How to Secure Your First Role in Payroll

Tara Higgins, Senior Associate, with our Cork team, is a finance recruiter leading the transactional and part qualified finance team as part of the specialist finance team in Barden’s Cork Office.

In part 6 of our ‘Barden Payroll Series’ Tara provides advice on how to secure your first role in payroll.

Considering a Career in Payroll

When you Google the question ‘how to become a payroll specialist’ you get the following answer:

“Becoming a payroll specialist usually takes experience in the field and or completion of a certificate program. Certification is also available for payroll specialists who wish to prove their skills.”

Many people consider a career in payroll, for a host of different reasons. Perhaps you have completed the IPASS qualification already…maybe you know someone working in payroll…or maybe you’ve simply done your research and feel like this might be an area you’d like to pursue and build a career in.

However, how do you pursue a career in payroll without the necessary experience?

Getting the Necessary Experience

When applying for roles (and not just in payroll) it can become disheartening to hear all the time that you need to have experience. But where do you start, and how do you get this experience?

In payroll it can be particularly difficult to get the experience. A number of factors influence this including the fact that you are responsible for someone’s salary. As a result, this role requires strong attention to detail, excellent analytical skills and a great degree of trust too. Let’s remember too that salary is one of the main reasons that people go to work! Without the experience and track record of trust built up it’s hard to know where to start when applying.

So, What Can You Do To Get The Necessary Experience?

Knowing where to start is half the battle! We deal with experienced payroll professionals on a daily basis and over the years have gathered some amazing advice from people who have walked a similar path to you. We’d like to share with you some of  the steps they took at the beginning to get where they are today – be it a payroll specialist, payroll project manager or Head of Global Payroll. Hopefully this advice will help you to secure your first role in payroll….

Use Your Network

If you have completed IPASS, use your IPASS network & the IPASS portal to search for junior opportunities in payroll (see

The very same goes for if you know someone who is currently working in payroll. Buy them a cup of coffee, ask them to be your mentor, perhaps they have the name of someone who gave them a chance or maybe there’s an opportunity in their company that they can recommend you for.

One thing for sure is that they will have some good advice and be able to help you prepare if you get an opportunity to interview. Speaking with people who have walked the walk is never going to be a time-wasting exercise and it’s something most people will be flattered by too.

Talk to Your Current Boss

Ask your current boss if you can assist and or shadow the person who completes the payroll.

We’ve seen this work well in a number of cases, particularly in the SME and or hospitality industry, especially where you’ve built a strong working relationship and trust with your boss over time.


Some multinational companies offer internships for graduates so keep an eye out for these opportunities. You could easily set up alerts for these on the popular jobs posting boards.

Try A Different Role

Apply for broader finance or office administrator role in SMEs where there is an element of payroll. If you have accounts, finance or administration experience, but have no opportunity in your current role to branch into payroll, apply for a role where you have most of the experience, but also where payroll also forms part of the job specification.


If you don’t have a huge amount of work experience this might be your best bet. Write letters to accountancy practices and or offices offering to help out in payroll one or two days a week free of charge. This is something you could do alongside your current role.

Be Flexible

There are many ways you can be flexible. Flexibility improves your likelihood of securing a role you don’t have all the requirements for.

  • Salary: The greater the learning, the less the earning should matter. Sometimes a short-term decrease is worth it in the long run as you’re acquiring a new skillset and looking to build a career in a new direction where you don’t currently have the experience.
  • Contract vs Perm: Applying for temporary or contract roles where there are a lower volume of applicants you will be more likely to secure an opportunity to interview.
  • Location: Applying to locations where there may not be a huge amount of applicants, may provide more opportunities. E.g. SMES based in the countryside.
  • Part-time vs Full-time: Once again this means that there may be fewer applicants.
  • Organisation: You are more likely to get your first opportunity on a smaller payroll team, which will more likely be in an SME.

For more about flexibility check out the Barden Career Model and the earning vs learning curve.

It’s All About Perseverance & Flexibility

When clients come to us they usually have a list of criteria that they need people to meet before they will interview with very few exceptions to this. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t thinking about the ways we can help people who want to work in payroll but don’t yet have the necessary experience.

Hopefully this article will help anyone at this stage, and will give a few different tips and avenues to pursue. Remember the key things when learning any new skill is perseverance and flexibility – starting your career in payroll is no exception.


Barden’s Payroll Series

Recently launched the Barden Payroll Series aims to deliver payroll focused content and interviews with the payroll profession, and shine a spotlight on payroll as a career in the Irish market. Feel free to get in touch with Tara Higgins or Niamh Ennis if you’d like to have a chat about the payroll market, career opportunities, building your payroll team or have an idea for a blog.

To view the other blogs in our series, click the links below…

Getting Your Payroll CV Just Right

PAYE Modernisation…What Has It Got To Do With Me?

The Difference Between In-House and Outsourced Payroll

Continuous development, quick progression and notable rewards…just some of the reasons why you should consider a career in payroll.

An Interview with Steve Bevan, Global Payroll Lead, Itron, Inc.






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