Get the Raise You Deserve

A step-by-step guide to negotiating the right pay package.
BY ANITA DENNIS

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
AFTER SEVERAL YEARS of WORKING FOR A COMPANY, CPAs may find their duties have grown or changed but their salary hasn’t kept up. In other instances new hires at the company with the same responsibilities may be earning more for doing essentially the same job.

TO ADDRESS ANY OF THESE SITUATIONS, CPAs have to educate themselves about what their job responsibilities are worth and put a case together for their employer that shows they deserve more pay. Then they are ready to approach their boss and ask for a raise.

THE FIRST STEP IN THE PROCESS IS TO TAKE STOCK of where you stand. Compare your original job description with your current duties. The documentation the company uses for its performance evaluations—which often lists duties—is a good place to start. This may be all of the information a CPA needs to prove he or she deserves a raise—or a promotion with higher pay.

AFTER DECIDING THEY DESERVE MORE MONEY, the next step for CPAs is to check the numbers and determine how much. It’s important to approach your boss with solid salary research. A number of Internet resources are available to find out what other companies are paying.

THE FINAL STEP IS TO MAKE THE RIGHT CASE for a raise. However, all of your research will be useless if you approach your supervisor at the wrong time. Make sure he or she is in a good mood. The best time to ask for a raise is right after you’ve completed an important project or instituted a cost-cutting initiative.

ANITA DENNIS is a freelance writer and JofA contributing editor.

re you being paid what you’re worth? Many CPAs begin working for a company with one set of responsibilities but as time passes their duties gradually grow or change. As a result they end up assuming the responsibilities of a higher-level job without a commensurate pay increase. In other cases CPAs who have been in a job for a while find that new hires with the same duties are earning higher salaries because the company’s incremental increases for existing employees have not kept up with changing market conditions.

A Decade of Salary Increases

Here’s the salary an assistant controller would have earned over the past 10 years:

Company sales
volume in millions
to $50
$50 to $250
$250+
1994 salary
$39,000 to $52,500
$49,000 to $61,000
$57,000 to $76,500
1999 salary
$42,750 to $59,500
$52,750 to $69,250
$63,250 to $84,000
2004 salary
$43,750 to $66,250
$56,500 to $83,500
77,750 to $113,000

Source: Accountemps, www.accountemps.com .

Experts say there are several steps CPAs who find themselves in one of these situations should take. First, get educated about what your job responsibilities are worth today. Then, put together a compelling case for why you deserve to be paid more. Finally, determine the best way to approach your boss to make sure your request for more money is approved.

Many people were reluctant to press for more pay during the recent economic slowdown, notes Reesa Staten, vice-president and director of research at the financial staffing and placement firm Robert Half International in Menlo Park, California. But with a recovery apparently in sight, those concerns may be unfounded. Her company has found CPAs can earn as much as 10% more than candidates without the credential. Their skills always provide value to employers, and given recent business reforms and a renewed focus on corporate governance, CPA expertise is particularly in demand. Accounting professionals who remain aware of their companies’ changing needs—and how they can address them—will be able to make a strong case for higher pay. This article explains how CPAs in business and industry can do just that.

Tools for Determining a Salary Range
S
everal Internet Web sites give users a sense of the proper salary range for a given position. To see how they worked, we created a hypothetical assistant controller employed at a pharmaceuticals company in northern New Jersey. We visited different sites to find out what type of information this person could obtain. We found the sites below offer free salary reports that provide very general information about a particular job title in specific geographic locations. Three of the four offer a more personalized report for under $50. (We did not include sites intended mainly for users who want to post job openings or conduct a job search.) CPAs also can use these sites as a step in their investigations of salary levels.

Careerjournal.com . The Wall Street Journal ’s career site offers information on the low, average and high salary for a given title in a specific metropolitan area, as well as data on bonuses and benefits. The list of job titles is alphabetical, and is not sorted by career or profession (there was no listing for assistant controller). The site does offer a wealth of articles and information on job and compensation issues. Subjects include salary, hiring and job-hunting information, advice and tips on managing a career, articles from career columnists, insights on working with executive recruiters, updated news and features on career issues and forums.

Payscale.com . In its free basic report, this site asks users for professional information about job type, location and industry, as well as issues such as certifications, company filing status, annual sales and the employee’s signing authority and education. We learned that our hypothetical assistant controller could expect a salary of about $72,400, plus or minus $12,900—not the strongest data to take into a salary negotiation meeting. The site also offers a premium report for $14.95 that includes an overall compensation report, a list of popular benefits usually associated with this position, information on average salaries by job, skill, certification and experience and a geographic job outlook.

