When applying for your dream payroll job, how do you make sure you’re among the most promising candidates? Simple: Make the job easier for the person who is reviewing your payroll resume.
Payroll specialist jobs are among the hottest accounting and finance roles right now, according to the latest Salary Guide from Robert Half. But while managers want to hire skilled professionals for their payroll team, they don’t typically love the vetting process. That’s because sifting through applications can be tedious and time-consuming.
How can you make your payroll resume stand out? Here are five strategies that can help:
1. You against the machine: Use the right keywords
Managers are seldom the first ones in the hiring process to read job applications these days. When you submit your information, it often goes directly into an applicant tracking system (ATS), which scans your documents for predetermined keywords. For example, if SAP experience is a required qualification, the hiring manager or recruiter will search specifically for “SAP.” A resume without that keyword won’t see the light of day — not matter how long you’ve been a super user of this enterprise resource planning software.
To get past the ATS gatekeeper, make sure your payroll resume contains the right keywords. Scrutinize the job posting to figure out what terms a hiring manager (and therefore the ATS) is likely to search for. (Hint: Keywords are often the phrases listed under both “major responsibilities” and “required skills.”)
After you determine which keywords you should probably include in your payroll resume, take time to incorporate them strategically. Modern ATS solutions, not to mention the human who will eventually see your application, can detect keyword stuffing.
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2. Tailor your payroll resume to the job
Your payroll resume, in addition to helping you get past the ATS hurdle, should show hiring decision-makers that you have the entire package they are seeking — experience, skills and credentials. So, when crafting your resume, think critically about what the employer wants to see and make it easy for them to get all pertinent details at a glance.
A summary statement is a good place to speak directly to the manager. These few sentences should highlight your most relevant and impressive skills and accomplishments. Use active verbs and stay away from buzzwords and other jargon. Focus on the qualifications the job posting emphasizes. Also, it goes without saying that it is best practice to submit a slightly different payroll resume for each position you apply for.
3. Highlight your core payroll skills
When an employer picks up your resume, the first thing they look for is your direct payroll experience, such as:
- What payroll systems you have worked with
- What credentials you have, such as the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) designation
- What industry-specific or other specialized skills you might possess
- If you are well-versed in multistate and/or Canadian payroll
- If you have completed recent coursework in taxation and regulatory compliance
Many payroll jobs are blended with other related roles, especially in smaller businesses. When applying for one of these hybrid positions, be sure to mention your skills in benefits administration, onboarding and training, administrative support, or accounting.
Take advantage of the cover letter to draw attention to key aspects of your payroll resume, such as an in-demand payroll certification, and play up the breadth and depth of your industry knowledge.
4. Tout your technical abilities
The payroll function is relying more and more on cloud-based platforms. This is true not only for payroll processing but also for financial reporting and generating operational data.
As such, evidence that you possess strong technology skills can help your payroll resume stand out. List all the payroll, accounting and HRIS (human resources information system) software you know how to use, especially those you have worked with most recently and extensively.
What’s more, tell prospective employers how much you enjoy working with the latest payroll technology and emphasize that you are always eager to learn new systems.
5. Emphasize your soft skills
While it’s true that today’s payroll jobs can be highly technical, much of what a payroll specialist does still relates to people. There are new employees to process and possibly onboard, for example. When an employee’s paycheck has an error, it’s up to payroll to troubleshoot and resolve that issue. You also have to be able to work well with colleagues within and outside of payroll. And, of course, remote and hybrid work environments make it even more important to communicate effectively with others.
Handling all of the above requires self-initiative, creative thinking, and excellent written and verbal communication skills. Many employers see bilingual abilities as a big plus, too. But don’t just list your interpersonal skills in your payroll resume; explain how you’ve used them.
For example, you could describe a time when a non-finance colleague complimented you on how understandable a presentation you gave was because you tailored it to your audience and didn’t fill it with payroll-specific terms others wouldn’t know. Or, if you do speak a second language, you could offer anecdotes about how you have been able to help employees with their payroll issues when your coworkers couldn’t.
Your payroll resume is essentially a marketing brochure with one core purpose: convincing a prospective employer to contact you for an interview. So, make it easy for them to choose you by “speaking” directly to them and their needs through this critical document.
A final tip: Be sure to prepare thoroughly for the interview process. While skilled payroll specialists are in demand, employers are still taking time to ensure they select the best candidates. For insight into the kinds of payroll interview questions a hiring manager might ask you, see this post.