I'm Doing a Bad Job. Can I Still Get a Raise?

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I started a new job about 6 months ago. My predecessor here worked for the department for 20 years. When she retired, the boss decided to divy up her duties. About half of them were dispersed to existing staff members. And about half of them were set aside to give to a new hire - namely, me.
A significant portion of her former workload has already rolled back to me, due to employee turnover and the fact that most of the people who got these duties when she left didn't really want them, anyway. I'm probably doing about 85% of what she did, and even some things she didn't do. And she had an assistant! But I am still only earning 50% of her salary, with no administrative support. (My role gives me access to salary numbers, so I know that I really am making 50% of her salary, it's not just guessing on my part.)
It seems like a pretty clear cut case of "march into the boss's office with a list of the tangible things I am doing beyond my job description and ask for a raise," right? One problem. I don't feel like I'm doing a good job.
I mean, I must not be doing a TERRIBLE job, or else they wouldn't keep giving me new work to do. But my time here didn't overlap with my predecessor at all, and nobody else in the department has done this job. She left me a scant 3 pages of instruction, and the rest of her vast knowledge retired with her. In short, my training was abysmal.
My direct supervisor runs the entire division, and I'm lucky to get an hour with him every month. I am floundering, and a little overwhelmed. It feels like nearly unspeakable chutzpah to ask my boss for a raise when my performance is so mediocre.
We have formal evaluations coming up in a few weeks. I want to be prepared to discuss the nature of my position, and to advocate for a raise if it is appropriate. But when is it appropriate? Is it fair to ask, if I get only a middling performance review? And how can I ask for more training without sounding incompetent or whiny?
You have a very good argument for an increase in pay. You know enough not to just start spouting the "It's unfair! I earn less and do more!" line because that doesn't help matters. We'll assume that your boss knows that you know what your predecessor's salary was and that he knows you can do the math, so no need to bring that part up.
Your other problem is that you don't feel like you're doing a stellar job. Sometimes we make the mistake of not going to our bosses when we have problems because we want to get everything fixed before we ask for help. This can be a silly thing to do. It's kind of like not going to the doctor until your sore throat clears up because you wouldn't want your doctor to think that you actually get, you know, sick.
So, here's my recommendation.
  • Write yourself a new job description. If you have a copy of the one you were hired under (or a list of your original responsibilities), that would be swell. Take that list and show what tasks and responsibilities have been added.
  • Write a list of goals for yourself. These are areas you know you need to improve in. Be specific on areas you lack skills in.
  • Write a tentative plan for gaining the skills needed. It's okay to include mentoring from your boss and others.
  • Present this to your manager. Show him the increase in responsibilities, the plans for the future, and the help you'll need to achieve those.
  • Ask for a raise that is commensurate with the job you are doing, not the one you were hired for. There's no way he's going to double your salary to bring you up to where your predecessor was, but if you've made a strong argument that you're not doing the job you were hired to do, there's a strong chance for a good raise.
  • Don't worry about being perfect. There is a learning curve in all jobs. Make it clear to your boss that you are learning and are progressing, but you don't need to be perfect.
Hopefully this will help you start the conversation and get you both the money and the help you need to be successful in your new job.
Photo by mrbill, Flickr cc 2.0