Salary.com . This popular site offers a simple salary report that gives users an idea of the high, low and median salary for a particular job in a specific area. For example, the Salary Wizard found that an assistant controller in northern New Jersey could expect to earn a median salary of $103,376, based on national averages adjusted to that location. A personal salary report—which is more customized and considers employer size, industry, whom you report to, how many people you manage, how long you’ve been in this occupation, your usual performance ratings and your education (including quality of school and the relevance of your degree to your job)—costs $49.95. The site also helps you find out what benefits you can expect based on your compensation and offers a fairly generic self-appraisal tool that ticks off a list of skills and questions you can ask yourself to see how you rate in different areas. There also are a variety of articles on job-related issues such as negotiation techniques and advice columns and forums.

Salaryexpert.com . To get a free report, you have to fill out a survey that asks for standard information on your job and also includes a few wacky questions such as how often the job requires exposure to extreme cold. On Salary.com, we had picked “accountant” as our career, then were asked to choose from a long list of possible accounting titles; on this site, however, we were given a limited choice of titles that did not include controller or assistant controller. We learned an accountant in northern New Jersey earns an average of $60,596, but that really wouldn’t be helpful to our hypothetical pharmaceuticals industry assistant controller whose job is more specialized. The site does offer customized reports, including a premium salary report for $24.95.

Step 1: TAKE STOCK OF WHERE YOU STAND
To begin the process, “review your original job description to find out what your duties were supposed to be,” advises career consultant Robin Ryan, the author of 60 Seconds & You’re Hired and Winning Resumes, among other books. “You may realize you’ve been taking on more and more tasks that were not originally supposed to be part of your job.” The documentation a company uses for its regular performance evaluations—which often lists duties—is one possible source of the necessary data. Your company’s human resources department may be another source.

Armed with this information, “create a table that lists the tasks in your original job description and your current duties,” Ryan says. “Do you now supervise two people even though you weren’t hired to do so? Make sure you include a column that describes how your duties benefit the company’s bottom line, such as how you cut costs by introducing efficiencies in specific areas.” Create another list of more general ways you have added value to the job by, for example, learning new skills or software programs or training junior employees.

At some companies this may be all you need to prove you merit a raise. Or you may come to suspect you deserve a promotion rather than just a raise—and at some companies that’s what you will need to get a truly significant increase in compensation. If your company has implemented a salary freeze, you may want to argue for reclassification at a higher level with higher pay. One resource CPAs can use in this case is Robert Half’s Glossary of Job Descriptions for Accounting and Finance, which lists job types and definitions (see “ Resources for a Broader View ”). Objective sources such as this glossary can help you make a case for a raise or reclassification.

Step 2: CHECK THE NUMBERS
Once you’ve decided you deserve more money, the next step is to determine how much. Whether you are seeking a raise or a promotion, it’s important to approach your boss with solid salary research. (See “ Resources for a Broader View ” and “ Tools for Determining a Salary Range ,” for sources CPAs can use to get a sense of what companies are paying.) While these resources are a starting point, it’s a good idea to look in your local newspaper’s classified ads for positions that require your skills at companies like your own, Staten says. “If you can tell your boss that ABC Corp. is offering $10,000 more for this job and you can back up your request with an impressive performance record, you make a stronger case.” Employment agencies or executive recruiters also may publish salaries for job openings in their advertisements or on their Web sites. Check salaries offered for new openings at comparable local businesses and perhaps even at your own company.

The Hiring Picture: Quietly Positive
D
espite sluggish job growth across the economy, CFOs expected a net 4% increase in hiring in the third quarter of 2004, according to the most recent Robert Half International Financial Hiring Index. That was down two points from second-quarter expectations, but up four points from the previous year. Among the CFOs who expected to add staff, 59% cited business growth as the primary reason, an increase of 13 points from second-quarter 2004 survey results.

Robert Half International attributed the year-over-year increase in hiring optimism to business confidence fueled by recent positive economic trends, but noted that many companies are waiting for signs of sustainable growth before taking on more staff.

At the same time, “initiatives related to Sarbanes-Oxley compliance are fueling demand for accounting and internal audit professionals on a full-time and consulting basis,” Robert Half Chairman and CEO Max Messmer says. “This trend is likely to continue as organizations seek to ensure the accuracy of their financial reporting and strengthen their internal controls.”

Trends by Region and Industry
CFOs in companies along the Atlantic coast from Delaware to Florida were the most optimistic, the index showed, with 9% expecting to add financial staff and none foreseeing cutbacks, based on strong construction and mortgage industries. “In addition to internal auditors to help with corporate governance-related activities, companies in these states report increased demand for financial analysts, accounts payable and receivable personnel, and general accounting professionals,” says Messmer.

