How do I Become a Payroll Specialist?

Carol Francois

There are three steps to become a payroll specialist: education, certification, and experience. All three are required to obtain employment as a payroll specialist. A payroll specialist is responsible for all aspects of payroll for a company. Their tasks include maintaining records, calculating salary, deductions and remittance.

A company's payroll is handled by a payroll specialist.
A company's payroll is handled by a payroll specialist.

In order to become a payroll specialist, you will need to complete a post-secondary education in accounting or payroll. Community and career colleges typically offer a diploma in payroll or payroll accounting. These programs are two to three years in length. They often include a co-operative or job placement term, to allow students to gain important work experience.

There are many opportunities for employment once you become a payroll specialist.
There are many opportunities for employment once you become a payroll specialist.

The first year of the payroll diploma covers basic accounting, payroll calculations, and remittances. In the second year, human resources courses on hiring practices, termination requirements, and record keeping rules are discussed. Additional courses are provided on different computer systems, data management and archiving rules.

Certification as a payroll specialist is available from the American Payroll Association. This association is responsible for evaluating post-secondary education, creating certification courses, and managing the exams. The exams are offered four times a year and are usually held in a large hall or auditorium.

In order to become a specialist, you need at least two years experience working in a payroll or human resources department. In these roles, you learn about standard business practices, how to work with a wide range of people and clients. Additional skills include year-end reporting, reconciliation, and audit tracking of transactions.

This position's responsibility can be divided into two areas, payroll processing, and accounting. Almost all payroll processing is now done by computer software. The role of the payroll specialist is focused on ensuring the system has the correct rules, adjustments, and exceptions to calculate the payroll correctly. They must become experts with the computer system and be able to train others as required.

The accounting responsibility is focused on reconciliation, cost accounting, and remittances. Reconciliation is the process of comparing two sets of data to ensure that the transactions posted correctly. Cost accounting is the allocation of expense to a specific account based on activity. Remittance is the calculation and payment of amounts due to outside agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service or company pension plan.

There are many opportunities for employment once you become a payroll specialist. Additional qualifications in business or management can further expand your career to include department management. Invest the time to find out what you want to do, so that your career can grow to meet your needs.

Payroll specialist training often includes termination requirments.
Payroll specialist training often includes termination requirments.

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Discussion Comments


I am an MBA HR graduate, with experience in recruiting. I would like to become a payroll specialist. Am I eligible? Please help me know how to proceed.


If you're going to do payroll specialist training, you should definitely look for a program that does and internship or at least has some kind of job placement services.

It can be hard to get a job as a new grad in any field, so I think every little bit of extra help is good. I know I had a lot of trouble finding a job when I got out of college, but most of my friends who did internships had no trouble.

In fact, some of them even got hired at the places they interned at!


@Monika - That makes sense. Certification usually ups your chances of being hired in most fields, so I don't see why this one would be any different!

Anyway, I actually looked into some payroll jobs awhile back. I heard it was a pretty good field to get into, but I decided against it. I just don't have the attention to detail that's necessary to do a job like this!

Also, it sounds a bit stressful. Just imagine if you made a mistake regarding someone's paycheck! You could definitely ruin someone's day, or even their whole week. I wouldn't want that on my shoulders.


I have a friend that works a payroll specialist job. She has a degree in payroll accounting, and she also got certified as a payroll specialist by the American Payroll Association. From what she says, you should definitely get that certification as soon as you are able. Being certified makes it a lot easier to get a job!

In fact, a lot of businesses require you to have it before they will hire you. And it looks good on your resume either way. So if you get the certification, you'll have a lot more opportunities for employment than if you don't have it.

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