One of the hottest job titles in accounting and finance is payroll manager, with a healthy salary to match. That’s great news for professionals with plenty of experience and skills, but how can entry- and mid-level payroll workers move up the career ladder and someday reach the top rung? Payroll training.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to advancing in this field. You need professional development. Here are eight ideas to help you climb the ladder:
1. Get certified in payroll
In any industry, the best way to establish your credentials is to be certified by a recognized professional body. For payroll specialists in the United States, that organization is the American Payroll Association (APA), which offers two certificates:
- Fundamental Payroll Certificate (FPC). A good place to start when building your career in a payroll department, the FPC affirms that you understand the key concepts of the field. Topics covered include labor laws, compliance, paycheck calculation, payroll administration, and audits.
- Certified Payroll Professional (CPP). The CPP is designed for mid- and senior-level payroll staff, as there’s a prerequisite of practical experience and payroll training. This certificate attests that holders have a thorough knowledge of industry best practices and regulatory requirements, as well as the skills necessary to lead a payroll department.
2. Find a mentor
The guidance of a senior payroll specialist can give your career a big boost. Workers who have or have had a mentor are more likely to receive promotions and be recommended for opportunities than their non-mentored peers. To find a professional mentor, look for people you admire who are already familiar with your abilities. If you can’t find such a person in your department, expand your search to include other payroll professionals you know.
3. Ask to job shadow
Shadowing is similar to being mentored except that you follow a veteran payroll specialist and see how they go about their duties. It can be a very enlightening part of your payroll training to watch a senior staff member solve problems, use technology and interact with colleagues. The length of job shadowing runs the gamut from one full workday to a few hours weekly for a quarter, so pick the option that works best for you and the specialist you’ll shadow.
4. Request to lead a one-off project
Entry-level payroll workers don’t have many opportunities to hone their leadership skills. To gain valuable experience in this area, ask your boss if you could head up a small project. Examples include organizing the company’s annual food drive, onboarding summer interns and researching cloud-based payroll platforms. Even if the project is relatively minor, you’ll improve your communication abilities and raise your profile.
5. Upgrade your Excel skills
Microsoft Excel may not be the most glamorous piece of business software, but it is the most widely used today. If you haven’t kept up with its more advanced features, search online for on-demand or in-person courses. Many videos and webinars are available for free. Payroll professionals should know about conditional formatting, pivot tables, V-lookups, and tables and charts.
6. Get payroll training in analytics
Big data analysis is changing today’s corporate landscape. Payroll departments are increasingly expected to make sense of large volumes of data in an effort to help companies maximize efficiencies and reduce costs. If you know your way around the use of large data sets and have a flair for analytics, consider additional training in this field.
7. Become proficient in financial software
Learning more about the integrated system (e.g., Enterprise Resource Planning) your department uses for payroll can help you understand how payroll interacts with the rest of the company on a digital level. Knowing how data and workflow is tracked across various departments is key for moving up to a role in payroll management.
8. Boost your compliance know-how
Regulations are a given in the payroll field, and compliance is an overhead expense for every business. The burden is easier to manage when staff know the ins and outs of legislation that affects their company. If you can stay up to date on the latest compliance requirements, you will be seen as an invaluable member of the payroll team.
When considering which staff members to promote, management looks at much more than just seniority. They want employees with leadership potential who keep up with this fast-moving field. So advocate for the payroll training you need. And if your boss doesn’t provide it, take the initiative to get it on your own.
What is the starting salary for payroll managers in your town? View the Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals and use our Salary Calculator.