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Payroll Specialist Interview
Questions

37 Questions and Answers by Ryan Brown

Updated August 22nd, 2018
Job Interviews     Careers     Business    
Question 1 of 37
What courses did you like the best in your preparation in accounting and payroll?
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How to Answer
Candidly share your thoughts about which courses you liked best and why. The interviewer may use this information to help create a career path for you in the organization, so now is the time to share your thoughts.
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1.
What courses did you like the best in your preparation in accounting and payroll?
Candidly share your thoughts about which courses you liked best and why. The interviewer may use this information to help create a career path for you in the organization, so now is the time to share your thoughts.

Ryan's Answer #1
"I have always enjoyed working with numbers and thus accounting was my favorite subject. Preparing the balance sheets was one of my favorite activities."
Ryan's Answer #2
"I enjoy business as a whole so I really enjoyed coursework in accounting, compensation theory/management and organizational management. All gave me a great feel for the work involved in effective payroll practices and its contribution to a company."
2.
What are your future plans with the company?
Express how excited you are for your career in payroll with the company, and if you have aspirations for becoming a payroll manager some day, be sure to tell the interviewer this! Be realistic in your timeline for achieving this role. We recommend simply stating that you recognize this may take several years to achieve, but you are very excited about working in the payroll specialist role right now to learn as much as you can.

Ryan's Answer #1
"At present I am very excited about the opportunity to work as a payroll specialist for your organisation as I believe that this will be a great learning opportunity for me. Some years down the line I want to see myself as a payroll manager but I believe that I still have a lot to learn before I get there."
Ryan's Answer #2
"I am always looking to grow personally and professionally wherever I am in life. I welcome the opportunity to grow with the organization and take on a senior leadership position. In any role I take, I plan to add value and build meaningful relationships that serve the greater good of the company."
3.
Define a bad employee.
Laugh, and tell the interviewer that thankfully there are not many bad employees out there! Tell the interviewer that a bad employee is one that blatantly does not have the best interests of the organization in mind and is unethical or immoral. This will cover all of your bases. Laziness is an ethical issue. Theft is an ethical issue. Harassment is an ethical issue. All 'bad employees' tend to fall under the magical ethics umbrella. Finally, be sure again to mention that most employees are awesome, and the bad ones are few and far between in the grand scheme of things.

Ryan's Answer #1
"Personally, I don't think that there is any such thing as a bad employee. I believe, a bad employee is one that blatantly does not have the best interests of the organization in mind and is unethical or immoral. I think laziness, theft, harassment are a few ethical issues, and the employees who are performing these acts are bad employees. On the other hand, I believe that this is a very small or negligible part of the organization and all employees are usually great."
Ryan's Answer #2
"One or a few bad apples can spoil the bunch. An associate who demonstrates behaviors that are outside the general mission, vision or values of an organization is not serving the greater good of your company. If left unaddressed, they will either spoil the bunch or (if the culture is strong enough) weed themselves out."
4.
Tell me about the payroll forecasting you have been responsible for.
Start off with a high-level overview of the payroll forecasting you have done including how often you have supplied forecasts and who has typically requested the forecasts. Next, tell the interviewer details about the most recent payroll forecast as an example of your work. Be sure to mention how you gathered your data, what software you utilized to pull the information, and how you created your projections. Finally, be sure to include who the data was presented to as well as how you presented the data (Excel, Word, email, in-person presentation, etc).

Ryan's Answer #1
"As a response to a request by the finance department of the company to estimate the company's yearly expenses, I provided the yearly payroll forecast. This was a regular practice for the past 4 years of my career. I have been using the yearly employee salary data, along with the forecasts regarding any future hires that may be required by any of the departments. For providing the report, I used Excel although we have been using 'XYZ' system for our payroll calculations."
Ryan's Answer #2
"We utilize our reporting system to forecast weekly payroll funds, hours, and various payments, taking into account the financial cycle and compensation bonus packages."
5.
If an employee called in with a payroll complaint, how would you handle it?
Tell the interviewer that you always express empathy to the employee because you understand how concerning payroll challenges are for employees. State that you take detailed notes of the employee's complaint. When possible, tell the interviewer that you try to talk through the issue over the phone to solve the problem right away. Sometimes payroll issues need some time to figure out. In these instances, inform the interviewer that you express your apologies to the employee, and tell the employee you will look into it right away. Finally, tell the interviewer that you try to dig into these complaints as soon as possible following the phone call to ensure the employee's concerns are resolved within 48 business hours.

