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A Specialist Recruiter’s View | Payroll with Sarah Onions

Posted on September 2021

Sarah Onion specialist finance recruiter
Sarah Onions, manager in our Birmingham office has specialised in financial recruitment for nearly a decade. She was also a payroller prior to joining us so we considered her the perfect person to share her insight during payroll week.

What are the best ways for someone to enter into the payroll profession?

Getting involved with timesheets or clocking cards in your current place of work will give you an advantage. If this isn’t possible, studying a CIPP qualification or obtaining a Payroll Diploma can show you’re serious about this area of work, and payroll managers will definitely value that. Keep your eyes open for roles and contact managers on LinkedIn for advice, as they might be willing to train you up.

What opportunities are there for progression?

Once you’re working in payroll, you can become more senior in the position and move into management. Alternatively, you can go into app development with a payroll software company, enter sales at the same organisation, or go into project work. The role can take you around the world as a lot of payroll teams are offshored or outsourced.


What impact has Covid-19 had on those working in payroll?

It’s greatly increased their workload; they were dealing with furlough and the compliance that goes along with it. There was also a lot of stress involved as it was a new situation for everyone to manage.


What continuing effect is this likely to have?

This is not necessarily because of furlough, but the demand for payroll workers has really increased. Because most candidates were employed throughout Covid, they’ve felt secure in their roles and haven’t been on the market, which has pushed salaries up by a lot; I know several candidates who have moved companies and jumped from £22k to £27k salaries.


What are the top skills and characteristics recruiters are looking for in those applying to work in payroll?

It differs from sector to sector: In the NHS, they are constantly looking for candidates with experience using the ESR system; in education and local government, clients look for people with knowledge of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS); and across the private sector, qualifications are prized, but so too is an experienced packed CV .

Managers primarily want a candidate who is knowledgeable about statutory payment rules such as parental and sickness policies, and who can demonstrate attention to detail.


What benefits can successful candidates expect from working in payroll?

Firstly, it’s a very stable job. Lots of roles are automated, but payroll is about people, and there will always be a need for a person in the chain. It’s also a really interesting role. I was involved in payroll before recruitment and enjoy recruiting for this profession; there are lots of nuances and it’s very people orientated.

If you are hiring or looking for your next role please get in touch with Sarah on