Why internal auditors should know how to explain their job.

I recently contracted with an Internal Audit team at a public university. During the first part of our full-day communication workshop together I asked everyone in the room to tell me their name and answer the question: “What do you do?” One-by-one names were stated, titles were given, and their tenure at the department was mentioned.

Not a single person answered the question, “What do you do?”

As an Internal Auditor what you do is NOT your title. It’s NOT your longevity in the field. It’s NOT a credential.

In the world of Internal Audit, there isn’t a straightforward answer to the question, “What do you do?” Whether you’re trying to explain your profession to a colleague whose group you’re going to be auditing, or a new friend at a dinner party, having a strong response to this question can open many potential opportunities. Or, at the very least, smooth the way for future interactions.

We know that your role in the business is essential. We know that your role adds value to multiple areas of the organization. We know that your role is and will continue to be relevant.

But unless someone else has first-hand experience with you, or had a phenomenally positive experience with a previous internal auditor, nobody outside of Internal Audit knows what you do. They just hear the scary A-word, and in many cases assume the worst. Let’s face it, with the way some people cringe at the word “audit” you might as well be walking around with a scarlet “A” on your shirt! When, instead, you should be wearing a cape for the results and value that you bring.

Here’s an activity you can complete to get yourself thinking about what you DO (and not just what title you have). And help you craft some language that you can use for more positive, more accurate, and more value-revealing introductions.

Grab four sheets of blank paper, a writing utensil, a highlighter, a timer, and make sure you have about 30 minutes of focused time in front of you.

Take one sheet of paper. Set a timer for five minutes.

At the top of the page, write “ASSUMPTIONS.”

For the next five minutes, you’re going to rapid-fire write as many answers as possible to the question: What are the assumptions that people have before I speak with them about Internal Audit?

These are going to be the proverbial elephants in the room that need to be removed or addressed before any meaningful conversation about the relevancy and value Internal Audit brings will happen. It’s important to do this exercise that you know what potential obstacles you have to overcome in your introductions and your initial communications with any new potential client.

Now, grab a second sheet of paper. At the top of the page write COMPLIMENTS.

In the world of Internal Audit, there isn’t a straightforward answer to the question, “What do you do?” But communicating it effectively can go a long way. #audit Click to Tweet

Set the timer for five minutes again. As fast as you can, write down as many responses as possible to the question: What have clients said about me and my work?

They don’t have to be neat, grammatically correct, or even complete sentences—just write! Think of compliments you’ve received. Think of the kudos or the “thank you” messages. Think of testimonials you’ve gotten.

When the timer expires, set the sheet of paper aside and grab another blank sheet.

At the top of this third sheet write the word PROBLEMS. Set a timer for five minutes. Repeat the same process as above, answering the question: What problems have you solved?

Think of what you were brought in to examine. Think about some of the findings. Think about some of the recommendations. Think of problems that existed before Internal Audit intervened.

When the buzzer sounds, put that sheet aside and grab the last sheet of blank paper. At the top, write the word CHANGE.

Start that five-minute timer and answer in as many ways as possible: What changes have I helped produce for my clients?

Think about the outcomes that you’ve achieved. Think about the results you’ve driven. Think about the conditions you’ve changed. Think about the risks you’ve helped mitigate. You may see some overlap with the previous page. That’s okay! Keep on writing. Try dissecting the problems in the previous step and break them down into smaller steps.

Congratulations! Your brain just spit out everything you need to craft an introduction that will help you demonstrate your value as an Internal Auditor to almost any audience.

From here, set the four pages side-by-side.

Looking at what you wrote, highlight any words or phrases that you see appearing multiple times. These words and phrases are likely reflective of the relevancy you have in an organization and the value that you bring. These are also words and phrases that you want to work into an introduction, especially when they’ll help remove any proverbial elephants from the room mentioned in the first step. Then, using this template as a starting point, start to craft your answer to the question: What do you do?

I help (who you help) do/perform/think/grow/evaluate/change (what you help them with), so that they can (what result they achieve).

Now you’ll have an answer to that question that will open doors for future conversation, not shut any doors based on assumptions, and will help you open up the communication for how you and Internal Audit can add more value to the organization as a whole.

Looking to learn more about this topic and others? Join MISTI and Jill at the SuperStrategies Conference & Expo where the communication expert will be conducting a workshop and hosting a session.