Ryan's Answer #1
"I believe that we are service providers and the employees are our most important customers and any complaint related to payroll should be dealt with utmost importance. If I receive any such complaint my first reaction is to apologize that an issue has occurred and then I immediately look into the matter. I take notes about the situation and check with the concerned departments about why such an error occurred. Most of the times these complaints are resolved right away but there are times when it needs some inquiries and confirmations to be made that might take some time in which case I keep the employee updated about the progress and try to get it fixed as soon as possible on a priority basis."
Ryan's Answer #2
"There are times when this happens. It is never great, because it means something went wrong on the input, but it is a great opportunity to connect with the associate and utilize my customer service skills to resolve the issue. I will listen to the concern, research it and communicate the resolution back to the associate. This error is noted with payroll and used to coach the manager who submitted it."
6.
What is a general ledger?
A general ledger, or G/L, is used by businesses to track financial transactions by assets, liabilities, equity, revenue, and expenses.
Ryan's Answer
"The general ledger is the main accounting record for a company or organization. It ties into the profit and loss and accounts for all expenses or monies earned across the board. It is a very important financial tool."
7.
Have you had responsibility for state and federal tax payments?
Be candid with the interviewer. Share your experience with filing quarterly taxes, year-end taxes, and all other taxes that are pertinent to your work. Expand on this sharing how you file your tax payments either electronically or by mail. Finally, be sure to wrap it up by disclosing how you locate payment amounts. Most likely, these amounts come from your payroll software.

Ryan's Answer #1
"In the last organization I worked for, I was responsible for reporting income and employment taxes withheld from the employees on an Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return (Form 941) and deposit these taxes in full to an authorized bank. I was also responsible for filing a FUTA return annually, and depositing those taxes."
Ryan's Answer #2
"Yes, in conjunction with the company tax accountants and CPAs. As the company liaison for payroll, I was responsible to ensure company compliance and mitigate liability."
8.
We have 9 major union contracts, each with unique special pay items. How will you ensure that everything is paid correctly and on time?
This is easy for you! This is what you do as a Payroll Specialist, and nine union contracts are not something that phase you. You can discuss how you will utilize the notes feature in your payroll software to document each contract requirements. Or, maybe you will utilize an Excel spreadsheet to keep notes for each contract if the functionality is not in the software. Either way, this is easy for you!

Ryan's Answer #1
"I use Excel and take extensive notes while doing my job. I like to keep my work organized and plan everything in advance. In my past jobs, I have dealt with such situations in which I had to deal with special pay items and making sure that everything is paid correctly and on time."
Ryan's Answer #2
"One of the most effective practices I have found works well in measuring an efficient payroll each cycle is utilizing checklists. Simply put, I will create checklist items for each union contract and payment terms to ensure we are double or triple checking the inputs to measure accuracy each cycle."
9.
How do you keep updated on all the payroll rules and techniques?
Start by sharing that you receive daily emails from different agencies that share updates to payroll rules and techniques. Discuss that your payroll vendor also keeps you in tune with new rules and techniques on their homepage or your dashboard. Mention the past few payroll conferences, seminars, or webinars you attended. Be sure to talk through any professional payroll organizations you regularly participate in, and finally, mention that you network with other payroll professionals to see what new techniques they are using!

Ryan's Answer #1
"I read a lot (payroll magazines, online blogs) in my free time and follow many forums online. I also attend certain payroll conferences whenever I get time out of my work schedule."
Ryan's Answer #2
"This is such an important part of maintaining compliance and staying current on industry changes/news. I am a member of multiple payroll associations. I read the news everyday and am connected with the IRS/DOL on any changes that impact my team."
10.
What is the largest payroll you have been in charge of?
Simply tell the interviewer the largest payroll you have been in charge of including dollar amount and total employee headcount. Be sure to mention that you understand how important it is to maintain a high level of detail when working with such large sum of money.

