asking for a raise when your job changes in your first month

A reader writes:

I wrote to you recently describing how I was turned down for a position with an organization I volunteered for and was subsequently offered another position entirely to be the Executive Administrative Assistant/Communications Assistant. Well, I accepted the offer, negotiated an extra $1.50/hour, and was thrilled!

Two days before I started, I found out (from a coworker, not my supervisor) that the office manager had resigned and would be leaving less than a week from my start date. When I got to the office for my first day, I was told that I would be taking on the office manager’s duties in addition to my own. That was a bit of an unexpected shock, as it is not at all what I signed up for and the position could not be further from my own professional interests. However, it’s a nonprofit and I’m willing to take one for the team. I got as much information as possible from the office manager before she left, but I am still feeling very unsure about this. I am not at all a financial person and suddenly that has become 80% of my job. There are no plans in place to hire an office manager, so it looks like this will become a permanent situation.

This morning, I came to work and found out that our receptionist (who worked very closely with the office manager) has just accepted another job offer and will be leaving in the next couple of weeks. So, within my first 8 days on the job, I have gone from doing 1 job to being expected to take on 3.

If I had known that from the beginning, I’m honestly not sure I would’ve accepted the position. I certainly would have asked for more money! I realize that some of the office manager’s duties are a natural fit, but most of what I have been doing is not even remotely related to the job description I was given.

I know you have said before that it’s bad form to ask for more money this early in the game, but I honestly feel that dumping an extra 2 jobs on someone in the first month is just as bad! So my question to you is whether or not this changes the “don’t ask for a raise right after starting just because you didn’t negotiate” rule and, if so, how to start the conversation. Any insight you can give me will be greatly appreciated!

Well, first, before you assume that this is going to be a permanent situation, find out for sure. Just because the office manager’s role isn’t being advertised doesn’t mean that they don’t intend to fill it — they might be moving more slowly than they should, or they might already have a candidate(s) in mind so they’re not advertising. And it doesn’t sound like you have any reason to think that they’re not going to fill the receptionist job. So the first thing to do is to find out what their plan is. Sit down with your manager and ask what the plans are for filling these two jobs, and what the likely timeline will be.

You might be told that they’re working to fill the positions and hope to have them filled within a couple of months. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t ask for a raise — at least not yet. While it’s going to be temporarily more and different work than what you signed on for, sometimes this stuff happens — and in entry-level roles in small nonprofits, it’s pretty common to be expected to help out where you’re needed. It’s appropriate to talk about compensation if it’s going to be long-term or permanent — but if it’s helping out for a few months, you pretty much just do it or you’d come across as culturally tone-deaf in most of these situations.

However, that doesn’t mean that you never end up getting compensated for it — rather, it’s a question of timing. Your ability to pinch-hit like this is exactly the type of thing you can cite in making a case for a raise down the road. (Generally after one year, except in very exceptional circumstances.) Not as in, “I did this so you should pay me extra,” but more, “Part of my value to the organization is my ability to step in when needed, take on different and additional work, and keep things running smoothly, as I did earlier this year when I filled in for Jane and Bob when they left.”

Now, if that’s not how it plays out — if instead you’re told that there aren’t any current plans to hire for these roles and the work is going to be part of your role for the foreseeable future — then you’d handle this differently. And how exactly you handle it depends on context I don’t have. More specifically…

If it’s a very small nonprofit, it might not be unreasonable to combine all three positions into one for the time being — I’ve certainly seen small organizations that have one person who handles all this stuff all on her own. It’s not inherently unworkable, if the organization is fairly small. That doesn’t mean that you want that job, and it’s not the job you signed up for, but as far as asking for more money goes, you’ve got to keep in mind that it’s possible that they’d be able to hire a single person covering all those areas for about the same as they’re paying you currently. If that’s the case, it’s going to be hard to make a strong case for a raise right now … but you could certainly revisit whether or not this is a position you want. (And if it’s not, then you have nothing to lose by asking for a raise, if you’re planning on leaving if you don’t get one anyway.)

But of course, there are also cases where it wouldn’t be reasonable to combine all three — due to the organization’s size, workload, and/or the expectations associated with each role. In that case, you could more feasibly ask for a higher salary to reflect the significantly changed responsibilities you’re taking on. The problem, though, is that as a fairly recent grad, you aren’t necessarily in a great position to know if this is one of those situations or not. (But if you have mentors who have some experience in the nonprofit sector, you might ask them for their opinion.)

Either way, though, the bigger issue is that you’re now stuck with a job you might not have signed up for if you’d known all this originally — at least not at this salary. If it’s short-term, then it’s just something to put up with. But if it’s long-term, go to your manager and say something like, “I’m glad to help out in covering these additional areas. But to be honest, if I’d known from the start that my job would include these responsibilities, I would have negotiated salary differently. Can we talk about adjusting my salary in order to reflect the new responsibilities I’m taking on?”

And one last thing, because it comes up here a lot: When three jobs are combined into one, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be doing the work of three people. You’ll be doing work from three different areas, yes, but not “the work of three people.” If three people were doing the work, there would be more work, it would be more in-depth, and there would be more responsibilities. I say this because people often use language like “the work of three people” in these situations, but it’s wrong and can lead you to make arguments that won’t hold water with your manager, so it’s important to think about it more clearly.

I want to be clear that I’m not minimizing what you’re being asked to do — you’re being asked to take on work you didn’t think you were signing up for, and it’s harder to keep track of three areas than one, even if the overall workload is about the same. But I do want to make sure that you’re thinking about this aspect of it clearly, so that when you talk to your manager, you don’t make arguments that she’ll be dismissing in her head. Good luck!

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