In New England 8% of CFOs expected to hire more full-time accounting and finance staff, while 7% of finance executives in the deep South and Texas expected to do more hiring.

Among industries, demand for accounting professionals was strongest in the transportation sector, according to the index, where 19% of CFOs expected to increase staff and none expected staff reductions. In the finance, insurance and real estate industries, 11% of executives planned to add new accounting staff.

Step 3: MAKE THE CASE AT THE RIGHT TIME
All of this research may be useless if you approach your supervisor when he or she is having a bad day. “Your boss needs to be in a receptive mood,” Ryan says. “The best time to make your request is right after you’ve completed an important project, brought in a new client or instituted a cost-cutting initiative.”

CPAs also should consider their manager’s style. “If you’re dealing with a very analytical person, he or she is going to want charts and graphs to support the numbers you’re presenting, while someone with a more intuitive style may respond better to an open discussion” about why you deserve a raise, Ryan says.

In any case it’s best to tell your boss exactly how much money you’re looking for instead of expecting him or her to guess the figure you have in mind. With your research in hand, it should be easy to document the increase you believe is reasonable.

Experts urge CPAs to remember to put the company’s interests first in whatever arguments they make. “Focus on your performance, not on your personal needs—the fact that you have a mortgage to pay or kids in college,” Staten says. “Keep the conversation focused on your contribution to the company.” Ryan agrees. If you give them good reasons to have you on the staff, most sensible people will pay more, she says.

Negotiate but don’t threaten. Remember to maintain a professional attitude throughout the meeting. “Be careful not to negotiate yourself into a corner,” Staten warns. ”For example, don’t threaten to leave a company unless you’re fully prepared to resign.” In general, she adds, it’s best to keep the tone of the conversation positive and friendly by focusing on what you’ve done for the company, not on what you will do if you don’t get a raise. Becoming defensive when you hear something you don’t like can cause you to miss what the other person is saying. Instead, listen actively and focus on the points the manager is making. This will help identify common ground. Those who fail to listen actively could miss key information about why the manager can’t give them a raise and what they can do to secure one in the future, Staten notes.

PRACTICAL TIPS TO REMEMBER
CPAs who remain aware of their companies’ changing needs and how they have addressed them will be able to make a stronger case for higher pay.

To find out how large a salary increase to request, consult the array of Internet resources to get a sense of what other companies are paying for similar work. Also, look at newspaper classifieds for similar positions. Employment agencies and executive recruiters often publish salaries on their Web sites.

When asking your boss for a raise, consider his or her style. Some respond well to charts and graphs while others may react better to an open discussion of changes in job responsibilities and market conditions.

When negotiating a salary increase, never threaten to leave a company unless you are prepared to resign immediately. Keep conversations positive and friendly and avoid becoming defensive.

IF ALL ELSE FAILS
No matter how good your research, there’s no guarantee you will get a salary increase or a promotion. So leave yourself a fallback position. If the company is not in a financial position to give you a raise, ask whether you can revisit the issue in six months, Staten recommends. Ask for a cash bonus instead of a raise, an extra week of vacation or some flexibility in your work schedule. Some companies may have limited budgets, so they may be more willing to offer alternative rewards. If you still get a no, don’t give up. At least get a commitment to reevaluate at a set date. (For a look at how one controller negotiated the salary increase she wanted, see “ Getting a Salary Readjustment. ”)

Above all, CPAs should not be discouraged if their first efforts don’t work. “Ask yourself, ‘What will it take for me to earn a raise?’” Ryan advises. The answer reveals your future at the company and whether staying on is a good idea. Following these steps “shows you place a high value on yourself and your skills,” she adds. “Sitting and waiting for your boss to notice you is a poor strategy. Giving him or her reasons for a raise is a wise one.” Throughout the process she recommends maintaining professional self-confidence.

RESOURCES FOR A BROADER VIEW
AICPA Resources
Competency Assessment Tool. The AICPA Competency Self-Assessment Tool helps CPAs assess their proficiencies and compare them with the highest and most valued qualifications in their area of expertise. The tool is free for AICPA members and includes a model for accountants in business and industry. Readers can access the tool at www.cpa2biz.com/CPEconferences/CAT.htm . More information is available by calling 800-634-6780, option 1, or e-mailing AICPALearning@aicpa.org .
Other Resources
Many organizations provide annual salary guides or surveys along with advice on career and compensation. Here’s a list of some of them.

www.BusinessFinanceMag.com . This annual finance executive career and compensation survey analyzes the market for finance professionals and reports on median total compensation for several finance executive positions, trends in compensation and issues such as typical CFO responsibilities and key compensation drivers. To access the most recent survey, go to www.businessfinancemag.com/resources/salary/index.html . The site’s SalaryCentral also offers an “interactive compensation database” and career management articles.

