Steps to Conducting an Audit Interview

In our previous post, we talked about the core competencies for interviewing. In this post, we apply those compentencies in a step-by-step break down of how to conduct a successful interview.

1. Break the ice. One of the biggest mistakes you can make as an interviewer is to immediately sit down and start hammering the interviewee with questions. Everyone needs a little time to get used to each other; you need to feel out the personality of the interviewee and he needs a moment to acknowledge that you aren’t that intimidating after all. So, start with something non-threatening and build common ground with the interviewee.

2. Brief the interviewee. Tell the client the objective of the audit and the purpose of the interview. Tell him what you hope to accomplish with this meeting. Then ask him if he has any questions. This makes sure he is clear on what you are doing and establishes more equal footing—more of a peer-to-peer relationship. Also tell the client about your status on the audit. Are you the in-charge or the staff person? Who do you answer to? This is another equalizer and folks always like to know the status of the person they are communicating with.

3. Obtain background information from auditee. Here is the interviewee’s chance to show his feathers—or establish his status. Giving the interviewee a chance to tell you more about himself goes a long way to reducing his fear. Sharing about his role in the company slowly levels the playing field and makes him feel more confident and trusting. Ask him to tell you about his:

  •  Job title
  • Scope of responsibility
  • Tenure

4. Ask interviewee if he has any questions. Before you begin with your questions, it is a good idea to ask the interviewee for his questions. Get all that baggage out of the way so you can have a clear, focused conversation. How you phrase this makes a difference. Ideally, you ask, “What are your questions?” This has a much more welcoming and non-judgmental tone than, “Do you have any questions?”, “Do you understand?”, or “Is there anything you need to say?” Each of the last three questions could be construed as mildly condescending.

5. Questioning. Here is where you get down to business. It is time for you to get answers to your most pertinent questions.  Instead of using a questionnaire filled with closed-ended yes/no questions, try using some open ended ones. It will make your interview more conversational and less like an  interrogation.

6. Summarize and paraphrase. Paraphrasing does several powerful things:

  • It lets the interviewee know that you respect him enough to listen.
  • It makes sure you “got it”.
  • It allows him to change his mind and save face by saying, “Oh, no. You misunderstood. What I meant to say was…"

The response to each significant question should be summarized or paraphrased as well as the results of the entire interview.

7. Close. After you have asked your questions and summarized the results verbally—basically parroted the main points of the interview back to the interviewee—you are ready to leave. But don’t just stand up and walk out the door. A little ritual is necessary here to maintain happy client relations. Before you leave, you need to:

  • Explain what happens next
  • Leave the door open for follow-up
  • Ask if the interviewee has any questions
  • Leave your business card
  • Say “Thank you”

8. Documenting the interview. Write down everything from your interview before you forget.  Don’t worry about formatting it or grammatical correctness, just write it all down. You can go back and edit it after your coffee break.

The information in this list was pulled from Leita Hart-Fanta's  Essential Skills for the Government Auditor. To learn more about the role of the Auditor, be sure to check out her course as well as our previous post.

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by Sue Anderson - Based on 30 years of experience in continuing education for accountants. Currently program director for online CPE provider, CPE Link. Formerly with the California CPA Education Foundation managing key operational areas including marketing, program development, and distance learning.

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