Asking for a pay rise is one of those weirdly difficult things to do.
It can feel super awkward, fill us with self-doubt and even make us nervous about our job security. Maybe you’re worried about upsetting your boss or putting a manager in a difficult position.
Asking for a pay rise can be something that feels very loaded – for example, I remember how in the wake of the launch of Gender Pay Gap Reporting in 2017, several friends discovered discrepancies in how they were being paid compared to male colleagues. Many of them didn’t know if they were even really allowed to negotiate for more money at the time and it was only after many a late-night discussions that some of them did.
The fact is that if we find talking about money taboo, asking for more of it – even from an employer – can seem unthinkable.
But we work for money. We set rates for our time. We handle budgets and manage money daily in the workplace. Why shouldn’t we also negotiate for ourselves?
The fact is that we really should negotiate our salaries. According to Linda Babcock, an economist from Carnegie Mellon University, people lose thousands, if not millions in wealth over the course of their career by not negotiating, especially when they’re more junior. This is especially true for women and minorities who may typically be offered lower salaries than white men and are less likely to negotiate (although data somewhat conflicts on this one).
“A little-known secret is that employers actually expect you to negotiate and rarely present you with their best offer the first time round,” says Shoshanna Davis, founder of The Fairy Job Mother (@thefairyjobmother) “Negotiating salary is important as it shows your current or prospective employer that you are capable, confident and comfortable with what you have to offer and ultimately won’t settle for less than you deserve.”
So how do you do it? How do you get over any long-ingrained nerves and ask for that pay rise? A lot of it comes down to the same principles we’ve historically discussed about the art of negotiation: preparation, collaboration and empathy. But let’s break it down specifically for those moments when it’s about you, your career and being paid what you’re worth.
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Step one: Build your case
Arm yourself with information. The most important thing you can do when asking for a pay rise is make sure that you have as much data to hand as possible about the role, responsibilities, salary band and so on. This could mean going online to scope out what kind of salary you might expect for a certain role at different companies.
Karma Bertelsen says that before she goes into any discussions around salary or pay rises, she goes on Glassdoor. “I check the average price my job title gets and also look at what competitors are paying for my role,” she says.
Alex Holder, author of Open Up: The Power of Talking About Money, adds that speaking to colleagues, friends and ex-bosses can also be very helpful. The whole point is to get as much information as possible before you go into the room. She also suggests never applying for a job unless there’s transparency around the salary on offer. Without this crucial piece of data, it’s hard to truly build your argument and it may also be that the role doesn’t offer a salary that pays what you expect or deserve.
Preparation also includes making sure you’ve thought beyond money about what matters to you in a role. Would you take a lower salary for more holiday days or a better set of office-based perks like pension contributions or private health care? What about additional training or a percentage of time for a side hustle? Not everything is about money, so you may also want to think about how you can find a mutually beneficial
Step two: Plan your moment
The easiest time to ask for a pay rise is, of course, when you’re applying for a job. Asking upfront what the salary band is gives you the chance to say from the outset whether it meets your expectations.
But what if they won’t tell you what the salary is in the job offer? Or if they won’t even broach it during an interview? Holder actually suggests not applying for any job that isn’t transparent about the salary on offer – and honestly, if someone tries to fob you off with ‘competitive’ in 2021, it really is a red flag. This is the moment to be as candid and upfront about money – to lay down your cards and have an open, honest conversation about salary, benefits, shares, and so on. If your potential employer won’t come to the table with an equally collaborative mindset, then they may not be the best people to work for.
Of course, if you’re rising the ranks, taking on more responsibility and so on, then you may feel you deserve a pay rise whilst you’re in your current role.
“Once you’re in a job it can be more challenging unless your company reviews salaries after probation or on a regular basis,” explains Rebecca Siciliano, Managing Director of Tiger Recruitment. “It’s important to choose your time wisely. In the middle of a pandemic is not ideal, particularly if your company has been badly hit. Instead, start planning ahead and gathering the information you’ll need to broach the subject with your boss when the time is right.”
In other words, timing is about empathy. You have to weigh where you are and where you think the company is to maximise the potential for the conversation to go the way you want. This isn’t to say you should let someone push you back or hold off the conversation – after all, there are ways other than direct remuneration to bridge the gap between a discussion and a pay rise.
For example, as Siciliano says, “If they simply can’t afford to increase your salary, think about some of the other benefits you could negotiate that would make you feel valued, such as more days working from home or extra paid holiday.”
“Also, schedule an appropriate time to revisit the conversation around pay,” she adds. “If your employer feels your performance doesn’t merit a pay increase, ask what more you need to do and what specific targets you need to hit in order to qualify, ensuring you agree on a time to check back in on your progress.”
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Step three: Make the first offer – but be prepared to walk away
If you’re in a job and you lean into the conversation about salary first, it’s a power move – but research also shows that making the first bid allows you to “anchor” discussions in your favour. It shows you’re serious. Plus, if you’ve done your due diligence then you’ll be opening up a warm, informed conversation where you can express what you want and why you think you deserve it.
If the conversation just isn’t working – negotiations have broken down, there’s no way for you to achieve what you want or your employer won’t budge on their position – then the other thing to consider is whether you’re prepared to move jobs, change companies, or take yourself out of an opportunity.
Davis, The Fairy Job Mother, believes you should ask yourself, ‘what number or type of offer is so low you’d have to turn it down and walk away’. It’s a great question – and in my own experience this has always steered me towards the right kind of companies. For me, whilst salary has always been a key consideration, it’s also the flexibility to maintain freelance side hustles and passion projects that I’ve valued most. Roles that haven’t allowed that freedom haven’t been the right places for me. So when you’re negotiating, remember that you have boundaries too and if someone is asking you to break them for the job, then it might not be the right place for you.
Step four: Remember what not to do
There are some no-go-zones in negotiating – and this is particularly true when asking for a pay rise.
Siciliano, Tiger Recruiting, emphasises that it’s more about getting the basics right than anything else. She says, “Rushing in without doing your homework is a no-no. Simply saying, X has had a pay rise, so I deserve one too isn’t going to cut it. You need to be able to present a compelling case, which might be that you’ve taken on additional responsibilities or haven’t had a salary increase in a number of years.”
Focusing on the personal over the professional is also a big no from both Siciliano and Davis, The Fairy Job Mother.
“Avoid focusing on personal needs like rent is so expensive or you’ve just bought a new house and have a mortgage to pay as it’s likely the person you are negotiating with is dealing with similar situations themselves,” says Davis. “Instead focus on your performance, achievements and what you can bring to the role.”
This is key because ultimately your salary is what you’re paid in return for your output at work – so bringing in your personal needs outside of work isn’t a good move. Saying that, there are stories where people have asked their employer for letters of intent around salary or bonuses in order to take out certain loans or apply for a mortgage. If you have a strong relationship with your boss, you may be able to broach the subject in a different way – but it really should not be your starting point for a straight salary negotiation.
Step five: Choose your words carefully
In Voss’ art of negotiation class, he talks about tools in your negotiation arsenal, like the power of silence and how to reframe a question so it’s about helping both sides, opening up a dialogue instead of a one-sided offer.
For example, when you’re asking for a raise, silence really is a powerful lesson to apply – it’ll take away some of the temptation to commit yourself to an offer too early.
Likewise, an appropriate response to the first offer at a new job might be, “Thanks for that, I’m going to get back to you on it”. Don’t worry about putting in pauses or taking this conversation across more than one meeting. This is particularly true if you’re applying for a new job, where you need time to really reflect on what’s been said, what’s been offered and whether it’s right for you. It’s an important decision so don’t rush it.
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