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How to ask for a pay raise when you don't want to find a new job

I am a tax accountant in a non-profit health care company in Tennessee. I do not have my CPA which is not required for the position although it is valued. Two years ago my company realigned the salaries in the tax and finance departments and I was bumped up to an Intermediate level based on my experience at that time. However, my salary has remained at the bottom of the range and new employees coming in at a lower level, are paid the same, if not more. The company, and my boss, do not have a practice of conducting performance reviews unless someone is underperforming, or having a problem. Whenever I have asked for performance feedback and a discussion about my goals, my boss simply says how happy she is that I am there and that I have come a long way. This is not satisfying. The less than one percent raise last year felt like an insult and clearly has not moved me from the bottom of the pay range for my position. I have taken on additional work, always make my deadlines, and never say no to a new assignment. I've been very forward offering help to the finance department during the slow time in the tax department but have not been given much work from the managers there. I would prefer not to leave the company at this time as my husband is transitioning to a new career so I am carrying the financial burden for our family. Any advice on how to open a conversation with my boss without backing myself into a corner?

Answers

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

It's never easy to ask for money in my opinion. You can do a Salary Comparison from places like Payscale.com or Careerbuilder and then just present the findings. Put together an analysis of the things you have done well for the company or implemented, etc. Much like you have laid it out of us then ask if she might be able to give you a viable time frame of when you might be able to expect an increase. Do you budget? If so, you could open it up to ask when salary increases have been budgeted.

My main advice is to have raw data of improvements along with average salaries compared to your own. Facts are hard to argue with. Good luck!

Anonymous
(Tax Accountant) |

Thank you for your advice. I will prepare more data for support.

Anonymous
(Controller) |

Salary averages are good to understand where you are to the market but not to be used to ask for a raise. If you are serious about a raise, keep it simple and straight forward. Ask your manager for a raise. You will need to be prepared to provide them with list of accomplishments and extra duties you have taken on. Last, sell yourself for the future. If the manager cannot support your request at this time, ask them to help develop a plan (what & when) to get a raise and/or if there is another position you can increase responsibilities to get a raise. This will give you a sense if the manager is going to work with you or if you need to start looking external.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

<> You definitely need both.

Salary averages are only that - averages to guide salaries. If a company can get people at lower-than-average, it certainly will. New folks hired in at higher salaries than "old-timers" is quite the norm as well. Not necessarily fair or right - but normal.

When you can document that you make / save a company more money than it costs for them to keep you on staff - THEN - you have the grounds to ask for more salary that you deserve, not that you want or need. When your contributions are measurable, the company can quickly see what losing you would actually cost the company and the incentive to pay you what you deserve in order to keep you on board is much greater.

Without measurable impacts that speak directly to your value to the organization, your argument is much more likely to fall on deaf ears. Deserve will always trump want/need and even fair.

Anonymous
(Tax Accountant) |

Thank you for your reply and advice. However, how do I quantify my contributions? What is reasonable? I can probably get the starting salaries for accountants working at local public accounting firms but they tend to work many more hours during the year. Is that a reasonable comparison?

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

You are welcome, Joan.

Comparative market analyses are just that - comparative. They are a start, but not the end-all-be-all, particularly if they are working more hours than you.

Unearthing your tangible impacts (value) is a process. I can't answer your question because I have no idea what you do nor where the value of what you do lies. However, until you (and not "you" specifically but as a collective) get to that place of being able to understand and articulate value, you (collective) will always be forced to accept the pay given rather than demand the salary-for-value desired.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

Cindy,

You said "When you can document that you make / save a company more money than it costs for them to keep you on staff..." Sage advice and true, because you are either making the company money or not; and saving money is almost as good as making.

However, that is sometimes very difficult in a non-sales role. Sure, as Christie said, if you can show a direct correlation of what you've done and a reduction in some metric, then you have fulfilled your advice.

But what if you don't have that type of metric (many lower and mid range accounting/finance may not), how do you quantify?

Ernie Humphrey CTP
Title: CEO & COO
Company: Treasury Careers
LinkedIn Profile
(CEO & COO, Treasury Careers) |

I used to keep a spreadsheet of my responsibilities, those that were in my job description, and those which I had "accumulated" since my time in a current position. Then under each I listed my accomplishments, and where I had gone "above and beyond". You can do a few basic Google searches and find examples of job accomplishments for your given job title for ideas.

If you have your accomplishments defined and have information for benchmarking your job compensation that shows you are underpaid (this includes your location, job title, education, years of experience) then you have a strong case, and that is where you start.

Then you need to be willing to approach your boss and decide how far you are willing to push the conversation. At times this conversation can be educational for your boss, as rarely due they truly understand all that their direct reports due (until they lose them).

