Payroll Interview Questions Job Candidates Should Be Ready to Answer

By Robert Half on July 23, 2020 at 1:00pm

In this challenging hiring environment, employers are taking even more care in their candidate review process to help ensure they find the right person for the job and their organization. One way you can improve your chances of making a great impression on a hiring manager is by being prepared to answer a wide range of payroll interview questions.

There are several types of payroll interview questions — informational, functional, behavioral and situational — that you may encounter. Before we look at some examples in each of those areas, and others, here are a few quick tips to help you get ready for your interview:

Research the company

An Accountemps survey of CFOs found that the top mistake candidates make during the job interview phase is not knowing enough about the business that they’re seeking to join. So, don’t try to wing it. Take time before the interview to review the organization’s website and conduct some thorough company research.

Pay special attention to pages on recent news, staff biographies, the company’s history, and the products or services the firm provides. Know which companies the business competes with closely. Also, review information that the company is sharing through social media channels, as that can give you good insight into the organization’s culture.

For tips on evaluating a company’s corporate culture, see this post.

Review the job description

Before the interview, refer to the job posting you responded to. The job description in that listing can help clarify what the employer is looking for in a candidate. For example, does the posting seem to emphasize teamwork and customer service? If so, then part of your preparation should be coming up with anecdotes that demonstrate how you can meet those expectations.

On the other hand, if the job description focuses primarily on technical aspects of the payroll position, such as garnishments and tax legislation, you’ll want to brush up on those details. Of course, it never hurts to be ready to talk about both your technical and nontechnical skills during the interview.

Be ready to discuss compensation

Your pre-interview preparation should include research on salaries for payroll positions in your area. If you get far enough along in the hiring process, there will come a point when a hiring manager will ask you this type of question: How much do you hope to make in this position? This might even happen in the first interview, so don’t get caught off guard.

You can use Robert Half’s latest Salary Guide for the accounting and finance profession as a starting point for your research. Our Salary Calculator is also a useful tool for gauging what level of compensation employers in your area are offering to payroll professionals with similar experience.

Payroll interview questions: Informational

Now, what about payroll interview questions? What types of specific queries are you likely to hear?

Let’s start with informational questions. Managers will typically use these questions at the beginning of interviews to help them get to know candidates better and assess their overall interest in the position. Here are some examples:

  • What can you tell me about yourself?
  • Why did you choose payroll as a career?
  • What interests you about this job?
  • Why do you want to work for this company?
  • What do you find most satisfying about working in payroll?

Payroll interview questions: Functional

Next up are functional interview questions, which hiring managers use to test your knowledge of information payroll pros should know. Some questions you might hear include:

  • Which payroll systems have you worked with?
  • What are some differences between an employee and contractor?
  • Can you describe Fair Labor Standards?
  • What is FICA, and how is it calculated?
  • What are some examples of voluntary deductions?
  • What are some examples of involuntary deductions?
  • What benefits are taxable?
  • What software programs have you used as part of your payroll duties?

Payroll interview questions: Behavioral

How you’ve handled work issues is a good indicator of future performance. So, some interviewers may use behavioral questions like these to learn about situations you’ve faced in past jobs:

  • Have you ever had to deliver bad news to someone? How did you approach it?
  • When have you made a mistake on the job, and how did you resolve it?
  • How do you manage your time so that you meet payroll-related deadlines?
  • Can you describe a time when your ethics felt challenged?
  • How do you stay current on regulatory and compliance changes?

Payroll interview questions: Situational

These questions are similar to behavioral queries, but they include a hypothetical component. Situational questions a hiring manager might pose include the following:

  • An employee is angry because payroll made a withholding error. What are your next steps?
  • An employee asks for reimbursement for a questionable business expense. How do you handle it?
  • What would you do if you discovered a mistake on a coworker’s year-end report?
  • Due to something that is not your fault, payroll will be late this pay period. How do you deliver this news company-wide?

Payroll interview questions: Workplace fit

As mentioned earlier, you’re likely to find that potential employers are keen to determine whether you are a strong fit for the organization. Here are some questions they might use for that assessment:

  • How would your colleagues describe you?
  • Do you prefer to work independently or in a more team-oriented environment?
  • What drives you to succeed as a professional and to keep learning new things?
  • What do you do to manage stress on the job?
  • What management style do you thrive under?
  • How do you prefer to communicate with colleagues? With management?

Questions about remote work-readiness

There’s a strong possibility you’ll also get some questions related to remote work. The COVID-19 pandemic has many companies operating with either a fully or partially remote staff. And even companies that prefer to have their teams working on-site recognize that in this uncertain environment, they need to have employees who are ready to pivot to remote work quickly and seamlessly, when needed.

Some remote work-related questions you might need to answer include:

  • What is your history of working remotely?
  • How well do you adapt to change?
  • How do you stay focused and on-task when working from home?
  • Tell me about the platforms you use (or have used) to collaborate with off-site colleagues.
  • What do you do to minimize miscommunication in emails and instant messages?
  • What are the three attributes that make you an effective remote worker?
  • What are the greatest challenges of working off-site?
  • What is your approach to work-life balance when your job is remote?

Practice, practice, practice — and check your technology

In a job interview, you’re in the hot seat. You don’t want to be tongue-tied, so it’s important to rehearse how you will respond to payroll interview questions like those listed above.

And remember, the job interview may be conducted remotely. So, when you’re practicing, think about how best to present yourself virtually. That includes making sure your technology is working correctly and ready to put you in the best light.

For tips on getting that right, and other strategies to help you deliver a standout performance in a video interview, see this post.

Many employers are hiring payroll professionals right now — including for remote positions. You can start your job search today by checking out the current job listings on our website.

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