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A Few Good Men or the Dirty Dozen? Recruiting your audit team. By Max Williamson

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27th Nov 2007
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A good auditor these days is hard to find. Recruitment professional Max Williamson looks at the steps top flight audit directors should be taking to nab the cream of the crop. Could your practice learn a trick or two from the big boys?

The last few years have been particularly tough on audit directors. Increased regulatory pressures have brought higher expectations and closer scrutiny from senior management, some extremely long hours and in most cases a great deal of travel. Just for good measure, we have also seen an aggressive war for talent, making it harder to recruit at a time when additional resources have been needed most.

When CareersinAudit.com launched in 2005, the majority of audit directors we polled told us that they had to increase their teams by up to 25 per cent and were struggling to find suitable candidates. Audit directors from even the most respected FTSE and Fortune 100 industrial companies struggled to compete in the market, particularly when going up against the larger packages being offered by the banks.

Although recent months have seen a greater number of candidates on the market due to the return of SOX contractors and the fact that some of the ‘Big 4’ firms are reducing headcount in their Internal Audit and SOX-related advisory teams, we are still in what recruiters refer to as a ‘candidate-driven market’.

A contact at the audit recruitment specialist Renaix recently told me that he’s never had as many offers rejected as he has in 2007. Companies continue to counter-offer and fight to retain their staff and we’ve seen many cases where candidates have changed horses in between their resignation and the completion of their notice period.

A high number of recruiters and audit directors reading this will have experienced that sinking feeling when a secured candidate suddenly slipped away. And even as SOX moves from implementation to compliance mode, it’s clear that audit directors and those within companies responsible for recruiting auditors will continue to struggle to reach full headcount.

So what measures can be taken by employers to improve their chances when recruiting in such a market? At the risk of trying teaching some very able audit directors to suck eggs, we offer the following, collected from the most successful audit teams.

Market your team

The best audit teams invest time in marketing their teams and as a result increase their chances of recruiting the best. Usually this takes the form of a mini brochure or webpage detailing the team’s objectives and the benefits it provides to the company and to those working in the team. One Fortune 50 company’s audit team in Europe maintains close relationships with those who have moved into other positions within the company and has assembled a powerful audit alumnus, providing impressive and invaluable insight into where the job can lead. It should also be remembered that good marketing also encompasses less sophisticated areas, such as ensuring that job descriptions are accurate. A surprising number of companies continue to use outdated job descriptions, which is simply crazy as this is usually a candidate’s first point of contact with the company.

Use a niche recruitment consultant

Audit is a specialist area and it requires a specialist recruiter. Auditors don’t respond well to recruiters who don’t know their SOX from their socks and are likely to turn their attention to jobs being offered by other recruiters with a better understanding of the industry. The number of specialist audit recruiters in the UK is not as large as you would imagine and as specialist firms they aren’t necessarily the ones on HR’s preferred supplier lists. A strong recruitment company with a good reputation among candidates can make an enormous difference.

Take responsibility for your recruitment

The most successful teams see the audit director or manager playing a key role in the recruitment process. They don’t abdicate responsibility to HR and are visible throughout the interview process. Even though this is a technical role requiring specialist knowledge, auditors join teams because of personalities and therefore the head of the team needs to show leadership and provide information to candidates from source.

Expand the recruitment net

If the UK recruitment market is very tight and few candidates are forthcoming, don’t be afraid to look outside the UK. In particular, there are some excellent auditors in the Balkans and Eastern Europe and whilst their attitude to risk may need to be sharpened, many hold the ACCA qualification and speak better English than most other continental applicants.

Use the internet

This may sound rather glib from the owner of a job board but nonetheless it’s true. You can advertise on line, across a number of sites each day of the year and still not exceed the cost of a single recruitment fee from an agency.

‘Always looking’

Recruitment shouldn’t stop. Successful audit directors and staff partners advertise and collect good CVs and recruit throughout the year.

And yet, finding the ideal auditor can sometimes feel like a quest for the Holy Grail. This isn’t because there aren’t good auditors; it just reflects the fact that a good auditor requires a combination of many skills. Not only is one looking for technical expertise, but also first class communication skills. After all, auditors spend all their time speaking with senior management and often need to explain complex accounting issues to people who don’t necessarily work in finance. Increasingly, auditors are required to travel extensively, either on a regional or global basis and personal flexibility is key. Furthermore, they require commercial qualities in order to allow for their transfer into other parts of the organisation as their career progresses.

Generally speaking the best auditors tend to be those who can demonstrate the following:

  • Strong academic profile and a degree from a well respected university or business school
  • Technically strong, with first time passes or holding positions as US GAAP or IFRS champions within their organisation
  • Proven international experience, gained through and overseas assignments of Erasmus university programmes
  • IT literate, with prior knowledge of software such as SAP
  • Strong presentation skills, used by their companies to train new students in accounting concepts
  • Flexible, able to travel and relocate and balance their work schedule

It’s a long list, but nobody said it was easy!

Max Williamson is director of CareersinAudit.com. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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