The search for top talent: the best internal auditors are in high demand, so audit departments need to do what it takes to hire great practitioners.

Author:Jackson, Russell A.

A vastly different internal audit environment requires a vastly different approach to staffing an internal audit department. Long gone are the days when a CAE could tap the local business college for a couple of accounting grads. As Tim Hird, executive director for Robert Half International Inc.'s Management Resources division in San Ramon, Calif., puts it, "It's not just a question of finding and acquiring talent. It's a question of finding and acquiring the modern day internal auditor." The expanded scope of many internal audit departments' operations brings with it a concomitant need for skills beyond the traditional range of auditor expertise.

Internal auditors with those ideal skills are getting more difficult to find, too. Hird points out that "those skills are in increasing demand. Indeed, there's a supply and demand imbalance that's growing by the day, and, as a result, candidate shortages are starting to appear." CAEs are under pressure to "build robust talent management plans," he emphasizes, "because they're the key ingredient in successful hiring and talent retention."

It's a new reality that CAEs and directors of every internal audit department should be familiar with, not just those leading huge departments with far-flung service centers and a tremendous diversity of specialization. The demands on internal audit are simply too great, and are changing too fast, to rely on long-established hiring and retention tactics. Indeed, as Robert Berry, director of the Office of Internal Auditing at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, says, "Specific talent management strategies must be undertaken by all audit departments, regardless of size." That's due, he adds, "to the complexity of the audit profession, the complexity of organizations, and changing stakeholder expectations."


External factors make finding the right talent strategy particularly challenging for Berry. Jacksonville is an excellent market for auditors, with more than 30 well-known companies having an internal audit presence there. But it's a tough market for a small department. "Competition for talent is stiff, which does not bode well for me, as higher education typically pays below market," he explains. "Additionally, we are a small staff--two others and me. So, within my talent strategy, I have to remain very realistic about who I can afford and how long they will stay."

On average, Berry adds, people stay in his department about two to three years, with pay cited as the reason for leaving. "I lost my entire staff in 2011," he recounts, "hired one person early in 2012 and lost that person at the end of 2012. I hired two people toward the end of 2013 who are still here; however, neither has audit experience." He says although these individuals aren't likely to leave, he now has a "very junior department." "This is the strategy necessary to keep people here," he concedes.


The operative word there is "strategy." Managing internal audit talent requires audit leaders to have a focused program of resource assessment, search, onboarding, and ongoing professional education (see "Recruiting Tactics" on this page). And although different internal audit departments will use different talent management strategies, with different emphases on different links in the talent management chain, they should all start...

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