In many cases, getting a raise above the company's annual "set amount" is all about your boss and his or her willingness to fight on your behalf with HR.

In a previous job raise amounts were set in aggregate annually and then my boss could allocate among direct reports, Certain years I got more and others got much less, that was because I had a great boss.

At times, it takes as much as a new job title to get a decent raise, and your boss would need to broach a new job title with HR.

An understanding how your HR department determines salary ranges, and the degree of flexibility your boss has in giving raises can help.

If you want to "push hard", yes, you need to be ready to "stir the pot" , and you could be looking for a new job. If you want to "push hard" check the market for your job in your area and have some "oars in the water", be ready to leave.

Note, this will most likely not be a quick fix and the best time to approach your boss may be your next performance review.

Sorry for the long post, but I have struggled with this more than once in the past, fortunately for me I have had bosses who were eventually willing to "stand up for me".

Anonymous
(Tax Accountant) |

Great advice. Thanks for responding.

Douglas Ryan
Title: CFO
Company: with Private Equity Experience
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, with Private Equity Experience) |

Companies pay employees what they (the companies) can afford to pay. So if this has been an ongoing discussion with your employer, they may not be inclined to pay you more if they think you're there to stay. The merits of a pay increase are overshadowed by the argument of your supervisor's justification to his/her boss, "But Jane is going to leave if I don't pay her more!"

That said, don't threaten to leave unless you're willing to back it up. Also make sure you are delivering as much or more value than the people who are making more money than you.

It's important to look at the whole picture, too. How are you perceived by your peers? Are you a joy to work with? Do you help your boss solve problems? Are you performing mission-critical tasks? These would all be reasons I would use to justify a subordinate's raise.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

Without fully understanding your job description for accounting professionals you can add value by decreasing AR days, negotiating better terms on AP, shopping vendors to save money for services, etc.

I would not recommend comparing salaries for entry level accountants if they are CPA's because their license will earn them more money in most cases, unless you have several years of experience in your field.

Payscale.com will allow you to enter in your job duties, years of experience etc to give you a pretty good idea. You can also check out Robert Half and Financial's salary guide for accounting/tax/finance positions. There's is broken down by position and size of company.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

I would suggest you have an open and honest discussion with your boss. It doesn't need to be threatening. It may be a short conversation and the worse that can happen is --- No. Then, you need to have a conversation with yourself and weigh your options. It sounds like you have a positive attitude. Sometimes you have to stay the course and maintain that attitude until something comes along that meets your goals. It is a two way street. As the company is evaluating the alternatives, you need to consider the same.

Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

I would add look to those contributions that align to the companies business values & market differentiators (and differentiates YOU from an average employee)...cross-functional collaboration skills for example, innovation, training/developing people, improving a process etc...hope this helps.

Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

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Darrin Hernandez, CPA
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Solstice Mobile
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Solstice Mobile) |

I've handled this very situation before and used market research (professional publications, information presented by recruiters, and job postings for similar positions to my own from Indeed.com) as a fact-based approach what was my true "market rate". Write out a one-page summary of your accomplishments at the organization along with some sort of financial analysis (we are Accountants, right?!) that shows how you've helped drive revenue and what would it cost your organization if you left, such as recruiter fees, a higher salary they may pay anyway, lost time from your replacement as they learn the job, etc. It will be difficult for your superiors to contend with this approach If you put all this together, complete with explicit examples of salaries of your position at similar organizations.

Should you choose this route, make sure to state everything you mentioned in your posting, how you enjoy working at this organization, etc. and it is not your intention to leave prior to handing over your personal "business case". You will likely come across sincere and non-threatening, which would be counter-productive.

Best of luck!

ArLyne Diamond
Title: Owner - President
Company: Diamond Associates
LinkedIn Profile
(Owner - President, Diamond Associates) |

You don't want to lose the job - perhaps they don't want to lose you! Before asking, i would take an honest assessment of your value to the company - how you are regarded - liked - respected - needed, etc. If this assessment doesn't show you to be an A+ employee than you might be at risk of being replaced if you try to climb too high too soon.

You must know your worth - and then be able to articulate it calmly and clearly, without making threats. Never make an ultimatum unless you are prepared to carry it out.l

Anonymous
(Tax Accountant) |

Thank you for sharing this.

Anonymous
(Tax Accountant) |

I wanted to follow up with all the folks who so kindly responded to my inquiry. After fretting for many months, I finally found the words to address the issue with my boss. I simply said that I had been watching the ads, including those for the position in our department one level below mine, and noticed they were paying more for that position than what I made, and what could I do about it in the future. One week later she came back with the announcement I would have a 10% increase within a few weeks! Clearly I had been underpaid and not adjusted as the other position was being created but the company responded immediately and I am much happier knowing that I am valued. Probably should have gotten 15% but that's for another topic.... :)

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