How to Craft a Payroll Resume That Will Stand Out

When applying for your dream payroll job, how do you make sure you’re among the most promising candidates?

Simple: Make the resume reviewer’s job easy. Managers want to hire skilled professionals, but they don’t love the vetting process. That’s because sifting through applications can be tedious and time-consuming. Executives look at an average of 40 resumes per job opening and spend 12 minutes on each one, according to a recent Robert Half survey. From that stack, you want them to have an easy time choosing you.

Here’s how:

  1. You against the machine: Use the right keywords

Managers seldom are the first ones to read job applications anymore. That goes for payroll jobs, too. When you submit your information, it often goes directly into an applicant tracking system (ATS), which scans your documents for predetermined keywords. For example, if SAP experience is a required qualification, the recruiter will search for “SAP”; a resume without that keyword won’t see the light of day — not matter how long you’ve been a super user of this enterprise resource planning software.

To get past the ATS gatekeeper, you’ve got to use language a machine understands. Make sure your payroll resume contains the right keywords. Scrutinize the job posting to figure out what terms a hiring manager (and therefore the ATS) is likely to search for. (Hint: Keywords are often the phrases listed under both “major responsibilities” and “required skills.”) Then use them naturally. Modern ATSs, not to mention the human who will eventually see your application, can detect keyword stuffing.

  1. Tailor the resume to the job

After the hiring manager found you by searching for certain keywords, you need to convince them you have the entire package — experience, skills and credentials — they seek. Submitting a generic resume isn’t making the manager’s job easy. It’s likely to lead the recruiter to skip over it and go on to the next candidate.

Instead, figure out what the employer wants to see and make it easy for them to see it. A summary statement is a good place to speak directly to the manager. These few sentences should highlight your most relevant and impressive skills and accomplishments. Use active verbs and stay away from buzzwords. Focus on the qualifications the job posting emphasizes. It goes without saying that you should submit a slightly different resume for each payroll job you apply for.

  1. Highlight your core payroll skills

When an employer picks up your resume, the first thing they look for is your direct payroll experience, such as:

  • Payroll systems (Sage, ADP, Lawson, Kronos, Paycom and so on)
  • Credentials like the CPP (Certified Payroll Professional)
  • Multistate and/or Canadian payroll
  • Recent coursework in taxation and regulatory compliance

Many payroll jobs are blended with other related roles, especially in smaller businesses. When applying for one of these hybrid positions, be sure to mention your skills in benefits administration, onboarding/training, administrative support or accounting. Take advantage of the cover letter to draw attention to key aspects of your payroll resume and play up the breadth and depth of your industry knowledge.

  1. Show off your technical abilities

Payroll is relying more and more on cloud-based platforms, not only for payroll processing but also for financial reporting and generating operational data. As such, tech skills can really make a payroll resume stand out. So if you’ve got them, flaunt them. Mention your proficiencies with Microsoft Office, especially Excel. List all the payroll, accounting and HRIS (human resources information system) software you know. What’s more, tell prospective employers you enjoy working with technology and are eager to learn new systems.

  1. Demonstrate your soft skills

While it’s true that today’s payroll jobs are highly technical, much of what a payroll specialist does still relates to people. There are new employees to process and possibly onboard. When an employee’s paycheck has an error, it’s up to payroll to troubleshoot and resolve that issue. You also have to be able to work well with colleagues within and outside of payroll. All of that requires self-initiative, creative thinking, and excellent written and verbal communication skills. Bilingual abilities are a bonus. Make sure all this comes across in your resume.

Don’t just list your soft skills; tell how you’ve used them. For example, describe a time a non-finance colleague complimented you on how understandable a presentation you gave was because you tailored it to your audience and didn’t fill it with payroll-specific terms others wouldn’t know. Or, if you speak a second language, give anecdotes about how you were able to help an employee your coworkers couldn’t.

Your payroll resume is a sales brochure with one purpose: to convince prospective employers to contact you for an interview. So make it easy by “speaking” directly to them and their needs.

Accountemps, a Robert Half company, is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. Accountemps has 300 locations worldwide. More resources, including job search services and the Accountemps blog, can be found at

For more information about our local market, assistance with filling open positions as well as help with identifying a new opportunity please contact Jennifer Cox at 817.870.1200 or