“There’s more of a skillset deficiency today than there has ever been. That’s why people don’t talk positively about millennials,” says Dr. Glenn E. Sumners. As Director at Louisiana State University Center for Internal Auditing (LSUCIA), Sumners is uniquely positioned to evaluate the abilities of each new generation of auditors. In 1985, the IIA endorsed LSU as a pilot school to develop an innovative educational program in internal auditing. This disciplined program focuses on professional behavior and emphasizes professional certifications to begin students’ careers.
Dr. Sumners expects students to enter the workforce as hard workers that hold multiple professional certifications and come to work on time, who are considerate, respectful, and ready to learn.
To many students, these qualities make LSUCIA sound conservative and old school. Dr. Sumners likes that. “Old school is better than new school,” he stated.
You could say that Dr. Sumners has a set of “cream of the crop” internal audit contenders for the next generation, but he doesn’t believe this group is the standard of what you can expect. Even in the program, there are students that just coast through without ever really working for their degree. Between the top and the bottom students lies a huge gap.
He even goes so far as to call his students “narcissist slackers” the first week of school. “I say go away, drop my class. If you stay, I’ll help you.” His honesty is refreshing, and he has won the admiration of his students who know that he not only expects perfection but also allows mistakes in order to learn.
What you can expect from the next crop of auditors isn’t as cut and dry as it used to be. This generation grew up without downtime. Anything they wanted was a click away. There was no waiting for a favorite show, sitting through commercials, or sharing a phone tethered to the wall with five other family members.
In this generation, patience need not apply.
Because of technology and godlike accessibility, the new crop of auditors has a completely different paradigm, and previous generations must learn to connect with this generation to accomplish audit goals. With a widening skills gap between the top and the bottom students, we’ve compiled some ways to look for the worthwhile candidates for your company.
Expand your possibilities, take the weight off of GPAs
Too many companies will only take the highest GPAs. However, LSUCIA student Lena Aslam comments that “Many students that have lower GPAs tend to be some of the hardest working and intelligent students in our program. These candidates are being skipped over and replaced by students just coasting by.” Low scores may be the result of full-time work, families, or low scores in non-major classes. And some students just aren’t good test takers.
It makes sense, too. College is expensive and students paying for their education will need to work for money and work for a degree, and sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
On the flip side, students with high GPAs may not have jobs, may cheat on exams or used materials such as test banks to improve their scores. A growing number of students are taking non-prescribed medication (like Adderall or Vyvanse) to cram for tests, thus making the grade, but retaining little information. However, some students are hard workers, and their grades show it. In short, the GPA doesn’t tell the full story of the person you hire.
Rather than GPA, certifications may be a better indicator of a solid candidate. Certs are professionally accepted, and one can’t cheat on a certification test. Yet when GPA takes precedence over certifications, a company may overlook an excellent candidate who would have been a great fit for their company. The best indicators of all-around intelligence and work ethic may be a broader look at grades (for instance, the top 30% of a class) in addition to certifications.
Focus on the right skills and if the student can attain those skills
The gap is widening between the skill set that students have now and what the industry wants. So, the “right skills” include a cocktail of soft skills and hard skills.
Truth is, the next generation of auditors may not have developed soft skills, like presentation and communication skills, promptness, or even respect. Dylan Boudreaux is President of the MBA Association and a grad student in the LSUCIA program. He mentioned that companies tell them that LSUCIA students have “better punctuality, self-awareness, communication skills, presentation skills, and workplace ethic” than other interns. In other words, companies are seeing interns fall short of expected life skills, like being on time. (The case could be made that although this group may sleep late, they also work late too, but that’s another article.)
When it comes to hard skills, professional certifications become the great differentiator. For example, each LSUCIA student will graduate with an average of two professional certifications this year.
“That’s a level playing field right there,” said Dr. Sumners. “It shows that our students are ready and willing to do their schoolwork, and they’re interested and ready to start it now. That puts them way ahead of anyone else.”
Look at how students use technology
While candidates could fall short in soft skills, they make up for it in technological prowess. Companies are complex and technology is rapidly changing. Fast-paced technology asks internal auditors to rise to the challenge of not just finding risk but predicting risk. This is right up the millennial tech guru’s alley.
“The upcoming group of students will be more technologically skilled than past employees,” says Aslam. “And this is just because we’ve grown up with technology and can learn it easily.”
Understanding technology is its own realm, but Dr. Sumners is asking for objective thinkers too, and objective thinking is low on the scale of student abilities. This may point toward more systemic issues within public education. For example, math is perfectly objective, yet math scores in the U.S. are average or lower compared to other developing and developed countries. This crop of auditors will need to develop the skill of thinking objectively.
Background checks are so last generation
Speaking of technology, remember earlier when we mentioned that GPAs don’t tell the full story? Maybe technology does. If you really want to know your candidate, do some social sleuthing. You can tell a lot about a candidate by looking at Facebook posts, Twitter accounts, LinkedIn profiles, pictures, and comments. The reference process is all there for you to read.
As far as human references go, Dr. Sumners is rarely called. “Some people have outsourced their preferences. The background checks just don’t assist at all in identifying good employees anymore.”
Tips to mind the generational gap
Look for soft skills in students, like presentation skills, communication, and people skills. Face-to-face communication can be elusive in this brave new world where friends sit together, never talk, and instead check their phone updates. “It’s a people kind of profession,” said Dr. Sumners, “You can’t get around the fact that you have to be good with people.”
Perhaps this next tip is more for the student, though also good for the interviewer – but be ready to put your time in. One CAE commented:
“I am challenged with my millennials because I do not feel they value repetition, whereas my generation feels that skill comes through practice. I remember my first summer I did four projects looking at balance sheet reconciliations – testing probably 150 reconciliations. No way I could give my current group that workload. Half-way through the first project, they’d be in my office telling me they are bored and would like to look at other opportunities within the company.”
Repetition is a skill that folds in the virtues of patience, perseverance, humility, and critical thinking. The pianist knows their ability is born from repetition, the athlete learns the course through repetition, and the good auditor will learn critical and objective skills through repetition as well.
Although the philosophy of teaching good-old-fashioned values may seem antiquated, there’s an unspoken moral code that we all want to subscribe to: be courteous, be prompt, be engaged, and do what’s right. Dr. Sumners and the LSUCIA program maintain a loyal following among prospective employers, as well as a deep respect, commitment, and pride in the program from the students themselves.
After a lifetime of well-intentioned participation trophies, Dr. Sumners’ crop finally has something to live up to.