Businesses need operational support staff to process payroll, distribute paychecks, prepare statements and help ensure compliance with regulatory mandates. And according to Robert Half’s latest Salary Guide, payroll specialist is one of the hottest jobs in accounting and finance this year.
What types of skills, credentials, expertise and experience are employers looking for in today’s payroll specialists, generally? If you’re in the market for a payroll specialist job, the following seven things can help you catch a hiring manager’s eye no matter where you are on the payroll career path:
1. Payroll certifications
The American Payroll Association (APA) offers two types of certification for payroll professionals: the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) and the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP).
The FPC is for entry-level professionals in payroll, and the coursework for this certification gives a thorough introduction to this field. FPC holders are ideal candidates for payroll clerk jobs or other mid- to entry-level positions. (Learn more about the FPC here.)
A CPP can help you stand out when you are aiming for managerial positions and more complex payroll roles. This advanced certification requires previous experience in the field and in-depth knowledge of core concepts such as employment taxes, employee benefits and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
CPP holders also have demonstrated their knowledge of paycheck calculations, payroll systems and payroll administration. (Get more details on the CPP here.)
2. Payroll software experience
Most payroll platforms are complex. There can be a lot of variation from one system to another, and skills aren’t always transferable. For example, a payroll specialist who has extensive experience using ADP Workforce Now for payroll processing may not be able to transition smoothly to Kronos Workforce Ready without training.
The good news for payroll job seekers is that the hiring market for payroll specialists is very competitive right now. So, many employers are willing to hire and train candidates who haven’t worked with their company’s particular payroll platform but show an aptitude for learning new software quickly.
Search payroll jobs on the Robert Half website now.
3. Other software skills
In addition to payroll software knowledge, most employers seek candidates who are adept at using Microsoft Office software, especially programs like Excel, Word and Outlook. Some payroll experts’ roles overlap with accounting, especially in smaller businesses, making proficiency in QuickBooks or Quicken an asset as well.
And, of course, because so much financial reporting and payment processing has moved online, you should be comfortable working with cloud-based applications. Also, the ability to use remote communication and collaboration tools, like videoconferencing, as needed in the course of your everyday work is a must. Even if you don’t work off-site, many of your colleagues might be remote or hybrid workers.
See this post for five strategies that can help make your payroll resume shine.
4. Understanding of compliance
The regulatory landscape surrounding payroll and benefits is complicated and always changing. Besides the FLSA, there’s the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA), Affordable Care Act (ACA), data protection rules, and a host of state and city ordinances to consider. Remote and hybrid work arrangements can also present multistate payroll compliance issues.
While modern payroll technology platforms can help you navigate compliance requirements, they’re not foolproof. That’s why many employers want to hire payroll staff who understand the rules and know how to put them into practice. So, during the interview stage for a payroll job, be prepared to answer questions about compliance and demonstrate your familiarity with relevant rules and regulations.
5. Attention to detail
Payroll staff members, whether they’re an entry-level payroll clerk or a payroll administrator, can’t afford to make mistakes in their job. Be assured that employers will want to evaluate your commitment to delivering accurate, high-quality work, as the business can’t accept anything less.
6. Data analysis skills
Software systems handle a lot of the functional and routine work in the finance department today. As a result, many accounting and finance professionals — including payroll staff — now have more time to focus on other projects, including data analysis and business strategy initiatives. Many employers are looking to recruit payroll professionals who have a strong background in or an aptitude for working with data and analytics.
7. Customer service abilities
The payroll department’s clients may be internal, but payroll pros still need a finely tuned customer service mindset. Payroll specialists should strive to provide prompt and courteous responses to phone and email queries about payroll issues and be quick to offer assistance when employees have trouble navigating the self-service portal.
To gauge a payroll candidate’s customer-service orientation, which includes being diplomatic and showing empathy, hiring managers will use interview questions such as, “How do you deal with an employee who is angry about garnishments?” and “Would you say you’re more of a numbers person or a people person?”
Check out this post to study up on other commonly asked payroll interview questions.
The attributes outlined should give you a better idea of what many employers seek in today’s payroll specialists. Every role will have specific education and skill requirements outlined in the job description, of course, and every organization is different. But if you can bring even more to the table than the average candidate — from in-demand credentials to data analysis skills — you won’t likely need to wait long to secure a payroll job with a great salary.
Be sure to download your free copy of the Robert Half Salary Guide to find out what type of compensation you could potentially earn as a payroll specialist this year.