How to get ahead: Payroll career choices How to get ahead: Payroll career choices

How to get ahead: Payroll career choices
30 Nov 2014

In the last article we talked about how to begin to develop your skills and become involved in projects while constructively displaying the right skills to demonstrate that you have the ability to take the next step in your career. But what is that next step?

In the world of payroll, no longer are you restricted to a clear career path of novice, technician, supervisor, manager and in a handful of cases, director. Over the last few years payroll has diversified and developed as an industry due to many factors, including technology and a more global approach to service functions, a category in which payroll sits firmly.

So you know you want to get ahead, but which avenue do you take? Do you even know what is out there? As well as the traditional career ladder route, there are other areas open to explore:

Payroll technology

As well as operational payroll there are many software companies who supply payroll software. This has to be built and kept up to date, which can be a really fulfilling career, dealing with the demands of ever changing legislation.

You may have the chance to innovate ways to process payroll more efficiently. Automation and process improvements are always a big seller for software companies as it reduces their client’s resource burden and error rates.

If you have a natural aptitude for systems you get to use that alongside the skills and knowledge you have built up in your payroll career to date.

Organisations are always looking to maximise the use of their systems without having to keep in-house expertise. There are many consultants now who can use their skills and knowledge to build and/or improve the way the existing set up runs, build reports, support through major changes etc. This is a particularly useful career for those who need variety and change.

Multi-country payroll

Payroll is... payroll! Wherever you go in the world, the principles are very similar with the main differences mainly in legislation and how this is applied. Having a grounding in payroll gives you a good solid starting point to make a move and there is a real skills shortage in this area.

People who work in this field at a senior level tend to need a more diverse range of skills, such as strategic and project management, vendor relationships, cultural knowledge and sometimes multiple languages (although this isn’t always needed).

There are many ways this area can keep you challenged, whether is staying up to date with different countries payroll intricacies, being involved in global process design and planning, or travelling to different countries and experiencing different cultures.

Expatriate specialist

This is an area of extreme shortage in terms of skills and it is seen as one of the most complicated areas of payroll to venture into. You not only have to have an understanding of various country rules, but also need to know about taxation treaties, reciprocal agreements and global mobility processes such as residency rules equalisation and the type of payments and benefits that can be paid to an in-bound or out-bound assignee.

This is typically a high touch, low volume area in terms of resource to employee and there are specialist firms, top accounting firms and organisations that require these skills.

Writer

As well as the traditional operational roles there are opportunities to write about the very subject you are passionate about – so if you enjoy writing, you could consider this as a viable career path, as well as editing as a future development opportunity..

There are endless opportunities for subject matter both in UK specific or global payroll and people are always keen to read anything that will help guide them through the potentially problematic world of legislation.

Expenses and benefits specialist

This is another area where organisations tend to utilise outside skills rather than internal expertise as reviews of payments and benefits tend to be irregular or project related. A really detailed in-depth knowledge in this area can lead to successful careers reward, accounting firms or as an independent consultant. Not only can you ensure organisations are complaint, you can potentially save them money, adding value wherever you go.

Project manager/consultant

Many organisations deal with change at some point and sometimes this can be large enough to engage external help. Sometimes the internal skills are not sufficient to deal with a project and sometimes an external view is invaluable when reviewing processes or compliance – a fresh pair of eyes can really help.

There are a growing number of highly competent people in the industry who are leaving behind the role of employee and venturing into the world of consultancy. It’s not for everyone, but the diversity and chance to use skills that can stagnate in an operational role is highly rewarding to some who like the challenge of project work, being able to choose your projects and constant change.

Shared services

Many large organisations are going through transformational journeys, where some functions will merge under the heading of shared services for part of their work and centres of excellence (COEs) for others.

Payroll COEs are rare, but do exist, however shared services are ever increasing and payroll often forms part of a financial, human resources or business services umbrella.

Shared service functions should be run almost independently to the operational organisation in order to work correctly and act as a service provider, so you not only get to work in an environment dedicated to service excellence, you can diversify into other areas and effectively run your own (if not truly independent) business. Almost.

You will need strong service delivery skills for this and will still be governed by the needs of your organisation. However the autonomy comes with the strategic decisions on how to meet those demands in the best way possible.

Service providing/outsourcing

Essentially, you are still running a payroll, however this is for clients - and the business of your organisation is payroll. This means the options for your career are not limited to the set-up of your department in an organisation where payroll is not considered as a value added function. Payroll is the bread and butter of an outsource provider. Within the organisation there will be many areas you can venture into if you have the right skills.

