The 2018 Robert Half Salary Guide contains some great news for public accountants hoping for a pay raise: CPA salaries continue to be strong across the board.
Accountants who are well versed in tax and audit are especially in demand. For example, the midpoint salary for public accountants with one to three years of experience in tax services is expected to be $56,500 in the year ahead. Those with a similar amount of audit expertise can expect a midpoint salary of $51,000. At the midpoint, candidates have average experience with the necessary skills to meet the job requirements.
How does your compensation package compare with the average range in your city? You may be due — or overdue — for a pay raise. Use our Salary Calculator to find out what CPA salaries are offered in your city.
How to ask for a pay raise
Many professionals, including accountants with in-demand skills and years of experience, feel uncomfortable bringing up the topic of a pay raise. But management won’t know whether employees are dissatisfied with their salaries unless they’re told. What’s more, executives would much rather increase their staff’s take-home pay than lose them to the competition. So don’t wait for your supervisor to pay you what you’re worth. Start preparing now,
1. Pick the right time
It’s not a good idea to ask during peak periods, such as the height of tax season or the end of a fiscal year. Your request may need to go further than your immediate boss for approval, and there’s a greater chance of things getting shelved or falling through the cracks when management is busy. Ideally, the right time to ask for a pay raise is after the busy season and when your boss isn’t getting ready for a vacation. Even better is to bring up the topic after you’ve just had a big win, such as landing a major corporate client or when the department exceeded its quarterly goal.
2. Schedule a meeting
You need your boss’s full attention when you make your case for a pay raise. This isn’t something you stop your manager in the hall to discuss. Make sure you have enough time so you don’t feel rushed. One possibility is to bring up the subject at the end of your annual performance review. You could also ask during a regularly scheduled one-on-one session, or request a meeting to discuss just this topic.
3. Know your value
How much more money should you ask for? You likely don’t know the salaries of others in your firm, so the next best thing is to use the Salary Guide. When deciding on a number, aim for somewhere above the median but not more than 5 percent above your current salary. Be ambitious enough that you’ll have room to negotiate, yet realistic enough that your boss doesn’t question your judgment.
4. Present your case
A manager’s decision whether to award a pay raise is often a question of value: What is an employee’s contribution worth? So before your meeting, have a list ready of the many ways you’ve added value to the firm, such as projects you’ve completed and the number of clients you’ve served. If you’ve received thank-you notes from happy colleagues or satisfied clients, include those kudos as well. Be sure to leave this list with your manager, who may need to explain to their own boss why you deserve that raise.
5. Be ready to compromise
This is a negotiation, so your boss may counter with a lower amount or give you the full increase on the condition that you take on additional responsibilities. Whether you accept this is up to you, but consider the offer and respond with respect. Take 24 to 48 hours to decide, if necessary.
Alternatives to a pay raise
If your salary is already above market value or your employer is not in a position to offer a pay raise right now, you can try asking for employee perks and benefits.
The Salary Guide points out that public accounting firms haven’t historically been places that allow a healthy work-life balance, but that’s changing as employers work harder to retain top talent. Depending on your situation, you could request additional time off, a flexible work schedule or a few days a week of working from home.
Another alternative is professional development. This can mean the company helping you to obtain industry certifications, placing you in a mentorship program or paying for your membership to professional groups. In addition, management could assign you to projects with the intention of building your hard and soft skills as a precursor to a promotion and raise.
Demand is up for CPAs, so take advantage of the moment. No firm wants to lose star performers, and few managers can afford to spare the time it takes to recruit, hire and train new accountants. The time is right for you to ask for a pay raise and get what your expertise is worth.
Editor's note: This post was updated recently to reflect information from the 2018 Salary Guide.