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    15 Payroll Specialist Interview Questions You've Got to Ask

    15 Payroll Specialist Interview Questions You've Got to Ask

    February 3, 2022

    There are 110,000+ payroll specialists in the USA. Every company has the need for a payroll specialist or external vendor. 

    For those companies that hire internal payroll specialists, you may be asking how to find the right candidates. What questions make the most sense to ask during an interview?

    When placing a new payroll specialist, you must ask the right questions to get the best candidate. And understand what their answers are telling you about the candidate. 

    Keep reading to learn more about what types of payroll interview questions you should be asking. 

    What is a Payroll Specialist?

    A payroll specialist is a person that specializes in processing payroll. They also maintain employee records and databases. Sometimes, payroll specialists are responsible for budgets and expenses. 

    Payroll specialists have to be problem-solvers. They must maintain focus on the task at hand. And be able to communicate with employees and colleagues effectively. 

    When interviewing payroll specialist candidates, it's important to ask the right questions. You don't want to hire someone that doesn't understand how to do these functions. Or someone that doesn't have the desired skills for a payroll specialist. 

    A few qualities to look for your new hire, it's important to remember the following: 

    • Strong attention to detail
    • Interpersonal skills
    • Communication skills
    • Technically sophisticated
    • Good with numbers

    How a candidate answers the following questions will give you insight into each of these qualities. Keep the above traits in mind when hiring a payroll specialist. 

    15 Payroll Interview Questions and Answers

    An interview is to assess the candidate's experience with payroll. There are specific topics all payroll specialists should know about, such as: 

    • Tax forms and what they're used for
    • The main functions of a payroll specialist
    • Common mistakes payroll specialists do
    • Differences in employee type

    There are three types of interview questions most hiring managers use to learn more about the candidate they are interviewing. Operational and situational, role-specific, and behavioral questions

    The answers to all these types of questions can give you a deeper look into how your candidate will be in the payroll specialist role. 

    Operational and Situational Questions

    Operational and situational questions dig deep into how a candidate will handle the actual job. Do they have the skills needed to do the basic functions?

    The situations should relate to the situations that commonly arise for payroll specialists. The candidate's responses should show skills in: 

    • Problem-solving
    • Critical thinking
    • Taking initiative 
    • Adaptability 
    • Managing stressful situations

    Ask these questions to understand more about how they will handle work situations. 

    1: What Would Be Your First Priority If Hired? 

    The answer to this question will give you insight into the candidate's work ethic. It will also help you gain insight into how well they will transition to a new role. 

    The response should show an understanding of the role. It should also highlight skills in adaptability, time management, and organization. 

    If you've discussed a specific situation or problem that needs solving, the response will show how well they were paying attention in the earlier conversation. 

    2: How Would You Handle More Than One Employee Coming to You to Complaint About Their Paycheck? 

    The answer to this question will tell you a few things about the candidate. 

    1. How do they handle conflict? 
    2. Do they have effective communication skills? 
    3. Will they be accountable if the problem was at their hand? 

    How they answer this question will also give you information on how they handle stress. Stress in the workplace is something everyone has to navigate. The right candidate for your company will manage stress calmly and rationally.

    If they were responsible for the issue, the answer will show how they would handle it. Would they alert their manager right away? Would they just fix it themselves and move on? 

    How they answer this shows you the approach they would take. And that says a lot about who they are as a person and employee.  

    3: An Employee Informs You Their Salary Is Incorrect. How Do You Approach This Situation? 

    This question and response are important. Will the candidate use critical thinking and problem-solving skills? Will they investigate to find the correct answer? 

    Will they take steps to make sure they resolve the issue and it doesn't happen again? How the payroll specialist candidate responds will allow you to see if they have empathy for others and the key skills needed for the role. 

    4: How Familiar Are You With FLSA? 

    A good payroll specialist will know the Fair Labor Standards Act guidelines. Unless you are hiring an entry-level payroll associate, the candidate should be familiar with this act. 

    You don't want to hire someone who could potentially put your company at risk for fees or violations. 

    5: How Would You Handle An Employee With Garnished Wages? 

    Garnished wages are legally binding. And complicated. There is a good chance the candidate has experienced garnishing. 

    There is just as much a chance they haven't. The answer you're looking for here is if they know what steps to take. Or if they know where to go to learn. 

    If they've handled it in the past, how closely did they follow the requirements? Did they maintain confidentiality about it? 

    If they haven't encountered the situation, do they know how to proceed? What steps are needed to start a garnishment? What recordkeeping is required? 

    Role-Specific Questions

    Role-specific questions are customized to your company. Think of situations or issues you've had with past payroll specialists. And ask questions that will help you avoid future issues

    For example, payroll specialists should be asked about: 

    • Laws and regulations they follow
    • Systems they'll be using
    • How they remain accurate when handling large datasets 
    • Payroll-specific questions to make sure they understand the basic job functions 

    The questions you ask will vary based on the candidate. Some have a more detailed resume, so you can ask more about experiences with systems instead of general knowledge. Others may require more probing questions to get the answers you need. 