Ryan's Answer #1
"I have handled the payroll for a medium as well as large size company, where the maximum number of employees for which I processed the payroll was 'X' and it amounted to X$. Due to my experience of working in such situations, I understand the need for accuracy and precision with this job since money is at stake."
Ryan's Answer #2
"In my role as Payroll Manager for my last company, I was responsible for a $500 million weekly payroll for over 10,000 associates worldwide. There was many variables to manage with different locations and state/country laws to account for."
11.
Describe to me any payroll process that you have developed or revised?
Think of a problem you helped solve with an employee's check and what steps you took to ensure the problem never occurred again. This is your example of a process revision! Give the interviewer a brief overview of the problem that was brought to your attention as well as what process you put in place to ensure the problem did not occur again in the future. Most importantly, explain why you chose this revision to ensure all future problems were eliminated.

You can think of any such problem you faced at your workplace and of a way how you helped in dealing with it. Also, it might be possible that you never encountered any such situation, in which case be honest and describe to the interviewer about any small incident where you had to buckle up your shoes and come up with a solution which was used as a benchmark in future.

Ryan's Answer #1
"I realized that the time sheets were not in place and this was resulting in a problem with the calculations of the working hours for the employees. So with the help of the finance and IT department, I got the timesheet system developed and thus started getting nicely sorted out data for the hours logged in by the employees."
Ryan's Answer #2
"In my first role as Payroll Manager, the company grew rapidly and we had to reevaluate our payroll process. We were using Paychex and calling in the hours each week. As our locations expanded and our headcount increased, along with various compensation packages (salary, hourly, commission, etc.), we made the decision to upgrade our payroll technology and process. I led the project, pricing and negotiating a new contract with ADP. We changed over our timeclock system from manual to electronic to eliminate time and errors. It was a significant improvement to the overall process."
12.
What have you done to improve your verbal communication skills?
If nothing comes to mind right away, think outside of the box! Maybe you volunteered to lead a new committee, run the PTA meetings at your child's school, or coach a youth sport. All of these require communication skills! Simply take what you have done, discuss how you utilize communication skills in the activity, and define how your communication has improved because of it.

Ryan's Answer #1
"In order to improve my verbal communication skills I try to go out and attend meetings with a group of International Residents in the county and have discussions with them over several topics. I have also been an active member of a photography club where we share information about new techniques and tricks for improving our skills. Apart from that, I attend webinars related to payroll that not only improve my language skills but also keep me updated about any changes in my work area."
Ryan's Answer #2
"Communication is the key to success! I am constantly using mixed communication methods in my role with leaders and peers. To enhance verbal communications, I am taking a toastmasters course and presenting in small group meetings."
13.
Give me examples of the payroll reports you have prepared.
Start off by listing a handful of reports that you have prepared, including a high-level overview of what data can be found in the reports. Expand on this by telling the interviewer how you can manipulate data within your payroll system to generate any reports you are looking for, and mention that you can create reports in many formats including Word, Excel, and Adobe formats.

Ryan's Answer #1
"I am well-versed in preparing income statements, new hire reports, promotion reports, deduction reports, leave/ absentee reports, wage types etc. and if needed I can manipulate the data provided to me in any form and create reports in any format including Word, Excel, etc."
Ryan's Answer #2
"Reports are a large part of streamlining and ensuring accuracy of the payroll process. I run weekly auditing reports, total time and payments reports and financial reports to provide to my finance partner counterparts. Each payroll run, I also audit the inputs and track the paid time off updates for the organization. The reporting tool is great because you can consistently come up with custom reports to meet the needs of your work."
14.
How does higher management benefit from payroll reports?
Tell the interviewer that senior leadership needs payroll reports as a part of their role to understand expenses in regards to compensation and benefits as well as payroll taxes. At the end of the day, their job is to ensure the organization is secure financially, and there is a good chance that payroll expenses will be one of the highest expenses the organization occurs on a regular basis. To help them stay up-to-date on how payroll expenses are affecting the organization and ensure they have all of the necessary information to make sound financial decisions, payroll reports are necessary.

