The rules of successfully asking for a pay rise

Peter Botting
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Ok. You want a raise. Who doesn’t? But you are different. Obviously. You deserve it. Your friends and family have told you that you do for all the hours and effort you have been putting in. And the salary you happily accepted when you took the job just doesn’t stretch as far as it did. Prices have gone up, your tastes have become more expensive, you have just married, moved, had a kid etc etc. But how to ask?

Asking for a raise has all the potential to be a conflict negotiation. As soon as you walk into the boss’s office you quit being a happy corporate “we” and become “me” and they become “them”. You value your time at X and your boss may or may not agree. Plus they read and hear about all the people looking for jobs - and probably have a bunch of unsolicited job applications from highly qualified desperate applicants arriving every day.

Think about your boss’s position for a minute. There are five main reasons why they would consider giving you a raise. If you don’t recognise yourself in any of these (and you are not related to the boss) I strongly suggest that you set out to qualify for one or more of these criteria or just stay where you are - happy that you have a job.

You have become absolutely better than you were at what you do and deserve tangible recognition for this - as opposed to cash-free praise or small-cash drinks or golf with the boss.

You have become faster or more proficient, or you have gained extra qualifications and abilities. The qualifications thing is made more complicated if your employer has financed the courses you have completed. When is their payback complete for their investment in you?

You have become relatively better (quicker, faster, more accurate/reliable/creative/profitable) compared to your colleagues - but you still do the same role. You have taken on more responsibility - effectively increasing the scope of your job, rewriting your job description and a raise is a recognition of this in lieu of, or prior to, an actual promotion. They want to reward or thank you for extreme loyalty or similar during tough times.

They want or need to keep you. Because:

  • You have special skills, abilities, contacts/networks and the employer’s current or future success is dependent on these. The danger here is that any sensible employer will be aware of any over-dependency on a single employee and will be working hard to decrease that dependency. They may become more aware of their dependency on you and work much harder to become less vulnerable if you ask for unreasonably more money. The great opportunity here is to ask for a promotion and to become more senior or gain equity rather than just to ask for money.
  • You chose to ask for a raise at a time when you know that your employer is vulnerable because of colleagues being away on holiday or leaving. They will resent this, tag it as blackmail, and it WILL go in their mental black book against your name. Not clever long-term.

The seven rules of successfully asking for a pay rise

1. Be objective about whether you qualify for a pay rise using the checklist above.

2. Do your research - Research what the average pay for your position and industry is. Get a realistic idea of what someone in your position is likely to be paid, check that you are doing that role fully, and adjust your expectations accordingly. Also learn about the company’s pay increase policy - who decides and when? It may be a yearly review or ad hoc.

3. Prepare your pitch - View asking for a salary increase as a sales pitch. List clear, concise, specific and objective reasons why you should be given a pay rise. Sound and behave reasonably and grown up. Petulance doesn’t pay. Explaining that you should be paid more because you increased sales by £X million in a specific period of time is more compelling than saying that you deserve a pay rise because you worked hard. Or worse - “Tried/did your best.” or “I am struggling to get by financially.”

4. Be reasonable. Consider your company’s position when asking for a pay rise. Maybe they have just gone through a round of budget cutbacks or redundancies or maybe you didn’t get a salary increase but you had a fair bonus or time off or a company car.

5. Choose your timing carefully. This means the right day and time for your boss. Everyone has stress times, like Monday mornings or the first few hours they are in the office. If you decide on a time and a day and the mood smells bad in the office that day, abort and plan for another time. Choose the right time for the company - just after they have secured a new client is obviously better than the day after they just lost one.

6. Have a number and a range. Do not march in to see your boss asking for an unspecified pay rise. This is too vague. Go into the room with a number in mind and logical objective reasons behind how you got to that particular number. These reasons should not be about the extra costs of your new mortgage - they should be focused on why you are more valuable now than you used to be.

7. Be gracious and grown up. If you get less than you wanted or no increase at all, remain calm and gracious. Don’t take it personally and don’t get cranky with your boss or your co-workers. Instead ask what you could do differently or better or more to qualify for a pay rise, try and agree with your boss that this would justify a pay rise and discuss timetables for reviewing your progress

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