Career Series No. 12- Payroll Specialist


Hi guys! I had to switch around this week’s post schedule, so I’m sorry I’m a little late with this one!

When Jen reached out to me letting me know she’d like to share her career with us, I was super happy because she wanted to talk about a particular niche in HR that I know very little about. Given that I’m trying to move into an HR position within the next year or so, this was particularly insightful.

Enjoy and let us know what you think!

What did you want to be when you were growing up and why?

I wanted to be a psychologist or an editor. I liked the idea of being an editor because I’ve always had a knack for spotting errors. Psychology appealed to me because I’m fascinated by human behavior. I never imagined that I would end up in business school. I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology and received my master’s in HR management.

What is your current job?

My current job title is Payroll Specialist. My job is about 70% payroll and 30% accounting. I completed several HR internships (mostly focused on recruiting) during graduate school, and my first job after completing grad school was a temporary HR generalist role. After that I worked as a Benefits/Payroll Administrator, and then I transitioned into my current role of Payroll Specialist.

How did you land that position? (What made you want to pursue that?)

I enjoyed the staffing courses that I took in grad school, and I had originally planned to become a Recruiter or HR Generalist. Instead, I stumbled into a Payroll/Benefits Administrator position mostly by accident. I was surprised to find that I loved working with data and numbers. For that reason, I decided to focus on finding a job that included payroll and accounting.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

It varies depending on where we are in the payroll cycle. For pre-processing, I process new hire and change information. During the processing stage, I process 15 separate payrolls. For post-processing, I make tax payments and payments for garnishments, complete financial reports, and enter information into the accounting system. Whenever I have spare time, I work on accounts payable. I also work on any miscellaneous items that may arise, such as employment verifications and questions from employees.

What do you love most about it?

I love reconciling data – whether it’s payroll batches, billing invoices, or anything else. When things don’t balance, I enjoy trying to figure out where the mistake was and what caused it. It’s kind of like solving a puzzle and it’s fun for me (as geeky as that sounds).

What do you hate most about it?

The most frustrating thing about payroll is that it’s often an undervalued area of HR. Employees rely on their paychecks, so it’s critical that payroll is timely and accurate. Yet, the payroll function tends to not be valued or very well-understood. Many people seem to think that payroll only involves quick and easy data entry, but that’s not accurate. Payroll issues can be complex, and payroll professionals need to understand constantly changing laws and regulations.

What’s the coolest thing that ever happened to you at work? 

When I came in to interview for my position, I opened the door to the office and was greeted by a dog. That was the best way to start an interview! I love animals, and from that moment on, I knew I wanted to work for this company.

What strengths do you think are necessary for someone to be successful at this job?

Attention to detail is crucial for payroll employees. Efficiency is also important because you will probably have to work with tight deadlines. Customer service skills are also necessary, as you may have to communicate with employees regarding payroll issues or questions they have about their paychecks. Discretion and integrity are essential qualities as well. Payroll employees work with highly confidential pay information.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give someone who’s looking to pursue this as a career? 

Consider pursuing a certification (like the Fundamental Payroll Certification or the Certified Payroll Professional) instead of going for a master’s degree in HR. HR programs are broad and many of them are targeted toward students who want to become HR generalists. I didn’t learn much about payroll in my master’s courses. Payroll certifications are valued among payroll professionals and will make you stand out as a job candidate.

For anyone who is interested in HR in general, don’t be discouraged if you don’t enjoy working in a particular function of HR. There are so many different facets of HR – recruiting, training, compensation, benefits, payroll, labor relations, org development, and more. If one area isn’t the right fit for you, there may be another area you love. You might be surprised which functions you end up enjoying. Be open to different opportunities.

Follow Jen on Social Media:

Twitter: @frugal_jen

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  1. Kristin C

    July 7, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    More power to ya’! I would not cut it at that job, so I admire you 🙂

  2. Cynthia @craftoflaughter

    July 7, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    Another great post, Kayla. You sure do supply some good information

  3. Donna

    July 7, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    I can’t imagine going from psych to business, but I bet you make more than I do…lol. I went the counseling route.

  4. Caitlin Cheevers

    July 7, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    This is super interesting! It’s not up my alley at all, but it definitely gives me a better appreciation for our payroll person!
    xo, Caitlin
    And Possibly Dinosaurs

  5. Shann Eva

    July 7, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    I definitely could not cut it in the payroll department. Accounting class was super hard for me. I give you a ton of respect. I also appreciate your recommendation on getting a certificate instead of a Master’s Degree. Great advice!

  6. Frugal Millennial

    July 8, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Donna – maybe, but keep in mind that payroll is one of the lowest paying areas of HR. 🙂 I never imagined I would go from psychology to business either! It’s funny how things work out. I loved my Industrial/Organizational psychology courses, so that’s how I became interested in HR. I definitely didn’t expect to end up in payroll.

  7. I am Jen, an HR/finance professional and frugal blogger.

    July 23, 2015 at 8:27 pm

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  8. Frugal Millennial

    May 14, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    […] to Improve Your Health Right Now Frugalennial – Focus on a Frugalennial Interview Series Gen Y Girl – Career Series: Payroll Specialist Millennial Money Man – How to Stay Positive While Paying off Massive Debt MN Budget […]

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