It is similar in many ways to a shared service environment, but you will have many clients and they can take their business elsewhere if they are unhappy.

Training

Do you find that you enjoy being able to share your knowledge and help other people? Are you good at writing help guides? Do you like holding group sessions on certain subjects? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’ you may want to venture into the world of training delivery. It is ultimately very rewarding and a chance to give back some of the knowledge you have obtained as well as learning new areas.

The role of trainer is not for everyone as some people don’t like an audience, but of you do it’s a great chance to meet other likeminded professionals and helping them as part of your portfolio.

Next steps

The roles above are not an exclusive list of the opportunities available, but should give you a good insight into what is out there for you.

Your next steps should be to list all of the things you enjoy and don’t enjoy about your work and look at role requirements in each of the above. For most of them you can get job descriptions and person specifications can you can match off on your list.

Use these during any personal development planning to gain skills and knowledge to prepare you for a career you want, rather than a path that you follow because you think you have to. That way you will hopefully be heading in the right direction for a career path that will ultimately keep you feeling engaged, motivated and fulfilled.

Don’t be blinkered though – sometimes we change as we grow. You should repeat the matching process every so often to ensure you still feel motivated by the same tasks. A career path is never straight, you may meander a little, but this will just give you a richer knowledge and more well-rounded experience.

When you are looking for new opportunities, don’t just look at the role you are interested in, think about the organisation and what they may be able to offer you in order to develop your career further. If you are approached by an organisation or put out a general interest in joining them, don’t reject out of hand something they may be able to offer you, if it doesn’t match your wish list immediately.

Sometimes they don’t have the right role immediately, but will place you somewhere as a temporary way of hiring you until their plans come to fruition. Always make your aspirations clear so they are aware that it is not your ideal role (otherwise you may be overlooked when a suitable role comes along), but let them know that working in that organisation is important to you and it is a step into their business that you want. It shows commitment, loyalty, passion and patience.

In the next article we will delve into attitude: to yourself, your organisation and your colleagues. We will go into some key behaviours that can make or break (or at least delay severely) advancement in your career, as well as impact your happiness and that of others around you.

Another key area often overlooked by extremely skilled people, this can lead to you being overlooked for promotion, or worse. In today’s modern organisations high performing teams (HPTs) are a must and behaviours are a critical part of a successful HPT.

Jeanette Hibbert

In the last article we talked about how to begin to develop your skills and become involved in projects while constructively displaying the right skills to demonstrate that you have the ability to take the next step in your career. But what is that next step?

In the world of payroll, no longer are you restricted to a clear career path of novice, technician, supervisor, manager and in a handful of cases, director. Over the last few years payroll has diversified and developed as an industry due to many factors, including technology and a more global approach to service functions, a category in which payroll sits firmly.

So you know you want to get ahead, but which avenue do you take? Do you even know what is out there? As well as the traditional career ladder route, there are other areas open to explore:

Payroll technology

As well as operational payroll there are many software companies who supply payroll software. This has to be built and kept up to date, which can be a really fulfilling career, dealing with the demands of ever changing legislation.

You may have the chance to innovate ways to process payroll more efficiently. Automation and process improvements are always a big seller for software companies as it reduces their client’s resource burden and error rates.

If you have a natural aptitude for systems you get to use that alongside the skills and knowledge you have built up in your payroll career to date.

Organisations are always looking to maximise the use of their systems without having to keep in-house expertise. There are many consultants now who can use their skills and knowledge to build and/or improve the way the existing set up runs, build reports, support through major changes etc. This is a particularly useful career for those who need variety and change.

Multi-country payroll

Payroll is... payroll! Wherever you go in the world, the principles are very similar with the main differences mainly in legislation and how this is applied. Having a grounding in payroll gives you a good solid starting point to make a move and there is a real skills shortage in this area.

People who work in this field at a senior level tend to need a more diverse range of skills, such as strategic and project management, vendor relationships, cultural knowledge and sometimes multiple languages (although this isn’t always needed).

There are many ways this area can keep you challenged, whether is staying up to date with different countries payroll intricacies, being involved in global process design and planning, or travelling to different countries and experiencing different cultures.

Expatriate specialist

This is an area of extreme shortage in terms of skills and it is seen as one of the most complicated areas of payroll to venture into. You not only have to have an understanding of various country rules, but also need to know about taxation treaties, reciprocal agreements and global mobility processes such as residency rules equalisation and the type of payments and benefits that can be paid to an in-bound or out-bound assignee.

