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Quarterly: Summer 2020 - Ijegayehu Jones

Junior Auditor Column: The Collaborative Nature of Audit

By Ijegayehu Jones

My team and I are now in the final stages of my first audit, and while I never expected to be participating in my first exit conference from my desk at home, these unforeseen circumstances have granted me some extra time to reflect on my first auditing experience and what I’ve learned.

After I earned my bachelor’s degree, I began looking for jobs that matched my strengths and served a purpose that I felt passionate about. I didn’t have a specific job title in mind; I just wanted to find a role that allowed me to use my skills to improve government services, policies, and programs. Government auditing met those requirements, allowing me to apply critical thinking and analytical skills and assess various government functions to find solutions that could better serve the public, and in the fall of 2019, I joined the City Auditor’s Office of Atlanta as a performance auditor.

After only seven months, I have learned so much about auditing and local government operations. However, I know I still have plenty to learn, and I imagine that I will feel like that for a while. As someone entering a new field, it has taken time to build up a sense of confidence in my work. Looking back at my time here so far, I can see my growth from the first workpaper to my last, and so much of that development stemmed from the teamwork and collaboration that is built into the framework of auditing.

Trust the Process

When I first started conducting tests and writing workpapers, I was hesitant to assert a strong conclusion based on my professional opinion of the findings discovered. Admittedly, I felt apprehensive about making the “wrong” call and revealing gaps in my capabilities. Also, being new to auditing, I didn’t feel that I had the authority to take a stand and I didn’t want to risk making claims that would bring criticism to my team.

In one of the first workpapers I wrote, I tiptoed around any judgment statement and instead only stated “concrete” information that I found, rather than sharing my professional opinion about the meaning of the results in context. I had developed a conclusion in my mind but didn’t feel comfortable putting it in writing. What if I was judging too harshly, or cutting the auditee too much slack? Was my evidence strong enough? These are questions I knew I’d learn to answer with experience, but at the time, I wasn’t quite sure how to gauge the difference between professional judgment and militant critique.

When I sat down with my team manager to go over the workpaper, he provided honest feedback; he said that I should “carry the work one step further.” While the data that I reported was correct, he suggested that my conclusion would be more valuable if I dove deeper and described the implications of the results and what they reveal about the controls within the program. When I seemed uncertain, he explained that despite my concerns, the office review and quality assurance procedures ensured our work would undergo multiple layers of review, and as a team, we would discuss our findings and evidence before anything made it to the audit report.

Obviously, the quality assurance standards of government auditing are essential regardless of how experienced one may be, but as a new auditor, that review process not only ensured the quality of our work, but also provided space for me to work independently, develop my opinions, and receive feedback that helped sharpen my judgment and ability to assess risks. In a less collaborative environment, it would be more intimidating to develop my own conclusions without the experience and perspective of others, hindering my ability to grow as an auditor.

A strong quality assurance process, whatever that may look like within your audit organization, empowers you as the auditor to refine your professional judgment by incorporating feedback from others with diverse perspectives and experiences. Knowing that I was backed by the expertise and review of my peers allowed me to become comfortable pulling useful findings and recommendations from the results of a test.

Trust Your Team

Of course, accepting feedback can be difficult, but I developed an appreciation for the constructive criticism of my peers and the collaborative nature of auditing. As auditors, we place trust in our team members to offer valuable feedback and insight. In return, auditees can trust that any findings we share are reviewed and supported, reducing auditee conflict and increasing the likelihood that our recommendations will be implemented. At the end of the day, auditors share responsibility for the work we conduct and must hold each other accountable to ensure that we as an audit team provide high-quality guidance to auditees that will spur change.

Even if I am one day deemed an “experienced” auditor — whenever that may be — I know that the contributions of my peers will always allow me to grow in my auditing abilities. As much as I may want to, I will never be an expert in every program or policy that falls within our office’s jurisdiction. But auditors don’t operate alone; at my disposal is the expertise of my fellow auditors, both in my office and beyond, whose knowledge spans years of experience and an endless array of topics.

Auditing is unique in that every project is a new experience, from the subject matter to the methodology, allowing people of all educational and professional backgrounds to contribute their individual skills and perspective to identify risks, develop methodologies, and most importantly, recommend solutions to serve the public good. Even GAGAS standard 3.112 reflects a collaborative approach to professional judgment, defining it as both the professional judgment of the individual auditor, as well as “the collective knowledge, skills, and abilities” of those involved. Every team member strengthens the audit organization, and as I continue my career in auditing, I look forward to demonstrating the strengths that I bring to the table.

On a more personal level, I learned to trust my own judgment and abilities. Each step of the process may feel new and uncomfortable, but every day I become more confident in my role and remind myself that I too have unique knowledge and perspective that strengthens the team. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first audit, and thanks to the support, feedback, and experience of my peers, I am more prepared to tackle our next audit armed with lessons learned from the last, not to mention a few more CPE credits under my belt.

About the Author

Ijegayehu Jones is a performance auditor in the City Auditor's Office of Atlanta. She earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Texas Christian University. Outside of auditing, she spends her time enjoying live music, re-watching her favorite movies, or camping.