With the U.S. unemployment rate continuing to hang below four percent, there are countless opportunities for professional growth across nearly every industry and function, and payroll is no exception. Think you have what it takes to thrive in this booming field? Just make sure you're strong in the following five areas — and you'll be sure to stand out on the job market.
flex your math aptitude
As a payroll professional, numbers are at the center of everything you do. Even as new technology tools have simplified some aspects of the job, many of the core responsibilities — for instance, complex reconciliations at the end of every month — remain highly manual tasks. While you'll always have your Excel sheet (more on this below) and your trusty calculator backing you up, core mathematical aptitude is essential. Otherwise, you're going to feel lost in this role.
bone up on compliance
The payroll department is subject to considerable scrutiny from regulatory agencies, as articulated in the U.S. Department of Justice's Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs. And the degree of scrutiny is particularly high if you work at a large corporation. In order to succeed in the role, you'll need to possess in-depth understanding of controls, tax requirements and relevant regulations as they apply to your business. Part of the difficulty, however, is that not only do these requirements vary all over the world, but they are also subject to ongoing change.
Need a refresher on the ins and outs of compliance? There are a number of different training programs that can help you out, like this one from the American Payroll Association.
build your communication skills
Numbers are only part of the picture when it comes to on-the-job success for payroll professionals. After all, numbers can't speak for themselves. So you'll need to be able to field inquiries from stakeholders at all levels, both from within the organization and from without. Plus, if you're in a managerial role, you'll be communicating and delegating assignments to your direct reports, and you'll need to do so effectively. Think you can confidently and clearly talk through issues relating to taxation, social security, salary deductions and more? If so, you're well positioned for success in this job.
The economy is rapidly changing, with an explosion in the number of jobs requiring specific technical skills (sometimes called "middle skills"). The payroll professional is exactly one such role. So, whether you're a highly experienced finance professional or just trying to break into the field, degree and certification programs like the Certified Payroll Specialist (CPS) license offered by the National Association of Certified Payroll Specialists (NACPS) can help demonstrate to employers that you have the skills, experience and training to excel in the role.
develop proficiency with essential technology tools
When it comes to technical proficiencies, skill using Microsoft Excel is foundational for most payroll professionals. Row by row, cell by cell, it's hard to imagine the payroll department without it. Fortunately, Microsoft offers free Excel for Windows training, which should help you with all of the fundamentals. For more in-depth training, check out paid offerings from online learning portals like Lynda.com. You may also be required to work with payroll management systems like ADP, Paychex, Patriot Software or Intuit. The good news, if you don't have previous experience using these technologies, is that most of them come with built-in training modules, so you should be able to get up to speed in no time.
Finally, you should be aware that there are also some state-by-state variations in the average salary for payroll specialists, as well as higher average salaries in certain industries. You can consult this handy guide from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to learn more. Once you've prepared yourself in the five skill areas outlined above, follow these tips to make your resume stand out and you're sure to be a compelling candidate on the job market.
Check out all of the opportunities for payroll professionals available with Randstad today