What is a payroll specialist?

A payroll specialist handles all aspects of the payment process, from tracking employees’ time through issuing paychecks. Employees depend on a company to pay them accurately and on time, so a payroll specialist is an essential link in any organization.

Want to learn how to get into a career as a payroll specialist? Or are you interested in hiring for this role and need to write a payroll specialist job description? Read on to learn about qualifications, general expectations of the role, salary, and paths for advancement in this career.

How is this role monitored?

The performance goals for a payroll specialist are to produce an accurate payroll. That may include processing data and preparing tax information. Depending on the organization, a payroll specialist’s goals and objectives may be to compile payroll data, including employees' time worked and pay rate. This position typically reports to a supervisor or manager within the department.

Payroll specialist salary

If these specialists are in charge of processing the payroll for everyone else at a company, how much does a payroll specialist make? The average salary for a payroll specialist in the U.S. is $46,180 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Salary ranges depend on education, experience, location, and company type.

Required Skills

A payroll specialist should possess the following skills:

  • Computation skills
  • Computer literacy, including using programs and spreadsheets
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Organizational skills
  • Time-management expertise


Here are the qualifications to become a payroll specialist:

What does a payroll specialist do?

A payroll specialist’s responsibilities may range depending on the organization, but their main goal is to make sure employees receive their pay correctly. A payroll specialist’s job duties may also include:

  • Collecting, verifying, and recording employee attendance, including hours worked.
  • Ensuring compliance with federal, state, and local tax laws, including remittance of payroll taxes.
  • Maintaining database of personnel information and accurate payroll records.
  • Processing and monitoring garnishment orders.
  • Computing wages, commissions, and deductions.
  • Preparing paychecks to ensure that employees are paid on time and in the correct amount.
  • Conducting regularly scheduled audits of payroll records to ensure continued accuracy.
  • Handling employee complaints about incorrect payments and resolving discrepancies.

Top payroll specialist interview questions

If you have an interview for a payroll specialist job, prepare ahead of time so you can answer the following questions:

  1. What kinds of payroll reporting tools do you have experience with?
  2. What publications and continuing education do you use to stay up to date on issues related to payroll?
  3. What experience do you have with compliance in regards to IRS regulations?
  4. Describe a time when you discovered an error in someone else’s work and what actions you took to correct the mistake.
  5. How would you respond to an employee’s complaint that their paycheck was incorrect?
  6. Discuss how you improved a previous employer’s payroll process.
  7. What steps would you take to handle a situation where employee hours were consistently reported incorrectly?
  8. Give an example of a common error that payroll specialists make, and what steps you take to avoid it.
  9. How would you handle a situation if an employee asked you for specific information about another employee’s salary?

How to become a payroll specialist

So, what does it take to be a payroll specialist? Education is an important first step. Although some employers will hire candidates with a high school degree, most require an associate or bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related financial field.

Learning payroll industry software tools, whether through college or separate training courses, is essential. Although an industry-specific certification may not be required, it demonstrates expertise within the field and a commitment to continuing education.

Similar positions

The following positions may have some overlap or similarities to the payroll specialist:

  • Accounting Clerk
  • Bookkeeper
  • Auditing Clerk

Career advancement

Depending on the career path, a payroll specialist may go on to become the following:

  • Payroll Administrator
  • Payroll Analyst
  • Payroll Manager

Want a Payroll Specialist job?

Interested in learning more about this position or other similar payroll-related jobs? Check out the top payroll positions we're currently hiring for.

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