    The top five questions we think are most important are listed below. 

    6: Do You Have Knowledge of These Technologies? 

    You should customize this with whichever technologies and systems you have in place. Another way to find out this information is to ask what software they are familiar with. 

    Payroll systems change a lot. The most important aspect of this question is finding out if they can learn new systems without issue. 

    7: Do You Follow Changes in Tax and Employment Laws? 

    New legislation passes all the time. Good payroll specialists know this and stay updated on these changes. A few ways they can mention they stay updated: 

    • Regularly check the IRS website
    • Sign up for newsletters detailing changes in these laws
    • Email updates from an HR company
    • Attending payroll industry conferences and webinars

    Some changes will directly impact how you process payroll. Asking this question helps you to get a better insight into how seriously the candidate takes the role. 

    8: How Do You Make Sure the Data You Enter is Correct? 

    Accuracy is a key skill needed for payroll specialists. One wrong keystroke could cost the company a lot of money. Asking this question helps you to see if the candidate proofs their work. 

    It also lets you know if they provide attention to detail. The right candidate will show diligence in editing and reviewing their work. 

    As a follow-up, you could ask how they resolve a situation when they do enter something incorrectly. Do they update their process after fixing it? 

    9: What Are Non-Taxable Wages?

    Payroll specialists handle wages, deductions, and benefits. It's important they understand the difference between taxable and non-taxable wages. You don't want to get in a situation where there is inaccurate reporting. 

    You can also ask about the different forms used in payroll, including: 

    • W-4
    • W-2
    • 941

    A good candidate understands the differences between these forms. And knows when to use each one. 

    10: How Do You Maintain Confidentiality? 

    Payroll specialists deal with a lot of sensitive information. They have to maintain: 

    • Salaries
    • Employee ID numbers
    • Social security numbers
    • Employee information
    • Tax information 

    It's important the candidate shows the drive to follow confidentiality guidelines. But it's just as important they show that they understand how impactful this step is on everyone involved if it's not followed. 

    Behavioral Questions

    Asking behavioral questions gives you a glimpse into their career history. You'll learn how they handle certain situations. These types of questions are also great to assess their knowledge and skills. 

    A lot of times, behavioral and situational questions are a lot alike. Both types of payroll specialist interview questions give the same insight to your candidate. Below are five questions you must ask during the interview. 

    11. Tell Me About a Time When You Improved a Process

    This question will allow you to understand the depth of their knowledge. And if they take the initiative to improve operations. 

    There are a few payroll best practices most companies follow. They are: 

    • Meeting deadlines
    • Correct employee classification
    • Improving systems and processes
    • Accurate recordkeeping
    • Written policies

    Asking about a time a candidate improved a process can lead to a further discussion on best practices. You want to hire someone who is reliable. And you want to make sure they will not cause operational issues. 

    12. Tell Me About a Stressful Situation and How You Handled It

    This question lets you see how a candidate will handle stress. And tells you what types of situations they find stressful. 

    Payroll processing comes with a lot of deadlines and is often a high-pressure environment. You want to hear from the candidate they can handle these situations without getting emotional. 

    13. Describe a Time You Made a Mistake and How You Fixed It

    Everyone makes mistakes and the best candidates own that. Asking this specific question lets you have an inside look at where they have messed up and how they fixed it. 

    It's vital that payroll specialists know how to problem-solve. And that they understand what steps to take to fix their messes. When interviewing a payroll specialist candidate, you'll want to assess their body language to make sure they stay honest when responding. 

    14. Tell Me About Your Proudest Achievement 

    This question lets the candidate brag on themselves a bit. You can learn about what excites them and when they felt most proud of themselves. This response will give you insight into how high of standards they hold themselves to. 

    You'll get a deeper insight into their skills. You'll also learn what the candidate feels is most important in the role. 

    15. Explain Your Payroll Strengths and Weaknesses

    A good payroll specialist candidate will come to the interview prepared for this question. The response should offer two parts.

    It should tell a weakness and how they solved it. The weakness should be something that is common to the job, but not a vital part of what's needed to succeed. 

    And it should tell about their strengths and how these skills become strengths in their career. What did they do to strengthen these specific skills? Did they take courses or development steps to improve in this area? 

    Get Support With Your Payroll Needs

    Are you overwhelmed with handling your payroll and looking for an external vendor? Do you want to make sure your company stays compliant with tax, employee, and labor laws? 

    Ignite HCM has exactly what you're looking for. We offer a variety of packages to help you manage your payroll, compliance, and HR needs.

    We are experts in ADP payroll systems. The answers to your payroll interview questions will be answered well with Ignite HCM. 

    And can help you to optimize and use it for maximum results. Contact Ignite HCM to learn more about our payroll and HR processes. 

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