Department of Labor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook ( www.bls.gov/oco/home.htm ) has information on the requirements and duties of specific jobs. The bureau also offers median national salaries for various positions, including some in accounting, but they are not broken down geographically, by experience or by job title.

Ecomponline.com . This site by Aon Consulting lets users enter a company name and find the salary and bonuses of its top corporate officers, based on SEC data. While it won’t tell most of us what we’re worth, it provides insights into what CPAs can aspire to.

Institute of Management Accountants Salary Guide. The most recent IMA salary guide assesses trends in its members’ compensation. It can be found at www.imanet.org/ima/docs/1100/1084.pdf .

Jobstar.org . This site has links to a wide range of compensation information, including salary surveys for more than 300 industries and jobs, along with information on resumes, career guides and job research. There is a section devoted to the accounting profession that includes links to information from the AICPA, Robert Half and Accountemps and CFO magazine. While the information is useful, users should check the dates of the reports listed to ensure they are current.

Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Accountemps Salary Guide. Robert Half’s annual salary guide provides data on average starting salaries in numerous finance and accounting positions, from CFO to treasurer to general accounting and payroll staff, categorized by company size and by job title and some based on years of experience. There are 25 general categories in corporate accounting, all broken down into subcategories. (There are separate sections for banking and brokerage jobs and for public accounting.) The guide also provides regional analyses and advice on negotiation and interviews. The 2004 guide can be found at www.accountemps.com/html/downloads/RHFA_AT2004SalaryGuideUS.pdf . Robert Half International’s Glossary of Job Descriptions for Accounting and Finance provides descriptions of jobs—including education, experience and credentials or special training usually required—along with a list of typical duties for the position. The functions covered include corporate accounting—finance and operational—public accounting, banking and financial services. To obtain a copy, call 800-803-8367.

Robinryan.com . Career counselor Robin Ryan’s site offers new career articles each month and an archive of information on subjects such as salary negotiation secrets, networking and improving resumes. CPAs also can sign up for her free newsletter on career issues.

ValuationResources.com . This site, actually intended for business appraisers, offers a long list of links to online compensation and salary information, including executive and officer compensation databases and government information. It can be found at www.valuationresources.com/CompensationSurveys.htm .

SEIZING AN OPPORTUNITY
While a higher salary always is an appealing goal for any employee, the steps described in this article can offer CPAs benefits that go beyond purely financial considerations. They give professionals an opportunity to take stock of where they stand compared with others at the same level and help them become aware of new education, training or credentials that might enhance their careers. CPAs who stay informed about the career paths available to them are in the best position to reap rewards—monetary or otherwise.

CASE STUDY
Getting a Salary Readjustment

Career adviser and author Robin Ryan offers this case study—based on the actual experiences of one of her clients—to show how proper research and negotiation work in practice.

T he controller of a small but growing company had taken on more and more responsibilities during her four years on the job. The company grew into a $100 million business, and the controller was overseeing its information systems as well as a more complicated operations function. She had received raises, but they were not as significant as they should have been, Ryan says. “Often, when growth is gradual, salaries don’t get adjusted accordingly.”

In column one of a spreadsheet, the controller listed her original job duties as they were spelled out in her personnel file. In the second column, she described her current responsibilities and the expansion of the areas she oversaw. While operations had doubled in size during her tenure, her own streamlining had made it possible for her to handle all of the expanded responsibilities with only one additional staff person.

The controller researched the kinds of salaries other companies were paying for the added responsibilities she had taken on. In a meeting with her CFO boss, she presented her chart and salary research. She cited sources that showed controllers with similar duties working for comparable companies were making $10,000 to $20,000 more than her current compensation. She then said: “My salary is out of sync. I’m hoping you can see the value that I bring to the organization. I would like to discuss how to bring my salary more in line.”

In coaching her for this meeting, Ryan says she advised the controller to be quiet after she made that statement, to give her boss time to respond, before jumping in to defend her position. Ryan reminded the controller that most managers need to consult their own boss and human resources before taking any action on salary increases, so she should be prepared to have to wait for an answer.

Despite the fact that the company had a pay freeze in effect, after discussions with the CEO and HR, the CFO changed the controller’s job title to director of finance. This promotion came with a $15,000 raise.

For CPAs in similar situations, Ryan offers these tips:

Rehearse beforehand what you’re going to say and stick to your key points.

Know your facts. In this case the CFO asked human resources to verify the salary figures the controller had presented.

Know your audience. The CFO was an analytical person and a good team player. He was open to the controller’s argument because she offered accurate details and demonstrated her value to the company.

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