Payroll Interview Questions Job Candidates Should Be Ready to Answer

By Robert Half on December 20, 2021 at 8:00am

If you’re a job seeker, we have good news for you. It’s a candidates’ market today, and employers know if they fail to improve their compensation strategy, they risk losing skilled talent to competing offers. Still, this doesn’t mean you can get a company to offer more without some effort. You need to put your best foot forward when seeking the payroll job you want. Polish that resume and cover letter, and be prepared to answer a range of payroll interview questions.

You may encounter several types of inquiries — including informational, functional, behavioral and situational. Don’t worry if you don’t know what each of these payroll interview questions involves. Below, we’ve listed examples of several types along with responses that can help you ace your interview.

Payroll interview questions: Informational

Hiring managers typically ask these questions at the beginning of interviews to help them get to know candidates better. They can also help them assess the candidate's overall interest in the position. Here are some examples:

Tell me about yourself.

This is not an invitation to talk about the foods you like or your favorite sports team. The interviewer likely wants to know about your experiences as they relate to payroll. So, focus on the attributes likely to make you an asset to the organization.

For example, summarize your background as a payroll professional, include any educational or quantifiable accomplishments, and connect your strengths to payroll — such as your eye for detail, knack for numbers, and ability to communicate effectively with employees who have questions about their paychecks.

Why did you choose payroll as a career?

Be honest about what led you to the payroll career path. Whereas some people may have known from the start that they wanted to work in payroll, others may have “fallen into it” and decided to stay there. Regardless of why you chose payroll, it’s important to display your commitment to the profession.

Payroll interview questions: Functional

The hiring manager may ask functional types of questions to test your payroll knowledge and expertise. These are often referred to as hard skills or technical skills. Some questions you might hear include the following:

What is your experience with processing paychecks?

Try not to take this question too literally by recounting actual steps in the wage-payment process. Think more expansively. For example, talk about how you dealt with accuracy and timeliness, as these are the ultimate goals of paycheck processing. Also, mention any problems you were able to successfully resolve for employees or their manager.

Which payroll laws are you familiar with?

The government can assess penalties on employers that fail to comply with payroll laws. So, the more you know about federal and state requirements, the more points you’re likely to score with the hiring manager. At the very least, you should be familiar with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), state wage and hour laws, and payroll tax regulations. Depending on the position, more detailed knowledge of payroll laws may be required.

What is your experience working with a related department like human resources or finance?

This question aims to reveal your collaborative abilities when it comes to working with other areas of the company that typically interact with payroll. For example, you can mention your work with human resources generalists when processing payroll for new hires, or with the accounting team when verifying payroll information that goes on financial statements.

What payroll technologies have you worked with?

Describe the payroll systems, software, and applications you’re versed in. If you’ve used the same technology brand as the prospective employer, that’s even better. And if you haven’t, you can simply mention other systems you’ve used while emphasizing that you’re a quick learner.

Can you name some payroll improvement ideas?

Provide solutions that can help strengthen a payroll department such as:

  • Creating tighter payroll internal controls to reduce errors or fraud
  • Upgrading to an integrated HR/payroll system to streamline workflows
  • Developing a paperless payroll environment to decrease clutter
  • Devising new strategies to make payroll compliance easier to achieve

Payroll interview questions: Behavioral

Hiring managers may ask behavioral questions to learn about situations you’ve faced in past jobs and to predict your future performance. They want to know what you've experienced and how you think. Examples of behavioral questions include the following:

How did you handle the challenging aspects of payroll year-end activities?

Year-end can be a hectic time for payroll professionals, and the hiring manager wants to gauge how you will cope with the demands if you get the job. For example, you can explain how you dealt with a flurry of payroll inquiries from managers or employees while at the same time tackling year-end tasks.

Tell me about a time when you adapted to a payroll change.

Many payroll duties are routine. However, changes in the way you must work do happen, and the hiring manager wants to measure your flexibility. Describe how you adapted to a significant shift in a former employer’s payroll processes or the implementation of a brand-new payroll system.

Tell me about a payroll issue that you struggled to resolve. What did you do?

This is to weigh your problem-solving and time-management abilities. For example, describe a series of incorrect tax withholding problems you discovered but weren’t sure how to handle and wasted no time in bringing to the immediate attention of your manager. This indicates that you know when to seek help.

Payroll interview questions: Situational

These questions are similar to behavioral queries, but they include a hypothetical component. These are real-life situations that you may or may not have experienced. Here are some examples of situational questions:

An employee is angry because payroll made a deduction error on their paycheck. What are your next steps?

The intent is to uncover your conflict resolution abilities, so it’s important to come up with steps likely to result in positive outcomes. Explain, for example, how you first made sure you remained calm while listening to the angry employee, then apologized for the paycheck error, promising that the issue would be promptly corrected. Finally, relate the steps you took to accomplish the correction along with your efforts to prevent the error from happening again.

During a payroll audit, you discover an error a coworker made. What are your next steps?

A satisfactory response would be to comply with the payroll department’s policy for reporting errors found during a payroll audit.

How would you respond to disasters or emergencies impacting the payroll department?

This is not the time to suggest seat-of-the-pants attempts you’d make to respond on your own. Say that you would follow the organization’s payroll continuity plan in the event of a disaster or emergency — such as a pandemic, data breach, fire, or flood.

Don’t wing it … take time to practice

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

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in more employers performing job interviews 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 without being there in person, read about how to nail your video interview.

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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