By Jonathan Milligan
One of the most challenging areas of work life that most professionals face is asking for a raise. It just feels uncomfortable to most people on so many different levels. They are concerned that bringing up the topic puts a target on their back and the whole conversation might lead to a dismissal. I have seen this to be especially challenging for accountants. Accountants by nature are hardworking, detail driven, loyal workers. While this is an admirable trait, it can also become a weakness if not monitored closely. Employers assume you are happy with your pay because the topic is never discussed. I want to share with you some principles that can help you to get that raise.
Start off right in the beginning. This is important enough for me to say this right up front. Typically, you get the biggest salary jump when changing jobs. While you do not need to be greedy, companies understand that they need to give you an incentive to make a move. Never take a lateral move or pay cut. Only in an extreme situation would I ever advise you to do so. Also, never bring up the salary issue in the interview process. The more value you can show up front, the easier the salary negotiations will be. When the topic does come up, let the employer start with a number first. You will be in a better position of control.
Negotiate a 90- or 120-day evaluation. I have to give credit to a former candidate of mine with this one. The company wanted her as its new CFO, and yet we had a $10,000 base salary gap before we could close the deal. Her idea was to start off at the salary number they suggested and then at the three-month mark, sit down and renegotiate her salary. She had a plan for showing the company how in the first ninety days she would save the company more than double the amount in question. She believed in her abilities to get the job done. This is such a great idea for accounting professionals because they know how to improve the bottom line, which speaks volumes to business owners.
Negotiate a lump sum bonus for meeting an important goal. I have also seen accounting professionals negotiate a bonus if they can meet a certain goal. Maybe it is saving the company X amount of dollars as mentioned previously, or fully implementing a new process that will save the company man-hours and reduce overhead costs. You have to have the right situation for this to work, but it has been done.
Give no ultimatums. Sometimes you just have to ask. While this may sound simplistic, you have to understand that no one is looking out for you except you. I do not mean that in a harsh way, but the reality is that your supervisor is busy, and it is not fair to him or her to be judged on salary issues if he or she does not even know it is bothering you. Just be sure that when you ask for a raise you do not add ultimatums. This is never a good approach and can appear to your employer that you are not loyal. Just simply ask.
Know your value. I am surprised at how many workplace professionals do not know their true value in the marketplace. They often have no idea how far behind the curve they are with their counterparts. This is no one's fault but your own. Ask around and find out what you are worth. One of the best ways to determine this is to talk with an employment recruiter in your niche. They can instantly tell you whether you are underpaid or overpaid for what you do. They are specialists in the salary department, especially if they are working a local marketplace.
Increase your value. While this may go without saying, it still needs to be said. Do you see your job as just exchanging time for money? If so, you have the wrong view of work. Good things happen eventually to those who give their best every day. Opportunities open up, whether in your current company or a future company. Creating tons of value gives you lots of leverage in the conversation.
Write down your accomplishments. While you never want to gang up on your supervisor, it is important that you have confidence in your own value. Take some time to write down some of the worthwhile things you have accomplished. What projects have you led to successful completion? What processes have you improved upon that have resulted in saving the company money each month? What ideas have you brought to the table that have been implemented? What have you contributed toward making positive changes? Writing these down will give you the confidence that you need in the conversation.
Know when it is time to make a move. Unfortunately, sometimes you have no choice but to find a new opportunity. It is possible in today's marketplace to be loyal to a fault. Gone are the days when you work with the same company for thirty years, get the gold watch, and are taken care of with a pension fund. Those opportunities are few and far between. By knowing your value in the marketplace, writing down your accomplishments, and talking openly with your current supervisor, you will be in a position of strength. This will help you to discern a new opportunity when it comes along.
Jonathan Milligan is an executive recruiter/career coach from Florida who has successfully placed hundreds of accounting and finance professionals. He operates a successful career-coaching blog aimed at those interested in building and improving their career in accounting and finance.