Most people think of an auditor as some sort of human calculator, but that’s completely wrong.

An auditor is a role-player who, armed with a deep understanding of accounting principles, places herself in the mind of a regulator or investor to ensure that a company’s public disclosures reflect its financial situation accurately, warts and all.

Melinda Irish, senior manager of the audit division of the Baker Newman Noyes accounting firm in Portland, said she even had misconceptions about the job before she started doing it.

“I did not know what an auditor was until I really got here,” Irish said.

The auditor’s credo is total independence – her only obligation is to provide an unbiased, critical perspective.

Did the client fail to disclose a financial risk such as the loss of a major account? Is the risk explained in clear and simple language that anyone can understand? They protect their clients by asking the tough questions before anyone else can.

The auditor’s responsibilities extend beyond review of financial disclosures, Irish said. They also look at a client’s internal controls. Are checks and balances in place? Are there multiple eyes on every transaction?

“Part of confirming that financial information is accurate is also making sure controls are in place,” she said.

Irish, who originally planned to become a photojournalist, said she took an accounting class in college and loved it but worried that she might not be able to forge a career in her home state of Maine.

That turned out to be a misconception, as she quickly discovered there is ample demand for quality accountants and auditors in the state. In fact, it is one of the most sought-after professions in Maine, between public accounting firms, private companies and government.

“There are a lot of opportunities with the regional firms right here in Maine,” Irish said.