How to Become a Payroll Administrator: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a payroll administrator. Learn about the job duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in payroll administration.

Should I Become a Payroll Administrator?

Payroll administrators, also referred to as payroll managers, are specialists within the human resources field who oversee the daily payroll processes of an organization. These processes include issuing employee paychecks, recording leaves of absence, verifying number of hours worked and keeping records of changes in employment. Payroll administrators perform most of their work with computers and must keep track of employee information using accounting, database and spreadsheet software programs.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is common, but some employers may prefer candidates who possess a master's degree
Degree Fields Accounting, business administration or human resources
Certification Certification is optional, but is also sometimes preferred by employers
Experience Up to five years of experience is typically required
Key Skills Communication, organizational and analytical skills; knowledge of Microsoft Office and Automatic Data Processing (ADP) programs, including W-2 processing, audits, terminations and wage reports
Salary $60,998 (median salary for payroll managers as of August 2015)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings from December 2012,

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Many payroll administrator positions require a bachelor's degree. Studies in human resources management, accounting or business administration can prepare aspiring payroll professionals to work in the field. The curriculum for a bachelor's degree program in human resources management covers topics like leadership and management principles, communication, organizational behavior, compensation packages and business ethics. Some colleges also offer a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) program with an accounting emphasis. BBA programs can include classes in financial accounting, internal auditing and risk management.

Success Tip:

  • Consider an internship. Internship programs can provide students with a way to gain work experience while completing their educational programs. Interns might work with the human resources or accounting departments of a company, institute or business association. Many payroll professionals gain entry-level work experience by completing internships.

Step 2: Obtain an Entry-Level Position

While education is important for potential payroll administrators, most employers also require applicants to have prior work experience. For this reason, many aspiring payroll administrators may have to first work in an entry-level position as a payroll specialist or clerk.

Success Tips:

  • Get certified. Some employers prefer to hire payroll administrators who have earned the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) designation. The American Payroll Association (APA) administers the exam for CPP certification. To be eligible for the exam, applicants must have three years of recent payroll experience. Individuals with less experience who wish to earn certification may be able to take the exam if they have passed a set of APA-identified courses.
  • Consider membership in the APA. In addition to certification, the APA offers memberships to payroll professionals. APA members can benefit from acquiring industry-related information through regular publications and attending industry-related seminars and conferences.

Step 3: Consider Earning a Master's Degree

Some payroll administrator positions require a graduate degree. Professionals can earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and specialize in accounting or leadership. Individuals might also enroll in a master's degree program in human resources and take classes on staffing, compensation, collective bargaining, dispute resolution and employee benefits.

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