This is typically a high touch, low volume area in terms of resource to employee and there are specialist firms, top accounting firms and organisations that require these skills.

Writer

As well as the traditional operational roles there are opportunities to write about the very subject you are passionate about – so if you enjoy writing, you could consider this as a viable career path, as well as editing as a future development opportunity..

There are endless opportunities for subject matter both in UK specific or global payroll and people are always keen to read anything that will help guide them through the potentially problematic world of legislation.

Expenses and benefits specialist

This is another area where organisations tend to utilise outside skills rather than internal expertise as reviews of payments and benefits tend to be irregular or project related. A really detailed in-depth knowledge in this area can lead to successful careers reward, accounting firms or as an independent consultant. Not only can you ensure organisations are complaint, you can potentially save them money, adding value wherever you go.

Project manager/consultant

Many organisations deal with change at some point and sometimes this can be large enough to engage external help. Sometimes the internal skills are not sufficient to deal with a project and sometimes an external view is invaluable when reviewing processes or compliance – a fresh pair of eyes can really help.

There are a growing number of highly competent people in the industry who are leaving behind the role of employee and venturing into the world of consultancy. It’s not for everyone, but the diversity and chance to use skills that can stagnate in an operational role is highly rewarding to some who like the challenge of project work, being able to choose your projects and constant change.

Shared services

Many large organisations are going through transformational journeys, where some functions will merge under the heading of shared services for part of their work and centres of excellence (COEs) for others.

Payroll COEs are rare, but do exist, however shared services are ever increasing and payroll often forms part of a financial, human resources or business services umbrella.

Shared service functions should be run almost independently to the operational organisation in order to work correctly and act as a service provider, so you not only get to work in an environment dedicated to service excellence, you can diversify into other areas and effectively run your own (if not truly independent) business. Almost.

You will need strong service delivery skills for this and will still be governed by the needs of your organisation. However the autonomy comes with the strategic decisions on how to meet those demands in the best way possible.

Service providing/outsourcing

Essentially, you are still running a payroll, however this is for clients - and the business of your organisation is payroll. This means the options for your career are not limited to the set-up of your department in an organisation where payroll is not considered as a value added function. Payroll is the bread and butter of an outsource provider. Within the organisation there will be many areas you can venture into if you have the right skills.

It is similar in many ways to a shared service environment, but you will have many clients and they can take their business elsewhere if they are unhappy.

Training

Do you find that you enjoy being able to share your knowledge and help other people? Are you good at writing help guides? Do you like holding group sessions on certain subjects? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’ you may want to venture into the world of training delivery. It is ultimately very rewarding and a chance to give back some of the knowledge you have obtained as well as learning new areas.

The role of trainer is not for everyone as some people don’t like an audience, but of you do it’s a great chance to meet other likeminded professionals and helping them as part of your portfolio.

Next steps

The roles above are not an exclusive list of the opportunities available, but should give you a good insight into what is out there for you.

Your next steps should be to list all of the things you enjoy and don’t enjoy about your work and look at role requirements in each of the above. For most of them you can get job descriptions and person specifications can you can match off on your list.

Use these during any personal development planning to gain skills and knowledge to prepare you for a career you want, rather than a path that you follow because you think you have to. That way you will hopefully be heading in the right direction for a career path that will ultimately keep you feeling engaged, motivated and fulfilled.

Don’t be blinkered though – sometimes we change as we grow. You should repeat the matching process every so often to ensure you still feel motivated by the same tasks. A career path is never straight, you may meander a little, but this will just give you a richer knowledge and more well-rounded experience.

When you are looking for new opportunities, don’t just look at the role you are interested in, think about the organisation and what they may be able to offer you in order to develop your career further. If you are approached by an organisation or put out a general interest in joining them, don’t reject out of hand something they may be able to offer you, if it doesn’t match your wish list immediately.

Sometimes they don’t have the right role immediately, but will place you somewhere as a temporary way of hiring you until their plans come to fruition. Always make your aspirations clear so they are aware that it is not your ideal role (otherwise you may be overlooked when a suitable role comes along), but let them know that working in that organisation is important to you and it is a step into their business that you want. It shows commitment, loyalty, passion and patience.

In the next article we will delve into attitude: to yourself, your organisation and your colleagues. We will go into some key behaviours that can make or break (or at least delay severely) advancement in your career, as well as impact your happiness and that of others around you.

Another key area often overlooked by extremely skilled people, this can lead to you being overlooked for promotion, or worse. In today’s modern organisations high performing teams (HPTs) are a must and behaviours are a critical part of a successful HPT.

Jeanette Hibbert