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Certification Is Worth All Your Effort

BY: Sheena Neel, CPP | 07/17/19

I extend a big congratulations to all newly certified Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) and Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) designees. You have taken a major step in advancing your career and setting yourself up as a leader in the payroll community. If you were like me, you invested time, effort, and money to pass your certification exam.

I passed my CPP test in September 2015. During that summer, I spent five Saturdays in a classroom from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. listening to lectures from payroll professionals with the Dallas Chapter of the APA. Then, after tucking my 1-year-old son in bed, I spent countless hours trying to memorize The Payroll Source®. And, after dropping my son off at Grandma’s house, I sat in the local coffee shop for hours quizzing myself on wage caps, base limits, tax rates, penalty fees, and so forth.

I took the CPP exam to mature and prosper as a payroll professional. Employers recognize the need to require FPC or CPP certifications for payroll leadership positions within their organizations. The certifications signify to employers that a prospective or current employee is knowledgeable, skilled, and, most importantly, competent. After becoming certified, I felt more confident applying for managerial positions. I was confidently able to tell the hiring manager that I am serious about my career choice and that I am determined to advance in the payroll field. Those three letters after my name make me a valuable asset to any company. Furthermore, they demonstrate that I possess more knowledge than the average payroll professional, that I am continuing my education in this ever-changing environment, and that I will persistently prove to be a valuable contributor to their organization.

Having a payroll certification has given me the confidence to respond to tricky payroll questions posed by any of my company’s employees, including the C-suite executives. When my CFO asked me why his bonus check was taxed at a higher income tax rate, he would not have been satisfied with an answer of: “Well, that’s how the system calculated it.” Instead, with my newly acquired knowledge and skills, I was able to tell him exactly how his paycheck was calculated, step by step, and with documentation from reliable sources.

Payroll is far more than just pushing a button. The payroll professional’s main job is to make sure that whichever payroll software is used complies with all federal, state, and local laws as well as company policy. Our job is to make sure that the software stops the social security tax deduction when it reaches the wage base limit, or that it treats certain fringe benefits as non-taxable, or that the company is remitting taxes on time and accurately. If a payroll professional is not doing his or her job correctly, it could cost the company millions of dollars in penalties.

The certification exam is hard, but so are our jobs. We are the unsung heroes of any corporation. The payroll department employees are usually the last to leave the building, often work during the holidays, and take shorter vacation breaks than others. We recognize the need to strive for perfection, find practical solutions, and prioritize projects. We listen to employee complaints, empathize with their situations, and do the best that we can to make sure that our fellow employees are paid on time and accurately.

Don’t forget that getting your certification is not the end! You must also renew your certification every five years. You can do so by attending luncheons at your local chapter, going to classes, conferences, and listening to webinars from the APA, and getting more involved in the payroll community. In fact, attending the APA’s Annual Congress allows you the opportunity to collect up to 25.5 RCHs in just four and a half days! And, don’t forget about Virtual Congress, May 22-23, where you can earn an additional 15 RCHs (Virtual Congress is included with an All-Access Congress registration).

A great way that I’ve been able to collect credits toward my CPP certification has been by volunteering as a teacher at my local APA chapter. Being able to pay it forward to help new or experienced payroll professionals has been rewarding. I am not the best public speaker, but there is no greater joy then helping a student achieve a “light-bulb” moment. The best feeling in the world is to be able to celebrate with a student who has passed his or her exam. Plus, it looks great on my résumé.

For those of you who are considering applying for your certification but are unsure if you will be able to pass the test, I have two words: “Don’t be!” Yes, it is a very difficult test with a lot to learn, but if you put in the time and effort, the test is passable. I can assure you that you will not regret it. If you are looking for a mentor or a study group, reach out to the APA.

Again, I would like to send out a hearty congratulations to our newly certified payroll professionals. You have taken a huge step toward advancing your career. Continue educating yourself on the payroll laws and find a way to give back to the payroll community.

Visit the Education & Certification section of the APA website to learn more about the CPP and FPC exams and to see when the next exam takes place.


Sheena Neel, CPP, is Payroll Supervisor at Marconi Group and a member of the Dallas Chapter of the APA.