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What it takes to become an effective auditor

Forward-thinking professionals are always looking to improve their skills. Whether it is to get an additional certification, earn a second degree, pursue a graduate-level degree, or perhaps a radical career change, an active professional is in a constant quest for knowledge.

Auditors should also be on this learning journey. Yet, frequently, we observe how career-long audit practitioners carry out their audit responsibilities with the same business model they did 10/20 years ago. What worked then might not necessarily work today. Former business practices are not expected to work as a "plug-and-play" in today's market, because every business industry has experienced change over the past couple of years. As such, business techniques and approaches should adapt to current demands, changes in corporate culture, new expectations around people and processes, and the most significant changes of all, technology.

Internal audit practices should be built on the foundation of the Institute of Internal (IIA) Auditors' International Standards. The IIA framework serves as the baseline for audit departments to develop their internal procedures, manuals, goals, and objectives. As businesses have changed, internal audit practices could benefit from an update to successfully meet their clients' demands. Let's review some critical non-technical abilities needed to become an effective internal auditor in today's business environment.

Essential Business Skills. –

Negotiation Skills. A successful negotiation will involve; effective speaking and listening, self-confidence, patience, and respect. Without these skills, mediation will be stressful if not impossible. You will also need to make concessions. The key to remember is to secure what you need out of the negotiation. Negotiation is almost expected when building the audit plan and drafting audit findings and observations.

Critical Thinking. – Critical thinking relates to how we make decisions and use our judgment. It is also about how we take action. Some key components of a critical thinking mindset include; applying reason, having an open mind, careful analysis of the data, and use logical thinking while planning for the audit projects.

Networking Abilities. – While networking requires selling yourself, auditors must also exercise active listening to build relationships and ensure that they truly understand what the other person is saying. You will be surprised how much auditors can learn about the internal control environment by just polishing their networking abilities. Some significant internal control deficiencies are not written in a paper. Also remember, networking is a two-way street. Auditors should show their new contacts what value they bring to the relationship, and for that, auditors need to understand how value is defined within the network. Building trust is yet another essential expectation of successful networking.

Presentation Expertise. – When delivering an audit presentation to the rest of the audit team or the auditees, auditors should be aware of the signals they send with their eyes, posture, and body language. Managing the perceived, guided, and programmed visualization will be imperative to a successful presentation. Auditors must ensure they engage and lead the discussion with the audience and be prepared to deal with difficult questions.

Communication Strategies. – During an interview, it would be beneficial to apply the STAR approach to; identify the Situation, state the Task, focus on the Action at hand, and evaluate the Results. Auditors need to employ a combination of open-ended, close-ended, and probing questions to obtain the information necessary to achieve the audit objectives. Lastly, review the Silent Messages study (a.k.a. the Mehrabian Study) by psychologist Albert Mehrabian which discovered that in general, 7% of our message is verbal, 38% is paraverbal, and 55% is from body language. Understanding these statistics can shed some light on how to conduct an effective interview.

Executive Presence. – In addition to having the previously described skills, a competent auditor must be confident and be able to lead the process and the rest of the team. An effective auditor must possess the ability to control his/her emotions and knows how to act instead of reacting.

To stay relevant, auditors should consider incorporating some, if not all of these non-technical business skills into the audit process. This will be a great way to upgrade their audit profiles and become more effective auditors.

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