • Master of Legal Studies
  • Master in Compliance Regulation
  • Master in Compliance Management and Risk
  • Master in Financial Regulation
  • Master in Financial Compliance and Risk Management
  • Master of Jurisprudence in Compliance and Enterprise Risk Management

While this step is not necessary, it can open more doors for you and lead to a higher salary!

women interviewing applicant

What Does a Compliance Officer Do?

We’ve covered how to become a compliance officer, but you might still have questions about the exact roles these professionals play in corporations. Compliance officers are typically responsible for the following tasks:

  • Ensuring a company is in compliance with all its internal policies and procedures
  • Ensuring a company is in compliance with external regulations and requirements at the state and federal level
  • Developing and implementing policies to manage compliance of rules 
  • Monitoring the compliance of employees
  • Investigating and resolving any compliance issues 
  • Training and educating staff to ensure they abide by all existing or new rules and policies
  • Preventing compliance issues from resulting in lawsuits or fines

Types of Compliance Work

The above roles are general tasks all compliance officers complete. However, these tasks become more specific depending on the type of compliance officer you are:

  • Business Compliance Officer: focuses on ensuring company compliance with business laws, ethics, and financial regulations 
  • Healthcare Compliance Officer: helps hospitals and clinics maintain healthcare standards to provide a safe environment for patients and staff
  • Government Agency Officer: ensures government agencies act ethically, investigates signs of fraud, and/or oversees organizations to ensure they comply with all state and federal laws
  • Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Officer: focuses on ensuring NGOs comply with all rules and regulations and manage grants
  • Information Technology Officer: focuses on ensuring IT companies abide by all IT security rules and regulations
  • Food Business Officer: focuses on ensuring corporations are compliant with food safety regulations and laws

These compliance roles play a crucial part in various industries, ensuring adherence to legal and ethical standards while safeguarding the interests of stakeholders and the public. 

What Skills Do Compliance Officers Need?

To be a successful compliance officer, the most important skill is excellent attention to detail. You’ll be required to consider several internal and external rules and regulations that may change over time. You’ll have to keep up-to-date with these laws and know exactly how to follow and violate them.

Top skills to become a compliance officer

Assessing if your company is following relevant regulations also requires great analytical and critical thinking skills! You’ll have to be able to quickly find and resolve any violations and create new policies to ensure the same issues don’t reoccur.

Additionally, since you’ll be training staff and conversing with employees at multiple levels, you’ll also need to be confident in your abilities and have strong communication and interpersonal skills. 

If you’re not a people person, this profession may not be the right fit for you! Your entire job revolves around protecting not only the corporation you work for but also the people in it! You’ll be expected to advocate for them, discuss violations with them, and resolve any conflicts they cause to protect them and the company. 

The final essential skill you’ll need is stellar time management and the ability to multitask. You’ll have to learn new rules and regulations while still considering existing ones. You’ll also be expected to create effective policies to protect these rules and figure out how to properly implement these policies in the workplace all at the same time!

What Skills You Need to Add to Your Resume to Get a Job as a Compliance Officer

To land a job as a compliance officer, make sure your resume showcases these skills:

  • Regulatory Know-How: Highlight your understanding of industry rules and regs relevant to the job.
  • Legal Chops: Show off your legal and compliance smarts, including knowledge of laws like HIPAA, SOX, or GDPR.
  • Risk Detective: Prove your knack for spotting and dealing with risks.
  • Policy Guru: Let them know you can create and enforce compliance policies.
  • Sleuth Skills: Mention your ability to investigate issues and gather evidence.
  • Eye for Detail: Stress your keen eye for reviewing documents and records.
  • Communication Ace: Talk up your strong written and spoken skills for talking to different folks about compliance stuff.
  • Training Pro: If you've trained others on compliance matters, make sure that's clear.
  • Audit Expertise: If you've done audits, shout it from the rooftops.
  • Ethical Compass: Show your commitment to making ethical decisions, even in tough spots.
  • Data Cruncher: If data analysis is in your toolkit, say so.
  • Flexibility: Highlight your ability to roll with changes in regulations.
  • Team Player: Make it clear you can work well with others.
  • Problem-Solver: Show you can tackle compliance challenges head-on.
  • Certifications: If you've got any compliance-related certifications, display them proudly.
  • Tech Skills: If tech's your thing, tell them about it.
  • Project Management: Mention if you've managed compliance projects.
  • Industry Know-How: Show that you're familiar with the industry you're applying to.

Remember, customize your resume to the job you want, focusing on the skills that match the specific role. Sharing real-life examples of how you've used these skills can make your resume even more convincing to potential employers. Good luck!

Compliance Officer Salary and Career Outlook

If the responsibilities of this career have piqued your interest, the salary will likely motivate you to become a compliance officer even more!

A compliance officer's salary is around $76,980 a year, with many compliance workers making more than $100,000 a year, depending on their specialty!

If you’d like to become one of these six-figure earners, consider joining the highest-paying fields:

  • Pipeline Transportation of Crude Oil: has a median salary of $117,440
  • Information Services: has a median salary of $164,070
  • Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing: has a median salary of $111,250
  • Natural Gas Distribution: has a median salary of  $105,970

California is currently the highest-paying state for compliance officers, with an average salary of $87,020 a year.

Luckily, these professionals are also always in demand since every organization needs experts to help them navigate through all of the complex rules they’re bound by!

Employment in this sector is expected to rise by 1.6% in the coming years, which may not seem like a lot, but there are already around 359,640 compliance officer job openings each year!

two men looking at laptop

FAQs: Becoming a Compliance Officer

We’ve covered the basics of how to become a compliance officer, what to expect in this role and your anticipated salary. But, in case you have any more questions, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about this career!

1. Is Compliance a Good Career?

Yes, becoming a compliance officer is a good career because it is in demand, has high pay potential, and is quite versatile! Every company needs a compliance officer, so you can pick your favorite sector and work in it!

2. Can I Become a Compliance Officer Without a Degree?

No, at the minimum, you will need to complete a bachelor’s degree to become a compliance officer.

3. Is Compliance a High-Paying Job?

Yes, compliance officers are paid $76,980 a year on average, although certain specialties, like information services and various forms of engineering, make over $100,00 a year.

4. Do You Need to Go to Law School to Become a Compliance Officer?

No, although many compliance officers have a legal background, you don’t have to attend law school to qualify for this job. An undergraduate degree is usually sufficient, although pursuing an advanced degree can give you more specialized training and make you a more attractive candidate for jobs. 

5. What Major Do I Need to Become a Compliance Officer?

There is no specific major required to become a compliance officer, so you can choose one that interests you the most. However, having a major in finance, business, accounting, or related disciplines can prove helpful in your job search and eventual practice.

6. Where Do Compliance Officers Work?

Compliance officers work in every sector! Every corporation is bound by its own rules, its state’s laws, and the larger federal system’s regulations. As such, compliance officers are needed to ensure all of these rules are followed. 

Final Thoughts

Choosing the perfect career is undoubtedly stressful and overwhelming! But, if you have a passion for law, business, or management, you can add becoming a compliance officer to your list of potential careers! 

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