Internal audit continues to grow as a value-add function, and practitioners with the intellectual chops as great critical thinkers have already nailed the biggest skill that chief audit executives (CAEs) covet when hiring, according to a new study by the Institute of Internal Auditors.
The second most-sought skill? Great communication. Together, analytical/critical thinking and communication “are personal skills that continue to be at the top of any CAE’s wish list,” the report states. “Practitioners with these skills have a higher probability of overcoming any technical deficiencies and stepping up to meet stakeholders’ value-added expectations.”
Of the skills that CAEs ranked in popularity, 64 percent ranked analytical/critical thinking first by a wide margin. Communication was second with 51 percent. (Respondents were asked to choose their top five priorities.)
“Analytical/critical thinking and communication are personal skills that bring together all the other components of an audit practitioner’s competency set,” the report states. “They give the internal auditor the ability to apply technical knowledge and then communicate what has been applied to stakeholders.”
What’s more, both skills improve with age and experience, according to the report. And they often are harder to teach than hire. That makes behavioral interviews more important than assessing technical skills “to ensure the long-term success of internal audit functions,” the report states.
The skills ranked three through 10 are all technical in nature:
3. Accounting: 43 percent
4. Risk management assurance: 42 percent
5. Information technology (general): 38 percent
6. Industry-specific knowledge: 35 percent
7. Data mining and analytics: 31 percent
8. Business acumen: 27 percent
9. Fraud auditing: 23 percent
10. Finance: 22 percent
Other technical skills worth noting are forensics and investigations (15 percent), cybersecurity and privacy (14 percent), legal knowledge (12 percent), and quality controls, such as Six Sigma and ISO (7 percent).
Interestingly, the two personal skills and the remaining technical skills are valued differently in many countries.
In the United States and South Asia, for example, analytical/critical thinking was ranked among the top five skills by 74 percent of respondents, while 45 percent did so in Japan and Korea.
In China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, 66 percent of respondents ranked communication as a top skill, compared to 65 percent for accounting and 58 percent for analytical/critical thinking.
While respondents in most countries ranked legal knowledge low, 31 percent of respondents in Japan and Korea put it in their top five skills, and 24 percent did so in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
The report is based on 14,518 respondents in 166 countries. Most (44 percent) were staff auditors, 26 percent were CAEs, 17 percent were managers, and 13 percent were directors. Response rates varied by question.
Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has covered real estate, mortgage finance, health care, insurance, personal finance, and accounting and taxation issues for newspapers, magazines, and websites. A Chicago native and former South Florida resident, she now lives in New England.