Internal audit candidate interview.

 Consider this scenario: To complete the audits identified on the audit plan, Renee, a chief audit executive (CAE) with a financial services firm, needs to hire a staff auditor.  She’s offering a competitive salary and benefits package. The company is well-regarded and other departments don’t have trouble attracting candidates.

However, one external candidate declined Renee’s offer, as did an internal candidate from cost accounting, who instead transferred to a financial planning and analysis company. Several other candidates bowed out of the interview process.

The internal audit department now is struggling to complete the audits that will provide assurance the company is adequately managing risk.

Renee is not alone. More than one-third of respondents to MISTI’s 2018 Internal Audit Priorities survey said their ability to fill open positions had increased in difficulty from 2017.

First things first: Why internal audit sometimes struggles to recruit candidates:

Several factors make recruiting qualified candidates a challenge for many internal audit departments. Demand for candidates is high. In addition to their historical role of assessing compliance with regulatory requirements, internal audit teams increasingly are moving into the advisory space, and providing assurance around a range of business areas, says Chris Brooker, senior vice president at IAC, a specialist internal audit recruitment firm. With technology risk high on most corporations’ risk register, demand for IT auditors also is growing, he adds.    

Even as demand grows, supply is limited. The best internal auditors have great technical and softer skills, like persuading and influencing, says Karen Visser, internal audit project manager at Hologic, a medical technology company based in Bedford, Mass. However, most people tend to be either technically-oriented or people-oriented, with few adept at both, she adds.

Because internal audit isn’t simple to learn, demand for senior auditors is particularly high, Visser says. At the same time, not enough staff auditors are being trained to fill future senior spots, she adds.

The travel and long hours common in internal auditing can lead to burnout. “The burn-out factor might result in auditors moving into accounting or management rather than staying in internal audit,” Visser says.

The challenges are real, yet if internal audit departments are going to manage the myriad risks their organizations face, they must be able to attract and retain qualified candidates.

Below, we identify several strategies that can help you recruit qualified internal audit candidates:

  • Educating potential candidates about internal audit and effectively marketing internal audit positions
  • Identifying new recruiting strategies, like internships and guest auditor positions
  • Considering individuals with nontraditional backgrounds
  • Developing a strong internal audit function
  • Investing in training

1. Educate and market

Internal audit positions offer more opportunities than many people realize. Because internal audit offers exposure to all areas of a business—from operations to finance to IT implementations, acquisitions, and other significant projects—it can be an effective stepping stone to positions across a company. “Paint a true picture of what internal audit is,” Brooker says. “For people interested in having a holistic view and understanding of how an organization runs, there’s no better role.”

However, many job descriptions for internal audit positions neglect to mention the range of roles. In some cases, that’s because human resources write the descriptions, yet lack a clear understanding of the internal audit function. It’s important for internal audit to work with human resources to develop accurate descriptions of its role.

Of course, the descriptions should be truthful. If a position requires thirty percent travel, candidates should know that upfront. Hedging about a less-appealing aspect of the position may attract candidates initially, but they’re unlikely to stay once they realize they’ve been misled.

2. Reach candidates in multiple ways

Each summer, Louisiana State University places about eighty internal audit students in internships, says Glenn Sumners, director of the Center for Internal Auditing at Louisiana State University. About two-thirds of the interns end up working for the companies with which they interned.

Both the companies and the students can evaluate each other for several months before making more permanent commitments. Given the expense of unsuccessful hiring decisions, an internship is more effective and less costly than the traditional interview process, Sumners says. “It’s a win/win for both.”

Guest auditor programs, in which an employee from another department joins the internal audit team for one or two audits, is another way to both gain manpower and expose employees outside internal audit to the function. Joel Kramer, managing director, internal audit division with MISTI, once worked with a controller to swap an internal auditor with an individual from cost accounting. The employees gained new skills, and the departments were able to keep qualified individuals within the company.

About one-third of respondents to MISTI’s survey said they use online job boards and social media to reach candidates. These tools can be particularly effective with younger candidates, who’ve grown up with social media.

Interested read on closing the internal audit talent gap. Here's what some auditors can focus on to build their teams. #audit Click to Tweet

3. Consider candidates with untraditional backgrounds

About three-quarters of respondents to the Institute of Internal Auditor’ s2018 North American Pulse of Internal Audit survey, ranked accounting or finance degrees most desirable when assessing candidates, with IT-related degrees close behind. While those are logical starting points, the expanding scope of the internal audit function means candidates with other degrees, such as engineering or general business, also can be solid performers.

4. Develop a strong internal audit function

Along with attracting more candidates, internal audit departments need to engage the employees they already have. One way is to build an internal audit function that addresses significant issues facing the organization, so auditors don’t spend their days focused on immaterial problems. “If you feel your job is important, you feel good,” says MISTI’s Kramer. Most employees want to be part of a team that’s making a difference, he adds.

This also means that when internal audit uncovers an issue that’s uncomfortable—say, a department that’s lackadaisical about controls—the organization takes the information seriously and supports the audit team, Kramer says.

5. Invest in training and skills development

More than sixty percent of respondents to the MISTI survey said opportunities for skills development were key to attracting new talent. This factor was second only to compensation in terms of its appeal.

Similarly, a recent survey of IT internal audit professionals by consulting firm KPMG found that about half the respondents said they’re looking for a variety of experiences and the ability to grow their skill sets, says Matthew Johnson, principal and national leader for IT audit and assurance at KPMG LLP. While they still need to master the skills required to audit general IT controls, they also want access to emerging areas, like cybersecurity and data and analytics, he added.

Fortunately, that aligns with many organizations’ priorities. In KPMG’s 2017 study, IT Internal Audit: Multiplying risks amid scarce resources, 63 percent of respondents said they would focus on emerging risks in 2018. That’s more than double the 29 percent that planned to focus on emerging risks in 2017.

Along with technical proficiency, any training should include softer skills. “In internal audit, you’re trying to convince people to change who don’t want to,” Kramer says. Auditors who can make their case persuasively will succeed more often. Again, that reinforces engagement.

Conclusion   

Internal audit departments face challenges in attracting candidates. Many can be addressed by adjusting how a department markets itself and reaches out to candidates. In addition, developing a strong internal audit function, including access to training, can help in retaining current employees. 

To learn more about topics such as this, mark your calendars for the highly-anticipated SuperStrategies Conference & Expo in Las Vegas this November.