How to Respond to Internal Audit Questions
Internal auditors dig into other people’s business for a living. On the surface, this sounds like they insert themselves where they don’t belong, but actually, they perform a critical role in protecting their organizations.
As you go through your public service career, there is a good chance you will have to respond to questions internal auditors pose. These questions can come for many different reasons, and very few of them mean you’re accused of wrongdoing. In the vast majority of circumstances, they’re just gathering information. For example, they may be trying to understand how your part of the organization functions.
There’s no need to tense up when an internal auditor talks to you. Internal auditors are professionals merely trying to do their day’s work. Granted, their work can make you and others uncomfortable. They pinpoint weaknesses in systems and recommend corrective actions.
But in the end, they make their organizations operate better, and your responses to their questions are critical to making this happen. So here are three tips for responding to internal auditors when they come knocking at your door.
Internal auditors know when something doesn’t quite add up. Don’t give them a reason to doubt your credibility by being anything less than completely honest.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t try to bluff your way through it. You’ll just wind up making yourself look silly when they find the real answer. The far better choice is simply to say you don’t know the answer. If it is something you can research for them, offer to do so. They may take you up on the offer, or they may already have some ideas about how to get the answer.
When you think the internal auditors might not like your answer, don’t shy away from giving your response. They want to understand things as they actually exist, so even when your answer isn’t what will make their job easier or what they expect to hear, they need to know the truth.
Assume They Know Nothing About Your Area of Expertise
Internal auditors are usually sharp people, but they can’t be experts in everything. Some focus their professional training and work on particular aspects of internal auditing such as information systems or financials, but do not assume they know your area of expertise.
It sounds like a given, but it is easy to slip into using jargon or skipping steps when describing processes. What a thoughtless action is to you is probably not to the internal auditor seeking to understand your business processes. Think about every action you take. Something that may seem like one step to you could be several steps you’ve melded together in your mind through years of repetition.
Even when the conversation seems tedious and overly simple, remember internal auditors try to break down processes into their smallest activities. Only then can they find where processes can go awry.
Connect the Dots for Them
Not only do internal auditors deconstruct processes to their smallest bits, but they also look for the interconnectedness among people and processes. They look for all the people involved in a process to see who needs to be involved, who isn’t involved but needs to be, how those people interact and whether there are sufficient controls in place to prevent or catch fraud, waste, or abuse.
When responding to internal auditors, point out where you and your processes interact with others and their processes. Connecting the dots like this gives them a clearer picture of how the organization works as a whole. Such information also gives internal auditors leads on who to speak with and where to find additional information.