For today's organizations, it's a sink or swim world. Leaders must keep up with the rapid pace at which their industry is evolving or risk losing out to competitors. Inevitably, this pressure is felt by employees, including internal audit staff — auditors who fail to add value or meet expected standards could easily be seen as expendable.
In this climate, having the right skills is more important than ever. But which skills are the most important? Especially for those newer to the audit profession, this can be a difficult question to answer. To help shed light on the topic, we recently asked IIA Vice President of Training and Development Lisa Hirtzinger to share her thoughts on areas of competency entry-level auditors should possess.
What do you think are the most important success factors for new internal auditors?
Knowledge from The IIA's International Professional Practices Framework (IPPF) is key. The IPPF is a wealth of information beyond the International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing. It encompasses tools and resources to help implement the Standards (Implementation Guidance) and other tools to leverage regarding how to approach an internal audit of specific topics (Practice Guides/Global Technology Audit Guides (GTAGs)).
In addition, critical thinking, data analytics, and communication skills are often highlighted as success factors for internal auditors.
What are the key technology skills for new (non-IT) auditors?
Every internal auditor needs to understand technology risk. You don't have to be an expert on the latest technology, or a systems auditor, but you do need to constantly be aware of new technologies and risks; and how almost every process has a technology component or interdependency.
Perhaps the key skill is to not shy away from technology, but rather embrace it and the information available to break it down for you (knowledge briefs, articles, GTAGs, etc.)
How important is industry-specific knowledge for new auditors?
It depends on your career path; first focus on the fundamentals. Then build on your skills whether industry, technical, or leadership (or a combination).
It may also depend whether you started your career in internal auditing, or whether you are joining the profession from operations/service. Either way, industry-specific knowledge is critical to enhancing organizational value via your internal audit role.
How would you weight the importance of soft skills compared to technical skills?
Equal – technical is required to be a great internal auditor; and then soft skills make you successful in the environment you operate within (partnering with peers, teaming with co-workers, communicating with stakeholders).
Given the rapid changes in business and technology, how often do you think new practitioners should be updating their skills?
Always and continuously. Part of being a great internal auditor is being curious and leveraging resources. You can invest as little or as much time as you have, or as the challenge ahead calls for; but do try to invest time for yourself, for your career development, and for the collective skill level on the internal audit team. There are so many tools and resources available to take advantage of — the important thing is to set aside time to leverage resources before an audit, share what you know with peers during an audit, and apply what you learned to the next audit.
This leads me to another great factor about our profession, which is knowledge sharing. Don't be afraid to ask others for ideas and input — oftentimes rewarding and engaging conversations follow.
Are recent graduates expected to have some training before they're hired, or is it assumed most or all learning will occur once they start the job?
Internal auditing is such an exciting opportunity and career because of the wide exposure we have within organizations. Many organizations have wonderful onboarding and/or internship programs.
At the end of the day, required experience depends on the organization, but more often than not internal audit functions are looking for talent with competencies such as process improvement and root cause analysis. They're also seeking change agents, critical thinkers, and good communicators, as well as those without fear of technology.
If you really want to set yourself ahead of the competition, consider preparing for the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) exam, which assesses the skills foundational to the profession.
For those entering the profession from other fields, what types of competencies are generally sought after?
Industry knowledge, business acumen, process improvement, risk management, lifelong learning, and a willingness to pair that knowledge with internal audit processes.
How important do you think an understanding of the business is for new practitioners?
Absolutely critical, and yet don't expect yourself to understand it all the first day, week, month, or year. At a minimum, ask questions about your organization's strategic plan and objectives so you can always link the audit you are working on to the bigger picture.
Each audit provides an opportunity to learn more, connect more dots, meet new people at the organization, benchmark compared to other organizations, and find additional information and resources. The key is to be open to always adding to your knowledge and be able to apply that specifically to your organization in order to enhance value.
For new auditors who aspire to higher level positions, what is the best way to start moving up the ladder?
One way to get started is to show initiative, whether by taking on additional roles, or being open to learning and feedback. In addition, I would recommend getting certified, as it lends credibility that you've been assessed on your competencies and are maintaining the designation/knowledge.
Is there a rule of thumb you'd advise for the amount of time new practitioners should devote to professional development?
The rule of thumb is simply to do just that: devote time to professional development — you determine how much and what type. It is not about achieving or limiting yourself to a specific number of CPE credits; rather it is about your career path and growing your skills and value. Continuous knowledge is critical to your success as an internal auditor. We live in a rapid pace of change, and our knowledge needs to keep up to ensure we are delivering value in real-time.
There are many ways to gain skills, whether by networking, taking advantage of knowledge resources, finding a mentor, attending professional development opportunities (online or in person), etc. The important thing is to set a goal and have a plan. It can be as simple as ensuring you read two new articles that spark ideas each week (one technical and one soft skill), or as rigorous as preparing for the CIA exam. The opportunities are endless, but failure to focus on professional development will leave you behind your peers.