What I Don't Need in a Good Internal Audit Candidate (Moneyball Part 2)
Two posts ago, I began what I thought would be a small little discussion on how we identify the people that help make successful internal audit departments. In what turned out to be a lengthy beginning rather than a single post, I started with the proposition that our first challenge is not about the people — it is about defining our success. Without an understanding of how we can succeed, there is no way we can determine how people will help us succeed. Then, before I could move forward with the discussion, I went down a sidetrack — an important sidetrack — on how getting the right people is more important than finding the right people for the job.
Let’s see if we can make a little more headway today.
I don’t know how your Human Resource group provides “support” in your never ending quest to find quality people in that virtual e-blizzard of resumes, but one of the more recent (10 years?) approaches I consistently see being applied is “behavior-based interviewing.” The theory is that you identify the four or five skills/traits/behaviors that you believe no auditor can exist without, then build your interview around them.
Well, one of the things this has led to is a collection of inane interview questions that all seem to begin with such things as “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of a time when…” or the much more creative “Describe a situation where…” leading to such clever questions as “Tell me about a time when you didn’t want to work hard but the company made you do it anyway” or “Give me an example of a time when you had to tell your boss that his breath was bad” or “Describe a situation where you were embarrassed to ask an interview question.”
(And now, a number of you are thinking, “Aha, that’s where those weird questions came from.”)
The only thing I feel I have ever gotten from the entire behavior based approach was to finally identify the only two things I want from any internal audit candidate. And it all started when I recognized that many of the things we have all interviewed/tested for are not at the core of success. Over time, I came to realize that, when identifying a candidate who might be a good auditor, I do not need someone who shows great aptitude in report writing, or interviewing, or communication, or accounting, or note taking, or meeting attendance, or time sheet completion, or workpaper cross-referencing, or keeping a clean desk, or any of the myriad other things we have identified as “must haves” for new internal audit candidates. I realized that, shy of a total incompetent in any of these areas, anyone can be taught to perform these skills at a decent level.
Let me clarify. I’m not saying you don’t pay attention to how they communicate, I’m not saying you don’t give them some kind of test to determine their writing skills, I’m not saying you don’t look for evidence of analytical ability, I’m not saying that you don’t keep your eyes, ears, and guts open to ensure they can function as a professional human being. What I am saying is that those abilities cannot be the end all and be all, the alpha and omega, the only thing you care about.
There are only two things I focus on when looking at a new candidate.
(Another quick — honest I’ll be quick this time — aside. For a while I listed three things I felt every auditor should exhibit — the third being the ability to synthesize information. This was a knee-jerk reaction after working with an auditor who had no concept what a high level overview meant. He came back from an interview one time and I asked him what he had learned. He began to read his notes, quoting word-for-word what the interviewee had said. I stopped him and said, “No, I need to know what was said in general.” He read the notes a second time. I repeated that I did not want the exact words; rather, his interpretation of what was said. He read the notes. We played this long lost Abbott and Costello routine a couple more times before, in exasperation, I let him read his notes hoping I could glean what had actually been said. After that, I added that third requirement. I have finally forgiven him, and I’m back to two things. And I’ve learned one of the better ways to get people to synthesize information is the following the phrase, “Tell me a story.” A subject for a post another day. I offer it now as lagniappe.
There are only two things I look for in any internal audit candidate. The first, and most important, is evidence of creativity — the ability for the candidate to think on his or her feet, to see the world sideways, to be overjoyed by the surprises that are in store when something unexpected happens. The second (and a corollary to the first) is evidence of inquisitiveness — an unquenchable thirst to know more, to read more, to explore more, to see those surprises that come from creativity, to have an overwhelming desire to find out how they happened, and to exhibit an excitement about seeing how more surprises can be created.
But the sun is setting in the west, Scheherazade has come to the break in her tale, the evening whistle has blown, and we must all be off. In the next post, we will consider what the heck is so danged important about creativity and inquisitiveness anyway. (And for the creative and inquisitive out there, prove it.)
Posted on Apr 2, 2012 by Mike Jacka
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