The search for qualified, competent internal auditors remains a challenge for many audit departments. More than one-third of respondents to MISTI’s 2018 Internal Audit Priorities Report said recruiting had become more of a challenge during the preceding year.
One reason is the tight labor market. Unemployment among accountants and auditors dropped to 1.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to human resources consulting firm, Robert Half, citing information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Strong auditors possess a “unique combination of skills,” says Craig Munch, president of Peak Audit, a New York-based staffing firm that specializes in IT audit and risk professionals. They provide technical expertise, such as industry knowledge or an understanding of financial controls, and critical interpersonal communication skills. It can be difficult to find candidates who are solid in both areas.
Given the challenges presented by the unique set of skills the profession requires, it doesn’t help that candidates may also have an inaccurate view of internal audit.
“It’s more of an exciting role than it’s given credit for,” Munch says. Some candidates may assume auditing consists largely of checking boxes, and not realize that auditors often interact with a wide range of departments and assess a range of functions.
Where to Look
The good news is, audit executives can overcome these challenges. A first step is to be proactive.
“You can’t just wait for someone looking for a job,” Rob Frattasio, partner in the business risk consulting practice with RSM US LL, an audit, tax and accounting firm. Simply posting jobs online also is unlikely to cut it.
Audit executives who invest time in building their networks through industry organizations and events “increase the chances of meeting qualified candidates,” Frattasio says. By establishing relationships even when they don’t have an immediate need, they’re more apt to have potential candidates in mind when it’s time to fill a position.
What about reaching out to individuals who come from outside the auditing or accounting functions? Opinions are divided.
Given the range of areas internal auditors are testing, candidates with operational or technical experience can “bolster the value internal audit can add to an organization,” Frattasio says. This could include candidates with, for instance, expertise in supply chain or cybersecurity.
However, Andrew Clark, formerly an internal auditor and now a data scientist with BlockScience, an Oakland, California-based research and engineering firm, questions the effectiveness of this approach, unless a candidate brings specific expertise in an industry or function, like cybersecurity.
“Audit is a very nuanced language,” in terms of how auditors review and test processes and write reports, he says. Many mid-career professionals from other fields will require time to learn it, cutting into their initial productivity.
No matter where you look for candidates, being known as an employer that attracts sharp, highly skilled individuals of integrity pays off when it’s time to recruit Clark says.
“People will hear about it and approach you,” even before positions open, he adds.
The Job Description
When talking with candidates about an audit position, give them a reason to be interested and excited, Munch says. For instance, does the position interact regularly with management? That’s likely to appeal to candidates who want to advance.
Also convey the goals and values of the internal audit department. This helps candidates envision how the position fits into the organization and potentially, their career plans“By conveying goals and values, versus simply the day-to-day responsibilities, chief audit executives are more likely to find candidates who fit well with their teams and will help them achieve their goals,” Frattasio says.
A goal might be to groom auditors for other roles within the organization, Frattasio says. Values are the principles, such as integrity or teamwork, that should guide all actions.
Qualities to Seek
Most successful auditors share several traits, according to Clark. They include:
- Attention to detail: For example, strong internal auditors generally are the type of people who are bothered when their checkbooks don’t balance.
- Integrity: Top auditors may need to assertively but thoughtfully counter any pushback when they raise issues about transactions that appear outside the norm.
To be sure, evaluating integrity during an interview, when most candidates are going to be on their best behavior, isn’t always straightforward. One approach is to ask candidates how they’ve handled previous ethical dilemmas. For instance, if they witnessed a colleague do something contrary to company policy, how did they respond?
- Curiosity: Unlike many other functions, in which employees tend to work within a narrow range of responsibilities, auditors must understand and evaluate numerous functions and departments. According to Clark, you have to be inquisitive and figure out how things work.
One way to assess curiosity is to ask candidates about things they’ve learned outside of work, whether that’s following new recipes or perfecting their butterfly stroke. What steps did they take to improve?
- Writing Ability: Many times, a written report is an auditor’s only work product. Auditors need to be able to convey information clearly and unambiguously. Some audit departments have introduced writing tests within their hiring process.
- People Skills: Effective auditors can interact with others, including colleagues who may not be thrilled to have their work examined. That typically means being friendly but not a pushover, and confident but not arrogant.
How to determine a candidate’s people skills? Have as many members of the department as possible spend time with him or her, both in and out of the office. Take the candidate to lunch or walk with them through a factory or warehouse.
Certain traits can hamper an auditor’s effectiveness. One is bullying or an eagerness to pick fights, Clark says. Tactics like these can turn off auditees, making it harder to conduct a solid examination.
To test for this, ask a candidate how he or she would handle a situation in which, for instance, a department head was continually slow in providing needed materials. A response along the lines of “I’d tell them ‘I’m the auditor and they have to do this,’” should raise concerns.
A candidate who’s not comfortable interacting with others may struggle in an internal auditor position, because it’s such a significant component of the job. However, he or she might thrive in a behind-the-scenes role in, for instance, data analytics, Frattasio says.
While internal audit can be a challenging function for which to recruit, organizations that actively develop their networks can find strong candidates, Frattasio says. What’s more, they also tend to have stronger teams.