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How To Land Your First Job In Payroll

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated June 17, 2019

Payroll specialists operate at the heart of business - but how do you get your start, and forge a successful career, in the industry? Modern payroll departments aren’t just looking for number-crunchers - they need employees who can thrive in fast-paced environments and adapt to a changing legislative landscape. Beyond delivering salaries, payroll associates must handle high-pressure deadlines, embrace technological innovations, and help their business navigate a long list of government rules and regulations. Prospective payroll administrators face a competitive job market, but there are plenty of ways to appeal to employers...

Preparing your Payroll CV

Like any job, securing a position in payroll begins with the CV - and ensuring that it delivers the right message to recruiters. It goes without saying that your CV should appeal to the business philosophy of the organisation at which you’re applying, but there are certainly areas you could tweak to stand out to recruiters.
  • Numerical competency: All payroll staff should be able to demonstrate the fundamental ability to handle the numerical calculations and processes involved in the job - and, of course, emphasise experience in tax and accounting fields.
  • Education: Payroll recruiters won’t necessarily be looking for specific educational backgrounds but qualifications in relevant subjects, including mathematics, business studies, IT, and communications are going to give you an edge. University level degrees are also an advantage in the current climate.
  • Training and qualifications: It’s unlikely entry-level payroll positions will require industry accreditations, but there are courses from recognized organisations which are pitched at candidates with little experience. Look for courses from institutions like the Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP).
  • Software skills: Like most business environments, payroll requires a level of computer literacy, but knowledge of, and ability with, specific payroll industry software tools - such as Sage or QuickBooks - will certainly stand out on a CV.
  • Employment history: Payroll is an incredibly expansive field with close connections and crossover with a variety of professional fields, including accountancy, IT, and Human Resources. Be prepared to promote any potentially relevant professional experience on your CV.

Payroll Interviews

Obviously numerical aptitude will be an important focus of a payroll interview but beyond that, jobs in the field draw on a spectrum of talent. Prospective employees should expect questions which show they can handle both the small details, and the big challenges. Here are the kind of questions you might expect from a payroll recruiter... Q: How do you define payroll? It’s important to remember that the payroll process goes beyond simply paying wages. End-to-end, the process involves recording work hours, calculating tax, liaising with HR, remittance to HMRC, and delivering payslips - not to mention a variety of vital peripheral tasks and challenges, including handling client queries. Q: What can you bring to our payroll department? Businesses need multi-skilled payroll associates who can work in a variety of roles - as technicians, administrators, supervisors, IT specialists and more. Professional flexibility is crucial to every aspect of payroll - so it’s worth emphasising the breadth of your abilities to interviewers. Q: Do you have payroll experience? While any kind of work involving numerical aptitude obviously constitutes relevant experience, payroll skills can be drawn from a surprisingly wide professional spectrum. The departmental crossover payroll has within the infrastructure of any given business means previous roles in HR, accountancy, IT and more should certainly be mentioned. Q: How would you handle payroll queries? Many payroll jobs are client-facing, and involve an overt customer-service role. Obviously, specific inquiries which deal with salaries and wages can be extremely sensitive - as a payroll employee, you’ll need to be able to deal with potentially unhappy clients, and maintain professional standards at all times. Q: Where do you see your payroll career going? Career development is actually crucial to the payroll industry since the pace of  legislative change means employees need to be trained to handle new compliance issues regularly. With that in mind, ambition is also important: beyond entry-level positions, talented payroll administrators can find opportunities in organisations of every shape and size, in locations across the world.

Payroll Personalities

A polished CV and an abundance of technical skill certainly aren’t guarantees of success in a payroll job - to fulfil their potential, candidates must also possess the right personalities. Payroll is one of the most pressurised departments in a business - as someone taking their first steps in the field, your attitude to the problems and challenges you encounter will determine your ability to do your job… So what kind of skills and personality traits do you need to succeed in payroll?
  • Creativity: The problems which occur during a normal pay-cycle are often unexpected - and require a degree of creativity to overcome. As much as their jobs rely on logic and numerical skill, payroll employees should also be prepared to think outside the box to tackle unfamiliar problems.
  • Attention to detail: Payroll is built on small details - from checking a name is spelt correctly, to remitting tax to HMRC. Minor errors and mistakes can quickly snowball and cause costly compliance problems. Focus and attention to detail are crucial traits for prospective payroll employees.
  • Responsibility: Payroll associates deal with a range of sensitive personal data, including banking information. Security breaches can seriously harm a business - the ability of payroll agents to handle data responsibly is integral to the job they do.
  • Adaptability: The diversity of the payroll field requires a flexible personal approach. New regulations, legislation, and technological innovations are constantly being introduced - to remain compliant and competitive, payroll employees must be able to adapt quickly.
Communication and confidence: Whether addressing client queries, or briefing board members, payroll employees need to communicate clearly and with confidence to the people around them. The importance of their role means integrating with both the payroll team - and the wider business infrastructure. Sandra Sommerville is the group human resources manager at activpayroll . Focused on driving business growth and change at activpayroll, Sandra helps colleagues unlock their talent and reach their full potential through training and development.

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