Ryan's Answer #1
"It is the job of the higher management to make sure that the organization is secure financially, and there is a good chance that payroll expenses will be one of the highest expenses the organization occurs on a regular basis. To help them stay up-to-date on how payroll expenses are affecting the organization and to ensure they have all of the necessary information to make sound financial decisions, payroll reports are necessary."
Ryan's Answer #2
"All levels of management benefit from payroll reports. Higher management typically uses the data in their forecasting or budgeting presentations. Leadership teams will include payroll reports when reviewing the company operating expenses and net company income."
15.
Why are you interested in this position?
It is a good idea to tell the interviewer that you enjoy being in a role that allows you to analyze information and be highly detail-oriented. Tell the interviewer that you enjoy being behind the scenes working with numbers, and you like that you are working in a very important role that does not require you to be in front of the crowd all of the time. Finally, be sure to talk about the company and the high level of respect you have for it.

Ryan's Answer #1
"Ever since the beginning of my career as a payroll specialist, I have enjoyed working with numbers and improving the efficiency of the departments I have worked with. In addition to what I have heard about your organization, I have also done my own research and I have great interest and respect for the industry you serve and would love to utilize my knowledge and learn and grow my skills with the organization."
Ryan's Answer #2
"That is a great question! Who wouldn't be? I bring 8 years of experience in this area and am a huge promoter of the mission/vision of this organization. There is nothing more rewarding than doing work you love for a company that resonates with you and does well by the community."
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37 Payroll Specialist Interview Questions
Win your next job by practicing from our question bank. We have thousands of questions and answers created by interview experts.
Interview Questions
  1. What courses did you like the best in your preparation in accounting and payroll?
  2. What are your future plans with the company?
  3. Define a bad employee.
  4. Tell me about the payroll forecasting you have been responsible for.
  5. If an employee called in with a payroll complaint, how would you handle it?
  6. What is a general ledger?
  7. Have you had responsibility for state and federal tax payments?
  8. We have 9 major union contracts, each with unique special pay items. How will you ensure that everything is paid correctly and on time?
  9. How do you keep updated on all the payroll rules and techniques?
  10. What is the largest payroll you have been in charge of?
  11. Describe to me any payroll process that you have developed or revised?
  12. What have you done to improve your verbal communication skills?
  13. Give me examples of the payroll reports you have prepared.
  14. How does higher management benefit from payroll reports?
  15. Why are you interested in this position?
  16. What is a fiscal year?
  17. What salary are you seeking?
  18. Can you explain when you would want to pay an employee through accounts payable rather than payroll?
  19. What are the payroll inputs?
  20. If you have done bookkeeping in the past for small businesses, tell me about your experience doing that.
  21. What experience do you have implementing a new payroll system?
  22. Describe to me your familiarity with the administration of 403b or 457 plans?
  23. How would you familiarize yourself with our payroll system?
  24. Describe a typical payroll day from your past experiences.
  25. Do you plan to open up your own accounting or payroll firm?
  26. Each of our buildings has a designated payroll timekeeper that reports biweekly. Two reports are late. How do you approach this?
  27. Describe to me a difficult situation at work and how you diffused it.
  28. We spend considerable time editing our time sheets to ensure no errors. How do you approach finding an error?
  29. What is retro pay?
  30. What are the most important attributes a person should have for this position?
  31. What information do you require before you approve payroll?
  32. Can you describe the use of forms W2, W4, and 941?
  33. How did you get started in payroll?
  34. What cost-cutting measure have you been in charge of implementing?
  35. What sorts of things have you done to become better qualified for your career?
  36. There are times when we are placed under extreme pressure on the job. Tell about a time when you were under such pressure and how you handled it.
  37. Discuss your experience with payroll.
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