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Certification Shows Your Expertise, Revs Up Your Career

BY: Jennifer L. Cordes, CPP | 10/02/19

What gets your résumé noticed among other applicants when applying for a payroll position?


Unfortunately, as we all know, there currently are no college degree offerings with a specialization in payroll, so certification from the APA tells prospective and current employers that you are a payroll subject matter expert.

The Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) shows that you have a solid understanding of payroll fundamentals, and that you have the skill set to learn to process a small to mid-sized payroll. The FPC also shows that you know where to resource statutory limits and payroll compliance. This is important for those where payroll may be an introduction or only part of their job duties. The FPC displayed on a résumé indicates a balanced understanding of cross-functional teams. Other job roles that would benefit from obtaining an FPC are human resources specialists, finance and accounting team members, project managers, recruiters, and others serving the payroll industry such as sales and client representatives. The FPC could possibly even open up the opportunity for more roles to perform or manage.

The Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) certification shows that in addition to your years of payroll processing experience, you have the skill set to process more complex payrolls. In addition to processing, you have the skills to understand payroll accounting, payroll systems, and payroll taxation. All payroll leads, managers, directors, and above should possess their CPP designation and show a history of recertification. An undergraduate degree or even a graduate degree will get you through the door to interview for payroll leadership positions, but it is your CPP designation and certification history that will put your résumé at the top of the stack.

If you have had your CPP certification for more than five years, then you have recertified, which tells prospective and current employers that you have had at a minimum 120 hours of payroll-related continuing education. This means that you are current in payroll-related areas such as updates to payroll-related legislation, compliance, and annual limit contributions. Each year your certification is maintained paints a picture of your growth as a payroll subject matter expert.

Did you know that certification may also offer college credit toward your degree? The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendations Service (ACE CREDIT) has evaluated and recommended college credit for the successful completion of the FPC and CPP exams. In addition, some of the APA’s educational courses offered to prepare for the exams have been recommended for college credit. It’s important to check with your college on whether you can gain the credit hours earned while working toward your certification.

Lastly, gaining your certification from the APA is an investment in yourself. Once you earn your certification, you will continue to grow in your payroll knowledge by attending continuing education courses to maintain your certification. This continuing education can also be updated on your résumé. This means one less skill area for which a current or prospective employer needs to send you for training. I have heard some peers comment, “My employer doesn’t pay for me to attend classes” or, “My employer doesn’t pay for my certification exam.” When I first hear this, I empathize and strongly agree with them that employers should contribute toward the professional growth of their employees. But then, I ask them, “Why is this stopping you from getting your certification?” The certification designation is yours—not the company’s. Save up, if needed, but invest in yourself! Obtaining your APA certification is a rewarding step forward in your payroll career, whether it be with your current or future employer. Invest in yourself.

Jennifer L. Cordes, CPP, is Manager of U.S. Payroll for Rackspace. She is a member of the APA’s Strategic Payroll Leadership Task Force (SPLTF) Best Practices Subcommittee and Small Employers’ Best Practices Subcommittee, the Government Relations Task Force (GRTF) IRS Issues Subcommittee, as well as part of the APA’s Education Advisory Committee and the Board of Contributing Writers for PAYTECH. She received the APA’s Meritorious Service Award in 2017.