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Internal Audit Talent Management – Experience is Overrated

I recently interviewed for an Audit Committee position.  As a walked into the room, one of the interviewers said that based on my resume, he expected someone older.  He did not say this with malicious intent and I was not offended.  It did, however, remind me of a few other times (when I actually was a lot younger) this has happened in my career. One that really sticks out is an engagement in which we were doing a business process review at an organization riddled with redundant and unnecessary processes. Our consulting team and their staff worked very well together. In the end, we realized cost savings of a little over $1 million. When presenting the results to the CEO, he said something that I will never forget. As we walked in the room, he asked who was leading the engagement. I spoke up, “Me Sir”. His immediate response was, “Aren’t you a little young to be leading this engagement?”

That statement spoke volumes. It assumes that simply doing something for a long period of time means that you are good at it. Or that not doing something for a long period of time means that you cannot possibly be competent.  Length of time performing a function never trumps achievement. Consistently producing great results is a more valid measure of talent value. And this is where we oftentimes make critical mistakes when recruiting. How many times have you seen job postings that say something like this

10 years of experience in internal auditing with at least 5 in a management role.

Look on any job board and I will bet you that at least 4 in 5 postings look like this. I’m guilty of this myself. And what you end up with is a lot of candidates who have been doing tasks very poorly for 10 years. In the title of this article, I said that experience is overrated. Well, I said that in the context of how we currently define experience. We of course learn and grow from the things we go through in life. And it is assumed that the longer you live, the more you go through. But simply going through or experiencing something does not equate to learning something valuable (it can, but it is not a guarantee).

So what am I suggesting? Focus on the results candidates have been able to produce more than the number of years performing a task. Again, I’m not saying that time is not important, but results are definitely more important. After all, you want someone will perform.   While skills and acronyms (CPA, CIA, CISA) may look impressive on a resume, focus on performance and results when obtaining and developing talent.

Robert Berry (88)

Robert (That Audit Guy) Berry is a risk, compliance and auditing advocate, educator and innovator. He helps good professionals become better by creating articles, web services and training that allow them to expand their knowledge network.

7 thoughts on “Internal Audit Talent Management – Experience is Overrated

  1. My father was a senior manager for an insurance company. I remember him saying how he used to argue about similar requirements for experience in job ads. He said, “there’s no such thing as 10 years claims experience; it’s usually the same two years, five times over”.
    I always bore that in mind and have made a point of moving on once I’d reached the point that I was repeating experience with no real learning opportunity.
    For complex jobs my rule of thumb is, one project (or cycle) to learn how it all works, twice to work out smarter ways to do it, three times to apply them. After that you really need to think about moving.
    Internal audit experience is fantastic if you’ve already got some operational experience and then you go back to the business after acquiring a different and wider perspective. But it has to be the right amount, and type, of experience, or you’re wasting time.

  2. I fully agree Robert. I personally interview my candidates in order to evaluate their capacity to understand, analyze, summarize and present audit concepts they are not familiar with. This allows me to reject some people with a lot of experience, but definitively unable to get out of their routine and poor adaptability, whatever the “acronyms” as you rightly say.
    But what I note is that my Senior Management does not care about this approach. All they want is… experience…
    Highly frustrating.

    1. I can see how that can be frustrating. Hiring is a daunting task and sometimes we confuse flash and flare for results during the interview process.

  3. Robert, in today’s time if one is not certified it is hell of a job to gain adequate knowledge for auditing and bring in high performance. Try doing an IT security audit, design anti-fraud programs in procurement, do risk assessments in industries carrying high reputational risks and still not have a structured learning ( certication)

    1. deepak. I do think certifications are important. However, certifications without practical use and notable results is pointless.

  4. In the past I hired for results exclusively. I’ve always liked working with people with a certain amount of accomplishment and variety on their resume.

    I agree stongly with the quote; “there’s no such thing as 10 years claims experience; it’s usually the same two years, five times over”.

    But things are changing. Many of the certifications that exist have matured quite a bit and are, I believe, both a mark of a candidate’s motivation, their ability, and their commitment to their field. Certifications demonstrate some level of ability and in many cases a willingness to stay current in their field. For instance, I’m putting myself through the CIA right now and understand why it appears in many job descriptions.

    That said, I never know what to make of someone with a dozen certifications.

    1. Agree that performance/ability is the real factor everyone should seek to measure, but that is difficult to measure in practice. People learn interview techniques and polish up examples of achievements. Length of experience in different areas and career progression can be as good a proxy for ability as anything else. As for acronyms it is also in a many ways a signal indicating motivation as much as or perhaps more than acquired knowledge. (CIA was basically a few days CIA study leave to cram, but still useful structure and source of professional information)

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