What Good Is a Raise If There's No Extra Money?

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: September 17, 2012

Q: Hey Jack,

Hopefully you can help me out here as last week, during my third week of employment as the assistant to the CFO at a small business, the owners/upper managers decided to fire the CFO rather abruptly. No specific mention was made of a succession plan but it was heavily implied that the CFO would be fired and I would be stepping in. I was confident I could and asserted so, but no real conversation ever took place regarding a plan or offer. 

After putting me off for more than a week despite my repeated attempts to talk with them, I got the opportunity. I ask for $50k a year which I have assessed as pretty much the lowest fair amount of compensation I would accept. I justify this through a number of points but the main ones being the large increase in work/responsibility and the very conservative estimate that the old CFO was making at least $50-60k a year. Adding that position to my current full time position at under $30k means a savings of at least $30-40k a year for a superior department as I have already demonstrated my ability to succeed in the position.

He said he appreciated my greed, that he likes greed. He said that $50k is a good goal to shoot for and would be putting a system in place for me to make bonuses that should make me that much. This would happen in a month and a half but he would mark the date to have the interim included. I told him I think an incentive program like that is good but I need to have a wage increase immediately as well for the work I took on. He was very hesitant, even saying that I wouldn't get the increase for the week I've just worked if I even got an increase at all.

The next morning nothing happens. When I finally did talk to my boss he said he had to look at the big picture and that I had a very good opportunity in front of me but I would have to wait a while to see something. The company has just hired a couple new people as well as upgrading offices so I know the cash is there not even considering the amount they saved by firing the CFO. I feel like they are taking advantage of me and the situation and trying to use their leverage to have me accept no additional pay until they get this "bonus system" in place which has no real timeline. I do find it insulting the way this has been handled although I have not acted any way but professionally. 

I want to know how to best get them to agree to my reasonable expectations without things getting ugly.


A: Dear Sean,

The surreptitious way they fired the old CFO, ignoring you now, making you fight for access to the president, the vague promises, the "no retroactive" pay, the exclusion of you from decision-making meetings, and many other indicators point to very low integrity on the company's part. This could possibly be from the company falling on hard times you don't know about and their desperate moves to keep themselves afloat, or the company owners are simply "users."

A leopard doesn't change its spots. Your boss and the president are not likely to change their personality either. Your best path is to keep on pursuing fair compensation. You've done a good job so far writing up documentation insisting on meetings, and catching people at the end of the day. Your research and analysis of your pay grade, and the dollars attached to it, seem accurate.

If their pattern is the same, understand that they will fire you one day. It won't have anything, really, to do with your performance. Do the best you can in the job and make sure you document what you can so that if push comes to shove later you have evidence and documentation you're operating at the level of CFO. Then, as tough as it seems, it's time for you to look for another job.

Good luck,

Jack Chapman is a Career and Salary Coach, and author of "Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute." For more negotiating advice go to www.salarynegotiations.com or e-mail jack@salarynegotiations.com