I think it's safe to say that most of us are not naturally good at interviewing. The first few times you conduct an interview may feel awkward, and you never know what to ask. All you want to do is get to the bottom of your list of questions so everyone can go back to their daily routines. Thankfully, our instructor Leita Hart-Fanta has put together a list of skills and competencies every auditor needs in order to conduct interviews and build client relationships.
Eleven competencies for interviewing
1. Analyze background materials
Coming into an interview unprepared can backfire on you. The client does not feel respected if you don’t know their name and the names of the others in the organization to whom you have already spoken. You should also be aware of this person’s job responsibilities and the objectives of their department. Write everyone’s name down on a pad of paper and take it with you to the interview. Take an organization chart with you. Use whatever you need to jog your memory so that you show respect to the client.
2. Assure preparation of the meeting site
You called the meeting; therefore you are responsible for making sure that the meeting is held in an environment that is conducive to communicating. If the client is distracted or unable to concentrate on your questions because the environment is chaotic, noisy, or uncomfortable, then you – the leader of the meeting – need to do something to remedy the situation.
3. Establish and maintain credibility
Your credibility as an auditor will never come from knowing how the client’s accounts payable process works. You will never know their job as well as they do, nor should you or should they expect you to! Your credibility comes from knowing how an audit works and always having a “plan” – a clear next step, a confidence that lets the client know that you know what you are doing in terms of your job.
You can admit – and I suggest that you admit it frequently – that you don’t know the details about their job. Hesitate to admit that you don’t know what happens next on the audit or why you are asking certain questions. This alternative source of credibility – your knowledge of auditing – is what allows a 23-year-old to audit a 60-year-old finance executive’s job functions.
4. Manage the emotional and physical environment
If the client is upset over something, it won’t do you any good to keep hammering her with questions. As a matter of fact, it can do quite a bit of damage.
5. Demonstrate effective communication and presentation skills
This isn’t anything fancy. You just need to present your best self to the client. That self is clear spoken and energetic. You can go back to your desk later and rest or be bored. But in front of the client, you set the tone for the meeting and manner which it is conducted. It is a good idea to have an agenda and communicate that to the client up front. An agenda also helps you keep the meeting on track.
6. Demonstrate effective questioning skills
Close-ended questions get terse, close-ended responses. Build in open-ended questions that encourage the client to share. You do not have to have a witty follow-up question prepared for every statement the client makes. If you are worried about your next witty follow-up question, you aren’t listening… the focus of our next competency.
7. Demonstrate effective listening skills
If your mouth is moving, you aren’t listening. In most interviews, 90% of the words should be coming out of the client’s mouth.
8. Provide clarification and feedback
The client will be much more comfortable with you if you allow them to participate in the conversation by asking for their feedback and making sure they are clear about your audit objectives. A few well-placed, “What are your questions?” go a long way to build relationships and clear the air of any uncertainty or unpleasantness.
9. Record results in a clear manner
After an interview, get right back to your desk and document what was discussed. Don’t stop for coffee; don’t go to lunch. Sit down and type what you found out. Every minute between the interview and the typing is another chunk of your memory gone! You can edit and tweak it later to fit the format that your supervisor or manager prefers.
10. Resolve all outstanding issues
Sometimes, the client brings up things in an interview that don’t fit neatly into the scope of your audit. Unfortunately, we can’t just let those things simply “hang out” in our interview documentation. We must resolve them formally: report them, discuss them, add them to our audit plan, create a separate project for them, or formally include them in next year’s audit planning.
11. Evaluate interviewer’s performance
To get better at anything, you have to do a little self-examination. After each interview, ask yourself whether you did your best or whether there is anything you would want to change for your next interview. Interviewing is a competency that is learned by correcting mistakes and practicing.
Need to further sharpen your interview skills? Our next blog post will go over how to conduct a successful interview step by step. If you feel like you've already got enough interview experience under your belt and want to learn more about what it takes to be a great Government Auditor, check our Leita Hart-Fanta's course Essential Skills for the Government Auditor (You can even earn 9 CPE hours).