Chris Patrick, a chief audit executive who interviewed for and started a new position during the Coronavirus pandemic, shares his experience and best practices for successfully applying to audit jobs while remote and transitioning roles in the current climate. Watch our on-demand webinar, “The Successful New CAE: Best Practices for Interviewing, the 90 Day Plan, & Leading Through a Crisis,” to hear Chris Patrick and Sabrina Abramson, VP & Head of Internal Audit at Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, discuss their experiences starting new CAE roles during COVID-19 and best practices for new CAEs.
According to The IIA, 21% of audit departments have experienced furloughs or layoffs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While job security is as important as ever, seeking new opportunities in a time of upheaval can seem daunting.
During the height of the pandemic crisis, I applied to, interviewed for, and started a new position as Head of Internal Audit at Figure, a leader in transforming financial services through the power of blockchain technology. I know there are auditors out there who — through no fault of their own — find themselves looking for a new position in the current moment, and I wanted to share some of my best practices for successfully transitioning audit positions.
Whether or not you’re making the switch during a period of uncertainty, taking the time to proactively prepare for a job transition can ease stress and help improve the process of leaving a company on good terms while starting an exciting new opportunity.
1. Always be open to opportunities
Whether or not you’re actively looking, it’s important to keep a finger on the pulse of the market. Regardless of how secure I feel in a role, I always make a conscious effort to speak with executive recruiters that reach out to me. It’s a good idea to hear them out to understand what opportunities are out there, and I add them to my professional network. This helps ensure those roles that could be a good or even a great fit for you are making their way to your inbox.
There are also many job search sites out there — Monster, Indeed, and LinkedIn, the latter being my favorite — that can be a tremendous resource for this. Subscribing to job searches for your role and selecting daily or weekly notifications is a great way to keep an eye on developments in the industry — that’s how I learned of the opportunity that would eventually become my new job.
In my particular case, my prior role was as the SVP of Internal Audit at a mortgage servicing company. The business was significantly impacted by COVID-19, and I knew that when times get tough, support functions like internal audit are often some of the first to see cutbacks. At best — when we do our jobs right — we are adding value to the organization, but audit is still often seen as a cost center. As the COVID-19 crisis began to really ramp up, I started mentally preparing for the possibility that we might see cuts, and opened myself to more actively learning about new opportunities.
2. Be strategic when selecting roles
Focus on quality of applications over quantity of applications. I’d caution against submitting applications for every position out there regardless of how well it fits your skill set and experience — especially against the impulse to undersell yourself. Be strategic in the positions you apply for, and spend more time than you think it should take to tailor your application to showcase how well suited you are for the role.
It’s especially important to update your resume to align with the job posting by using the same phrasing as in the requisition. The job I ended up taking was a very good fit for my experience, and that fundamental alignment helped me make a compelling case in my application materials and throughout the interview process that followed.
3. Invest the time to fully prepare for interviews
If I’m approaching the application and interview process with sufficient preparation, it’s essentially like taking on a second job. I interviewed with 11 people at the company over the course of several weeks, culminating in a presentation of my plan for the role. I invested time into researching the company and its founders, their products, their technology, and what they were trying to accomplish. For each of my 11 interviews, I researched the person I’d be meeting to understand their role and their background so that I could speak directly to them based on what I knew about the company.
This degree of preparation is a good practice in the best of times, but it made a world of difference when interviewing during travel restrictions and shelter-in-place measures because all of the interviews were done completely remotely. I didn’t get to meet any of my interviewers in person, which is an added benefit of on-site interviews because you can better get a sense of a person and develop a connection more easily than you can through a computer. I’m glad I invested that time, because it helped me acquire a level of knowledge that led to impactful conversations during the interview process and ultimately led to me landing the position.
4. Consider your surroundings for remote interviews
Beyond preparing what you’re going to say, it’s also crucial to put some thought into how you present yourself when interviewing remotely. If you’re not sure what’s appropriate attire for interviewing in your living room, simply ask the person arranging the interview what to wear on the call. My contact suggested business casual, which ended up being a good choice because most of the people I interviewed with were dressed casually.
Another tip is to make sure your background is not distracting to the other person in the meeting. Set up your device, turn on your camera, and critically evaluate the video you see ahead of time to ensure the effect is as polished and professional as you can achieve.
5. Create a plan for what you would accomplish in the role
I knew the role I was applying for would be responsible for starting the internal audit department from scratch. As part of my preparation for the individual interviews, I put together a comprehensive plan for my first 90 days — establishing expectations for internal audit, developing policies and procedures, an audit plan, performing a risk assessment, and most importantly, establishing relationships with internal audit’s stakeholders.
Along with listing these benchmarks, I also prepared to explain why these were key to success in the position during my conversations with different interviewers and in my formal presentation. Get to know who your stakeholders and business leaders are, what motivates them, what they value, and how to successfully implement those things into internal audit’s processes. In the process of setting up a new internal audit department, I’d also be spreading awareness that, in addition to helping the organization meet its compliance requirements, internal audit can also add value to the business.
I made a point that my first week would be filled with not only writing policies and procedures, but also meeting with key stakeholders and inviting them to share their goals, issues, and expectations, and listening to their responses. Being able to speak compellingly about my action plan helped to put me over the edge in those last interviews — and also set me up to hit the ground running when I finally started my position.
6. Continuously invest in yourself to put yourself in a strong position
Even when you’re not looking to transition jobs, you can be preparing by continuously investing in your professional development. With the recent shift to remote work, there are more opportunities than ever to obtain certifications, take online classes, and learn a new skill set from wherever you find yourself working. It’s also a great time to join your local IIA chapter and take on opportunities to contribute in a leadership capacity. I’ve done both of these things, and I’m certain it put me ahead of the competition.
My closing advice is that being aware and prepared is key. Cultivate knowledge about the market by subscribing to job search notifications all year round. Be aware of how your company is performing financially — don’t get complacent in your role and hope you survive the next round of layoffs if your company is heading in that direction. When you find an opportunity that’s a good fit, put in the time and effort to put your best foot forward. Try to understand what people’s expectations are and have a plan to address it. Lastly, when you get your foot in the door, keep up these habits and continue to invest in yourself to make yourself the best auditor — and job candidate — you can be.