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Payroll Specialist Interview
Questions

37 Questions and Answers by Ryan Brown

Question 1 of 37

Describe to me a difficult situation at work and how you diffused it.

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Payroll Specialist Interview Questions

  1. 1.

    Describe to me a difficult situation at work and how you diffused it.

      Think about the last time an error was made on someone's paycheck. This makes the perfect example for this question. Briefly overview the situation at a high level without blaming anyone for the error. Tell the interviewer how you learned about the situation, took notes about the employee's phone call, and respectfully apologized for the mistake and inconvenience. Tell the interviewer that you immediately got to work correcting the error, called the employee back to tell them that the error had been corrected, and took action to ensure similar errors would not happen again in the future. We are all human, and mistakes are going to happen. The interviewer simply wants to hear that you handle the situation with dignity and take the proper steps to ensure you avoid any additional errors in the future.

      Ryan's Answer #1

      "I was once contacted by an employee with an error in his pay check. I took notes about the employee's phone call, and respectfully apologized for the mistake and inconvenience. Then, I immediately got to work correcting the error, called the employee back to tell them that the error had been corrected, and took action to ensure similar errors would not happen again in the future. We are all human, and mistakes are going to happen. Whats more important is that we take the necessary steps that such mistakes are not repeated."

      Ryan's Answer #2

      "We have had several leaders giving different direction in our department. This creates confusion. To diffuse the situation, I called a meeting with both parties to come together and work out an agreed upon direction. It was effective in bringing light to the difficult situation and resolving any conflicts it was creating."

  2. 2.

    Each of our buildings has a designated payroll timekeeper that reports biweekly. Two reports are late. How do you approach this?

      Explain that you understand mistakes will occasionally happen. If it is not a recurring issue, you would simply call the person and ensure it is corrected. If it is an ongoing issue, you would schedule a meeting with the person to talk about the problem face-to-face and explain that you have brought this to their attention on several occasions, and they are not meeting your expectations. Inform the interviewer that you would work with the individual to put a plan in place to eliminate future problems, and if the issue was not resolved, you would need to speak with their supervisor.

      Ryan's Answer #1

      "If this is not a regular situation and has happened just once, I will call the person in charge and make sure that the report is sent to me before further delay and also that such issue is not repeated in the future.
      But, if his is happening on a regular basis, then I will arrange for a face-to-face meeting with the person concerned and try to find out why such a problem is occurring. After identifying the root cause of the problem, I will try to formulate a plan so that it doesn't happen in future. But, if the problem still persists and the issue is still not resolved, I will contact the person's supervisor."

      Ryan's Answer #2

      "It is likely that I reached out the first time when the reports were late. I will reach out the next time to meet with the person to make sure there are no issues (training, roadblocks, etc.) with getting the reports done on time. If it calls for it, I will invite the associate to cross train to learn what the reports are used for on the other end. This will broaden their knowledge of the process they are part of and deepen their understanding of the roadblock it occurs when the reports are late. As always, if the behavior continues, we can make sure there are not issues happening outside of the workplace that might impact the associate's work OR take measures to initiate a performance improvement plan."

  3. 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. 4.

    How would you familiarize yourself with our payroll system?

      You are a go-getter and a self-starter. Tell the interviewer that you would start off by simply clicking through the system to understand what it looks like. Next, you would visit the vendor's website as well as the Help link in the system to see if any tutorials are offered. Finally, you would Google any missing details to ensure you understand how everything works.

      Ryan's Answer #1

      "I have always believed in learning by doing and also being tech savvy helps a lot. I try to familiarize myself with the system first on my own and if I come across any obstacles I ask questions, either to a teammate (if I have one) or Google."

      Ryan's Answer #2

      "Having experience pricing, testing and evaluation many major payroll providers, it will be a seamless transition to familiarize myself with your payroll system. Each company typically customizes their payroll system to their organization, so it will only be a matter of clicking around to learn how the system works for the company. Some of the payroll systems I am familiar with are Workday, ADP, Paychex, Jupiter, Quickbooks, etc. Many of them function the same on the basic level."

  5. 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. 6.

    What are the payroll inputs?

      Payroll inputs are simply the details necessary to set up an employee in the payroll system. These are items such as their name, date of birth, marital status, pay rates, vacation time, holidays, etc.

      Ryan's Answer

      "Payroll inputs are all of the 'ins' that go into a payroll cycle. This includes time/hours, commissions, paid time off (holiday, vacation, sick, etc.), bonuses and any other variables or forms of payment."

  7. 7.

    Can you explain when you would want to pay an employee through accounts payable rather than payroll?

      A lot of organizations have their own philosophy to this. Sometimes items such as employee reimbursements are more easily handled through A/P. Tell the interviewer that you would like to work as a team with the A/P staff to develop the philosophy that best suits the organization. You recognize that some functions are better in A/P while others are better in payroll, and you are willing to work as part of the team to help make these decisions.

      Ryan's Answer #1

      "I believe that the A/P staff and the payroll department are a team and should work in sync with each other. There are certain expenses that are better handled through accounts payable than through payroll. If there is an item which is not a part of the payroll system and simply can't be adjusted into the system and is a one time occurrence, would prefer the payment to be done through Accounts Payable in order to make the things easier for all the parties involved."

      Ryan's Answer #2

      "There have been a number of times we have used A/P to compensate an associate verses utilizing payroll. All of our contractors on 1099s are compensated through A/P. Anytime we hire a vendor to do work for our organization, we invoice and pay through accounting (not payroll)."

  8. 8.

    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."

  9. 9.

    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."

  10. 10.

    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."

  11. 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. 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. 13.

    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."

  14. 14.

    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."

  15. 15.

    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."

  16. 16.

    We have 9 major union contracts, each with unique special pay items. How will you ensure that everything is paid correctly and on time?

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  17. 17.

    What salary are you seeking?

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  18. 18.

    What is a fiscal year?

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  19. 19.

    Have you had responsibility for state and federal tax payments?

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  20. 20.

    What is a general ledger?

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  21. 21.

    If you have done bookkeeping in the past for small businesses, tell me about your experience doing that.

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  22. 22.

    What experience do you have implementing a new payroll system?

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  23. 23.

    Describe to me your familiarity with the administration of 403b or 457 plans?

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  24. 24.

    Tell me about the payroll forecasting you have been responsible for.

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  25. 25.

    Describe a typical payroll day from your past experiences.

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  26. 26.

    Do you plan to open up your own accounting or payroll firm?

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  27. 27.

    Can you describe the use of forms W2, W4, and 941?

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  28. 28.

    What cost-cutting measure have you been in charge of implementing?

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  29. 29.

    What sorts of things have you done to become better qualified for your career?

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  30. 30.

    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.

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  31. 31.

    What is retro pay?

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  32. 32.

    Discuss your experience with payroll.

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  33. 33.

    We spend considerable time editing our time sheets to ensure no errors. How do you approach finding an error?

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  34. 34.

    What are the most important attributes a person should have for this position?

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  35. 35.

    What courses did you like the best in your preparation in accounting and payroll?

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  36. 36.

    What information do you require before you approve payroll?

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  37. 37.

    How did you get started in payroll?

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