What You Need to Know to Get That Payroll Professional Salary

By Robert Half on September 14, 2020 at 3:30pm

If payroll is your field — or you would like it to be — you should know what type of payroll professional salary to expect, and what factors employers weigh when calculating compensation for payroll jobs.

One resource that can give you insight into payroll professional salary trends is Robert Half’s 2021 Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals. The guide lists the salary midpoint for payroll professionals as follows:

  • Payroll clerks: $40,250 
  • Payroll coordinators/administrators: $47,500 
  • Payroll managers/supervisors: $75,500 

What does midpoint mean? The midpoint, or 50th percentile as it is referred to in the Salary Guide, means that candidates have average experience with the necessary skills to meet the job requirements. 

Note: To determine a payroll professional salary for your local market, use our Salary Calculator.

Payroll professional job duties

Payroll responsibilities vary by job title. Depending on the size of the business and its structure, duties for some roles may overlap.

Payroll clerks

These payroll pros perform tasks associated with wage processing. At the most basic level, they reconcile timecards, enter data into the payroll system, distribute paychecks, and maintain payroll records.

The payroll clerk position, however, has evolved over time. Now, many organizations task payroll clerks with a full spectrum of payroll processing duties, including wage calculations, payroll accounting, and payroll inquiry resolution. In some companies, payroll clerks are called payroll specialists.

Payroll coordinators/administrators

Payroll coordinators/administrators are responsible for keeping the payroll unit efficient. They oversee the payroll clerk’s work, or process payroll if the company does not have payroll clerks/specialists.

Payroll coordinators/administrators usually team up with other departments — such as human resources (HR), finance and IT — and external auditors to cultivate sturdy payroll internal controls. They are often found in organizations with large or complex payrolls and are skilled at coordinating payroll with employee benefits.

Payroll managers/supervisors

These payroll leaders are in charge of an entire payroll function. They delegate tasks to the payroll team and collaborate frequently with related department heads, particularly HR and finance leaders, to establish payroll goals.

Primary payroll duties include compliance with federal, state and local payroll laws; budget preparation; department planning; policy development; strategy implementation; statistical reporting; change management; recruiting, training and supervising the payroll staff; and delivering timely performance evaluations.

Experience, skills and education

Employers will examine a candidate’s experience, skills and education when considering what payroll professional salary to offer.

Although hiring managers often prefer candidates with payroll experience, entry-level payroll clerk jobs are available. You’ll need at least a high school diploma and proficiency in Microsoft Office to be considered for an entry-level payroll clerk position.

You can improve your standing by obtaining the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC). If the payroll clerk job requires end-to-end payroll processing, employers prefer an associate’s degree in a related field and payroll certification, or equivalent experience.

The education requirements are likely more stringent if your aim is to become a payroll administrator/coordinator. Along with a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree and/or Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) designation, you should have a keen understanding of payroll software, accounting practices and payroll administration. Employers might relax the education criteria if you have significant experience administering payroll and employee benefits.

For payroll managers/supervisors, your level of experience must be far greater — generally, a minimum of five years in payroll management. A payroll manager/supervisor is normally CPP-certified with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, HR or business administration. Employers might forego the CPP prerequisite and accept only a bachelor’s degree if you have an extensive track record as a payroll manager/supervisor. Payroll software expertise along with superb leadership and interpersonal skills are essential at this level.

To work in payroll, you need a sharp eye for detail, excellent mathematical and time management skills plus the ability to multitask and work adeptly under pressure. Strong communication, organizational and problem-solving skills are also necessary. Honesty, trustworthiness and reliability are also key.

Need to prepare for a job interview? Read our post on payroll interview questions to anticipate.

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