When I tell people I'm an "acting auditor," I get some confused looks. I grew up acting in local community and professional theatre productions and started doing film and commercial work as a hobby in my mid-20s. Now with 40 IMDb credits and roughly 100 commercials under my belt, what strikes me the most about acting is how similar it is to auditing.
Stereotypes aside, auditors and actors have more in common than you might think. I was asked at my first job interview why I was pursuing audit when I'd spent my high school and college years working theatre jobs. Without hesitation, I answered, "They're both ways of bringing meaning to chaos." I'd never made that connection before that moment, but my 14 years in auditing have proven this statement true.
Some people assume that acting is about being fake or lying. But acting is primarily about analysis — discovering motivations, examining the sequence of a chain of events, and uncovering truth. Actors learn not to label characters as "good" or "bad" and instead seek to understand the complex factors that drive their choices. Stage presence is being fully present in that moment, listening with your full concentration, and reacting truthfully. (Sound like an audit interview to you?)
The skills I learned as an actor — thoroughly examining evidence versus leaping to assumptions, performing root cause analysis, listening actively, and asking "why" continually — are the same skills I use every day in internal audit.
Have you ever heard the acting joke, "What's my motivation?" I can verify that an actor will often ask why when he or she is directed to move from one side of the stage to the other. Sometimes directors want to retort, "Because I said so, that's your motivation." However, actors instinctively understand that all actions are driven by human desires and goals.
Internal auditors can apply this concept to understand control gaps and obtain buy-in for recommendations. Often, we focus only on the control failure and not on the root cause. By understanding our clients' motivations, we can better understand why the failure happened in the first place.
For example, perhaps the control owner was motivated by meeting pressing production deadlines and did not understand the control's importance. Or perhaps the control owner was motivated by a desire to be seen as competent and was too afraid to ask for clarification of a procedure he or she didn't understand.
Understanding these motivations is helpful in finding the appropriate remedy as well as in "selling" that recommendation to the audit client. Demonstrating to a client how implementing stronger controls can help it achieve its strategic objectives (its motivation) turns what could be seen as a negative (an audit finding) into a positive (a better chance of success).
My audit career and acting hobby have both opened opportunities for me that I never dreamed possible. Remote access to client systems allowed me to spend three weeks shooting a feature film in Kansas City while performing control testing when I wasn't on set. My acting skills have come in handy on projects such as creating training videos for our store employees at QuikTrip or playing comedic characters in cybersecurity awareness videos.
Both passions have collided when I've gotten to emcee audit conferences, facilitate audit training, and give presentations. My background in improvisation has particularly come in handy when facilitating enterprise risk management meetings or navigating technical difficulties during virtual presentations. And while my acting hobby has definitely taken a back seat in recent years to my love of audit, I am confident I am a better auditor because of my experiences as an actor.
Jami Shine, CIA, CRMA, CISA, CRISC, is the corporate and IT audit manager for QuikTrip Corp. in Tulsa, Okla.
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