Well-formed questions and attentive listening skills can help auditors separate truth from deception during interviews.
Illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham magine that while auditing your organization's accounts payable process, you find some anomalies that indicate that certain controls involved in the process might not be flinctioning as intended. You decide to interview Phil, the employee responsible for approving invoices and processing payments. Aiter a brief introduction, you begin asking Phil about the area of concern. Consider the difference between these two opening questions: © Is it correct that, once you receive an invoice, you pull the related purchase order and receiving report before approving it? © What is your role in the accounts payable process.' Although the first question might elicit helpful information, it would encourage Phil to address only that particular piece of the overall fijnction or simply agree with your assertion. The second question, in contrast, prompts Phil to describe his role in the context of the overall process. His response would provide information not only about invoice approval procedures, but also about what Phil views as the important points of his job and even about other areas where the controls need to be shored up—information that would likely be missed if the first question were posed. Now imagine your audit procedures indicate that Phil is actually circumventing the controls intentionally—possibly to conceal a scheme in which he is approving
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BECOME A BETTER INTERVIEWER
all questions must be mapped out in advance; many successful interviews are conducted organically, with questions asked off-the-cuff, based on the responses received. However, whether they are crafting interview questions in advance or on the fly, auditors should keep several guidelines in mind. Focus on Ciarity Some auditors try to gather as much information using as few questions as possible and end up receiving convoluted or vague responses. Others seek confirmation of every detail, which can quickly turn an interview into an unproductive probing of minutia. Balancing thoroughness and efficiency is imperative to obtaining the necessary and relevant facts without overburdening the interviewee. Because the location of this line varies by interviewee, auditors can find this balance most effectively by ensuring they ask clear questions throughout the interview. Consider, for example, the effectiveness of these two questions in asking about a procurement employee's purchasing authorization limits: © When you make a purchase, what is the process, and what sort of authotization limits do you have? Can you authorize purchases of more than US $5,000, or do you need a supervisor's approval to do so? Both questions appear to address the issue, but neither does so effectively. The first is overly broad and requires a complex answer (or two answers), while the second question could be answered accurately with both a "yes" and a "no" and likely would require follow up by the auditor. Convoluted or overly vague questions enable an interviewee to avoid providing false or incriminating information while still responding to a portion of the question that is in his or her comfort zone. Conversely, a clear, direct inquiry, such as "Please tell me about any authorization limits in the
invoices from, and cutting checks to, a shell company that he owns. Which of the two questions would be less likely to clue Phil in as to why you are asking about his area of responsibility? Most internal auditors spend much of their time asking similar questions of staff members and others to gather information. These interviews are conducted for numerous reasons, including to understand the day-to-day operadons of an area, assess internal controls, identify fraud risks, or follow up on dps of potential fraud.