The Softer Side of Auditing
Hopefully by now, readers of these pages have embraced the premise of the essential nature of soft skills. Gone are the days of auditing, finance and accounting being hard skills-driven, perpetuating the stereotype of the nerdy, possibly boring (more of this next month) left-brain dominated professional. Technical skills are still, of course, essential, but they are also a given. Beyond entry level, to complete the rounded audit skillset and secure promotion, the fuel of career progress is dominated by the power of soft skills.
What are soft skills?
Also known as business skills and even life skills, soft skills comprise intra and inter-personal skills, including people skills, self-awareness and self-management. They are a set of competencies that contribute to how you do your job, in contrast to hard skills (or technical skills) which refer to what you are doing in your role. For an auditor, it will be necessary, for example, to understand, interpret and apply the protocols of the regulatory background – this would be described as a set of hard skills. Applying these technical skills requires a set of soft skills – the ability to communicate clearly, work in a team, solve problems, manage resources and meet deadlines, these are just a few examples of the softer auditing skills. Softer skills will also likely represent transferable skills, in other words the abilities and competencies that transcend the technical side of your profession, and that can be employed in other jobs. This in turn will flex and extend your employability options, yet another reason why soft skills are important – especially in the current era of longer working lives and zigzag careers.
Essential Soft Skills
Communication skills tops the list of essential soft skills for auditors - just as it does for many other jobs and professions. At its core, communication refers to understanding others and being understood, whether verbally or through a myriad of written forms. It includes the ability to build and hold rapport, ask questions, actively listen, and empathise. Beyond these stalwart pillars, communication skills embrace emotional intelligence (understanding self and others, and responding to cues), negotiation and persuasion, giving feedback and presenting information (written and physical).
These presentation skills however are merely superficial without the knowledge and understanding that supports them. So, the second essential soft skill is critical thinking. Fuelled by a healthy auditor scepticism and a pervasive curiosity, this is the ability to question, understand, connect and evaluate complex sources of information and ultimately employ analysis and judgement to reach a reasoned conclusion.
Those complex sources of information are also key to the third essential soft skill – adaptability. Auditors work with a huge diversity of people – within their own audit teams and organisations and with a variety of different clients and stakeholders at all hierarchical levels. Being able to flex and accommodate different styles and audiences is key to adaptability, as is the facility to adapt and navigate all the different environments that you may work in. Think also about the current pace of change - not only within the regulatory environment but also in the world at large – within markets and economies, the social infrastructure of our working lives. Add to this the relentless pace of evolving technologies – from Artificial Intelligence to Distributed Ledger Technologies – just a couple of examples which impact and will continue to impact how we do our jobs. As a result, an essential part of the auditor skillset is to foster an open, growth mindset, to be proactive and responsive to change and court an attitude of lifelong learning.
So, communication skills, critical thinking and adaptability are the essential bedrock of audit soft skills; you can read more in our article Hard Skills or Soft – What are Employers Looking For? However, there are also a raft of other important soft skills that contribute to the life blood of auditing. We’ve pulled out some of these for you to peruse, signposting further essential reading from throughout the CareersinAudit.com career advice pages.
(Highly) Desirable Soft Skills
Check out our comprehensive Audit Advantage series for an extensive view of the softer side of auditing, in the meantime here are a few headliners:
Teamwork is key to auditing; but then so is the ability to manage self, to work alone and under your own initiative. Teaming is universal: even on a one-person job you are going to be reporting to someone else, within or beyond your organization. Consequently, commitment to team purpose and goals, being able to build and develop relationships, performing your own part and communicating with immediate or wider stakeholders are all crucial. Equally vital though, is being able to work alone, to manage your workload to meet deadlines and to take the initiative and be responsible for making and owning decisions.
And a similar dichotomy is the need for close attention to detail versus understanding the bigger picture. The mix between these two perspectives will depend on your role and probably the hierarchical stage of your career, but both are important in auditing. Detail orientation requires focus and patience, a meticulous drilling down to pursue and understand finite details. At the same time, it is imperative to understand where these details fit into the bigger picture so you can identify patterns and appreciate the whole as part of a broader perspective. This of course requires a certain flexibility of thinking, the ability to hone in and hone out, reinforcing the value of adaptability within the auditor skillset.
Have you got what it takes?
Technical or hard skills are important – in fact vital to being able to even carry out your job. But they only take you to a certain level before you hit the glass ceiling. Soft skills will help you enrich your technical prowess, grow and develop, and add value to yourself and your organisation. Technical skills can often be over-valued at the expense of the softer stuff; they tend to be more quantifiable, more measurable through training courses and accreditations. Your challenge is to find ways to draw out your transferable skills, not just to showcase them, but also to enable your personal and professional development so you can do your job better and create more career opportunities.
Soft skills: they need valuing, nurturing and leveraging – neglect them at your peril!