HR and payroll jobs bring opportunities and challenges. If you’re planning a career in the field, make sure you know what to expect – and what will be expected of you…
Although their work takes place behind the scenes, HR and payroll employees are crucial components of business success. Contrary to common belief, HR and payroll departments don’t just focus on hiring and firing, or calculating wages and salaries – their roles draw on a spectrum of educational disciplines, involve a wide range of challenges, and take place across the industrial spectrum in every corner of the world.
So what do you need to begin a career in HR or payroll – and where can you expect it to lead?
The HR Domain
While the HR department is responsible for recruiting, maintaining, and managing the company’s employees, on another level, they work to realize their employer’s vision for the organisation, and shape its future. Broadly speaking, the duties of HR employees involve:
- Recruiting employees with skills that will enhance their organisation
- Participating in salary and contract negotiations
- Inducting new employees
- Disseminating company policy and promoting employer philosophy
- Addressing employee needs and enquiries
- Organising and delivering employee training
- Providing professional oversight and advice
- Participating in and mediating the dispute resolution process between employees and employers
Beginning your career
HR positions normally have no specific academic requirements, but in a crowded job market, university-level qualifications are obviously an advantage. Certain subjects and disciplines are particularly useful for HR roles, including IT and communications, psychology, sociology, math, and anything business-related, such as management or economics.
It’s certainly possible to kick-start your HR career with an industry-recognized accreditation, and a number of industry bodies provide training courses specifically focused on the field. Explore your options at institutions like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), which offers training for both prospective HR employees and those already on the career path.
Beyond academic and professional qualifications, certain skills and talents are also relevant for prospective HR professionals. Strong interpersonal skills are advantageous since much of the role involves dealing with inquiries by other employees, while organisational, administrative, and communication skills are also useful in most contexts.
Choosing your path
HR careers could take place in any corner of the working world, and follow a number of paths. While HR careers are generally focused on serving client-employees, there’s plenty of scope for specialization within a certain industry or sector – or as a global HR specialist. HR roles include:
- Assistant: Administrator positions are normally how most employees get their start on the career ladder. Basic duties involve procedural office administration and addressing client queries. Average Salary: $31,840
- Administrator: With increased responsibilities, HR administrators play a part in recruitment, interviewing, and training for their employer organisations. Average Salary: $45,667
- Manager/Supervisor: HR managers bear responsibility for their wider HR team, or or may lead their department. At this career stage, professional accreditation may become a necessity. Average salary: $98,818
- Director: HR directors are high level personnel with an important role in shaping their employers’ decisions and policy regarding recruitment, training and employee management. Average salary: $137,274
The Payroll Domain
Payroll employees work not only to calculate and pay wages to an employee population but to ensure the pay process takes place accurately, on time, and in compliance with the rules and regulations of their territory. General payroll duties include:
- Logging employee work hours and overtime
- Calculating salary
- Calculating tax and social security contributions and other relevant deductions
- Reporting to relevant tax authorities
- Issuing pay and payslips
- Inducting employees into payroll system
- Maintaining and updating payroll records
- Addressing employee payroll queries
- Augmenting the pay process to maintain compliance
Beginning your career
Payroll jobs are similar to those in HR in that they suit candidates from a range of academic backgrounds, however, thanks to the field’s focus on calculation and data, subjects like math and any other numeracy-based disciplines are especially useful to prospective employees. With that said, while math and accountancy graduates (at both high school and university-level) will likely stand out to payroll recruiters, achievement in IT, communications, management, and any business-centric subjects will also be valuable.
Ideally, payroll employees should be diligent and conscientious, and show strong attention to detail. Given the deadline-based challenges of the role (employees need to be paid on time), creative thinking and problem-solving skills are also vital – along with an ability to communicate clearly with clients and other team members regarding urgent pay queries.
Entry-level payroll positions will tend not to require industry accreditation, but this may become a necessity with progress up the career ladder. A number of internationally-recognized institutions offer payroll accreditation, including the American Payroll Association (APA), which trains employees in the Fundamental Payroll Certification, and the Certified Pay Professional certification.
Choosing your path
Given its importance and complexity, ambitious payroll employees can forge long, rewarding careers – and can expect to find exciting opportunities across professional landscapes. Typical payroll positions include:
- Administrator: An entry-level position, payroll administrators will have processing and general administrative duties including inducting new starts onto the system. Average Salary: $25,000
- Assistant: Payroll Assistants assume a higher-level of administrative responsibility and may be responsible for directing colleague activities and addressing queries. Average salary $31,000
- Technician: Payroll technicians will facilitate the procedural aspects of the pay-cycle – maintaining software platforms and other technical components.
- Manager/Supervisor: Payroll managers may be in charge of their team or department, and will communicate regularly with senior employees. Average salary $94,500
- Director: An executive position, payroll directors will be responsible for guiding policy and advising senior employees. Average salary: $111,484
Many businesses choose to outsource their payroll process to third-party service providers. Outsourcing is particularly popular for businesses paying employees on a global scale, since it offers a chance to import compliance expertise for local tax laws. With this in mind, global payroll specialists are often in high demand.
This article was contributed by guest author Sandra Sommerville.