30 of the Best Payroll Interview Questions for Job Candidates

By Robert Half on October 13, 2017 at 10:00am

Now is a great time to be a payroll specialist. Many growing companies need payroll clerks, managers and more operational employees to support their expansion. If you’re a job candidate, you may be wondering about the payroll interview questions that may be asked of you.

First of all, to land a new job in this field, your cover letter and resume must combine for an eye-catching one-two punch. Passing that touchstone, you need sharp interview skills to impress hiring managers. The somewhat unpredictable nature of the latter is where many applicants trip up.

To land that coveted payroll position, you need to do your homework. The following are some practical ways to prepare for all the possible payroll interview questions.

Do lots of legwork

According to an Accountemps survey of CFOs, the top mistake people make during the interview phase is not knowing enough about the company they’re seeking to join. So be sure to click through the organization’s website and conduct some company research. Pay special attention to pages on recent news, staff biographies, the company’s history, and its products or services.

Dig into the job description

Does the posting seem to emphasize teamwork and customer service? Then part of your preparation should be coming up with anecdotes about how you tend to apply these career skills. On the other hand, if the description focuses on technical aspects of the job, such as garnishments and tax legislation, brush up on those types of details. And it never hurts to prepare to talk about both hard and soft skills.

Read more about payroll job descriptions and see what jobs are out there.

Practice, practice, practice

You’re in the hot seat during job interviews. To avoid being tongue-tied on the big day, rehearse your delivery of answers to all the payroll interview questions you can think of. Here are some you may encounter:

Informational questions. Managers often start interviews with these queries as a way to get to know you and gauge your interest in the position.

  • What can you tell me about yourself?
  • Why did you choose payroll as a career?
  • What interests you about this position?
  • Why do you want to work for this company?

Functional questions. After finding out who you are, the next set of interview questions may deal with your knowledge base.

  • 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 Excel skills do you use as part of your payroll duties?

Behavioral questions. How you’ve handled work issues is a good indicator of future performance, so interviewers will want to know more about situations in your past jobs using behavioral questions.

  • Have you ever had to deliver bad news to someone? How did you approach it?
  • When have you make 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?

Situational questions. These are similar to behavioral questions, but with a hypothetical component.

  • 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?

Questions about workplace fit. To avoid a bad hire, organizations want to make sure new employees will get along well in their corporate culture.

  • How would your colleagues describe you?
  • Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team?
  • What is your pet peeve at work?
  • What do you do to beat stress in the payroll department?
  • How do you prefer to communicate with colleagues? With management?

Curveball questions. Some hiring managers like to see how you think on your feet, which is the rationale behind questions that have nothing to do with the job itself.

  • Which Hogwarts house would the Sorting Hat place you in?
  • How many Peeps are made each year?
  • If you could be any animal for a day, what would you choose and why?

There’s no good way to prepare for wacky questions, and that’s OK. Just relax and give a creative answer. A sense of humor can definitely help. The worst response is to go silent or get flustered.

Compensation-related questions. To gauge whether the company can afford to hire you, some managers will flat-out ask:

  • How much do you hope to make in this position?

Don’t get caught off-guard if this happens, even in the first interview. Use a resource like the latest Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance to find starting salary ranges for more than 190 positions with your experience level.

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