How to source payroll talent (from an expert)

October 26, 2022
Jim Kohl

Head of Payroll Operations

Jim Kohl

Jim Kohl is the Head of Payroll Operations at Check. As a certified payroll professional with a history of working in the SaaS industry, we asked Jim for advice on what our partners should consider when hiring their first payroll professionals. 

I have sourced, interviewed, and hired a lot of amazing payroll professionals in my career. Check has given me an opportunity to not only hire an incredible internal team, but I have had the chance to help our partners grow their payroll teams as well. 

In all of my hiring for payroll roles, there have been 3 guiding principles I have used when sourcing talent to help set great apart from good. 

1. Not all experience is created equally. 

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but in the payroll landscape, tenure isn’t the only consideration.

If I found a candidate with 15 years of experience running payroll for a single company versus a candidate that has 5 years running payroll at a current payroll provider, I am going to weigh the payroll provider experience more heavily. The reason being that a candidate that works at a payroll provider is going to be exposed to many different types of companies, with their own unique payroll issues, than a person would see at a single company in 15 years. 

However, if the candidate with 15 years of experience was running payroll for a 20,000 employee company and my ideal customer profile was large employers, then I’d probably take the 15 years of experience with enterprise payroll over the 5 years working with small businesses at a current payroll provider. 

In either scenario, it’s important for me to know the customer I plan to serve. That will allow me to properly assess the payroll experience I need to meet the demands of my expected customer base. Finding the right experience for the role is critical to hiring an impactful payroll professional. 

2. Roles and responsibilities may vary. 

Every payroll company has their own names for roles. Whether it is a Customer Service Representative, Client Support Manager, or Payroll Support, within a payroll company they probably do similar work. 

Ultimately the running of a payroll business at the Operational level requires 3 main functions - Implementation, Support and Tax. Make sure you are clear in the role you are looking for before you dig through the hundreds of titles out there. The strongest candidates will have experience across all three areas and bring a strong foundation to the team. 

When I am recruiting, I start with the roles I know. Using those titles to start my search will give me a quick round of candidates. From there, I can investigate who has moved to new roles while keeping similar responsibilities, versus who has shifted their focus completely. Their new role also gives me a new title to search for. 

Seeing a candidate that moved from a support team to a tax-focused team lets me know that they understand the day-to-day functioning of payroll, with additional experience around the nuances of the tax world. An employee who starts in an implementation role may lack the foundational understanding of payroll in comparison (depending on time spent in the role). 

3. Same job, different company. 

This last one might be a bit controversial, but seeing too much movement can be a red flag in the payroll world. I firmly believe employees need to advocate for themselves, and I believe sometimes circumstances will force moving from company to company rapidly. I wouldn’t disqualify a candidate, but it will be something I’d like to understand. 

Put another way, Payroll is hard. There is an incredible amount of effort, professionalism and critical thinking required to be successful in any of the roles listed above. Payroll professionals can burn out, but they can also be formed by the tide of issues. Pushing through the hard times is at the core of every great payroll professional. Seeing a candidate that held on through multiple ‘Year End’ experiences at a single company gives me a lot of confidence in two areas. First, it shows me that they are likely part of the solution of improving or iterating on ‘Year End’ efficiencies. Anyone who has been through a ‘Year End’ will seek ways to improve it the following year. Second, it gives me confidence in their durability and loyalty to the north star of getting people paid timely and accurately. 

The same way rapid movement is a red flag, seeing evidence of loyalty to a company through the hard times can be a huge way to build trust while sourcing. 

Bonus! Payroll is a community.

Finally, and this is a bonus, payroll is a community. This might be my best tip of all. Put simply, the best place to start sourcing for a payroll person is by asking a payroll person. They can always share former colleagues who they respect, or who they think would be successful in a role. There is a great chance they can rattle off a few names, or at the very least, they have a network to reach into to get the names of good folks. I love sourcing new folks and these tips will help you to source the best, but hands down, every referral has been great. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official viewpoint or position of Check. The content provided here is for informational purposes only. You should not construe any such information or other material provided as legal or professional advice. If you require legal or professional advice, please contact an attorney or other suitable professional advisor.

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