Working in payroll can be a really satisfying career for the right type of person. It’s not for everyone, but if your personality is the right fit for the job, it can be very rewarding.
Payroll is a critical part of any organisation, big or small. After all, what is more important to employees than receiving their pay on time and in full? So attention to detail, and being able to spot errors is a basic requirement of the job. The bar is set high in payroll. To do your job right, you have to do it perfectly.
One of the advantages of a career in payroll is the choice of organisations in which you can work. Because every workplace has a payroll function, the world is your oyster. If you’ve an interest in Not For Profits, then there will be opportunities to work there. Or if your interest is in high end fashion, those companies need payroll skills too.
So what skills do you need to thrive in a payroll role? Well because fundamentally payroll is a numbers game, you’ll need to have a good grasp of maths. Payroll duties include checking work hours, overtime, dealing with different pay grades and calculating tax, so a head for numbers is a must.
You’ll also need strong analytical and organisational skills. Salary and wages are often an organisation’s largest overhead, so it’s essential that the payroll is completed accurately and on time, every time.
Discretion is a must in a payroll position. You’ll be privy to information that is confidential and has to stay that way. Payroll professionals need to be trustworthy and reliable. The information you deal with is strictly on a need to know basis, and has to stay that way.
You’ll need a good level of computer literacy. Nowadays the vast majority of payrolls are completed using spreadsheets and payroll software. If you are familiar and comfortable using Excel or Google Sheets, then adapting to company specific payroll software shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
Most payroll professionals begin their careers as payroll admins. At this level you’ll work for a more experienced payroll specialist. Your daily duties could involve tracking the hours employees have worked, calculating their weekly or monthly pay and dealing with tax and national insurance reductions. You’ll also need to keep a record of holidays taken, overtime worked, sick pay and any increases in pay that are due. You may be required to process payments and make bank transfers, depending on the level of responsibility you are given. From time to time you may also be required to process various tax forms like P45s and P60s.
A key skill for anyone considering a career in payroll is the ability to communicate effectively. It happens that employees may not understand the contents of their payslip and it is the role of the payroll staff to explain them in a language that they can understand. If there is an underpayment or an overpayment, it is the job of payroll to explain why this has happened. Given the importance of pay there may be tension around these conversations. Understanding how to handle these situations with sensitivity is a key skill for payroll staff.
As you gain experience you can look at other payroll positions such as Senior Payroll Specialist or Payroll Manager. Many experienced payroll specialists develop their skills to the extent that they become Payroll Directors. To get to this level requires many years of training and experience but this is reflected in the excellent salary packages such positions offer.
Payroll is a multidisciplinary field that includes elements of finance, human resources, customer service, communications, IT, data analysis, compliance and risk management. Candidates from these professions who are looking for a new career often thrive in payroll, where they find their skills from their former role are transferable to payroll. If you are willing to commit yourself to lifelong learning as a part of your job, then the sky’s the limit for your career in payroll.
The best payroll staff are organised, numerate, pay great attention to detail and are problem solvers. They have excellent time management and communication skills and are honest and discrete. If this sounds like you, then you should definitely consider a career in payroll. We love it, and we think you might too.