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How to ask for a pay rise – and make sure you get it

·7-min read

Check comparable salaries

Try to find out what somebody doing your job, in your region, with your number of years’ experience is likely to be paid. “Then use this as a benchmark for your own negotiation,” says Davinia Tomlinson, the founder of rainchq, a financial education website for women.

If you are employed, Glassdoor and Totaljobs have calculators you can use to find out the average salary for any job located anywhere in the UK.

Ask your HR department for the current salary bands for your role.

Speak to a recruitment consultant about the kind of salary you could command if you looked for an equivalent job, or “go on job sites and see what’s being advertised right now”, says Simon Horton, the author of Change Their Mind: 6 Steps to Persuade Anyone Anytime. “You’ve got to help your boss persuade other people like their boss, HR or the finance director. The more real life examples you can give, the better.”

If you have friends or colleagues in similar roles, ask them what they are being paid, Tomlinson says. “In the end, pay transparency is in everyone’s best interests.”

There may be a gender pay gap in your industry, so if you’re a woman, “don’t only talk with other women to get your facts – or you might not realise how high is possible”, says Angelique Bellmer Krembs, the co-author of You Should Smile More: How to Dismantle Gender Bias in the Workplace.

Understand the going rate for your industry and level of experience

IPSE’s Andy Chamberlain

Ultimately, your goal with this research is to enable you to argue that your current pay is not in line with the market, where demand is strong and job vacancies are at a record high. “Great employees cost a lot to replace and, given the current market, you’re already in a strong position,” Ellie Green of Totaljobs says.

If you are a freelancer, you should constantly review your rates, says Andy Chamberlain, a director at IPSE, the non-profit organisation for the self-employed: “Understand the going rate for your industry and level of experience.”

Join a Facebook or Slack group for freelancers in your industry and ask how much you should charge to find out how much clients are paying others in the current climate.

Another approach is to estimate how long the work will take you, and how much you will need to be paid for that time if you are to generate the annual salary you are hoping to earn – or could command if you decided to get a nine to five job. “Once you have your ideal figure in mind, add 10-20% on to that final figure to allow room for negotiation,” Tiwalola Ogunlesi, the author of Confident and Killing It, says.

Be positive

Rid yourself of unhelpful thoughts such as: “Asking for more money makes me look greedy.” Ogunlesi says: “Ditch that thought and replace it with something more empowering like: ‘Asking for more money shows I’m ambitious.’”

Horton says: “Don’t negotiate yourself down, even before the meeting. If you think you’re worth a 10% pay rise let 10% be your starting point. Don’t give your boss a discount before you’ve even had the conversation.”

UK five pound, ten pound, twenty pound and fifty pound notes with one pound coins.
Get into a positive frame of mind when asking for a pay rise. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Meet face to face

Carve out a specific time to talk to your manager – ideally at a time you know they aren’t going to be busy or distracted – and make sure you make the pay rise request face to face. “This is harder to turn down than one made on messenger or email,” Green says.

Octavia Goredema, a career coach, recommends rehearsing what you plan to say several times, on camera, before you do it. “Observe your body language and reflect on how you sound.” It makes a real difference, she says.

Be friendly …

Never underestimate “the power of likeability”: “Tone and attitude are important,” says Scott Walker, the author of Out of Chaos: How to Become a World Class Negotiator.

The organisational psychologist Dr Lynda Folan recommends spending the first 30% of your allotted meeting time building a rapport with your boss by chatting to them about their life or their interests outside work. “We respond way better to someone we feel like we connect with,” she says.

… but confident

List your achievements. “Avoid using filler words or language that undermines you like ‘this might be a silly question’, ‘no worries if not’ or ‘I hope this makes sense’,” Ogunlesi says. “This is not the time to play the humble card or downplay your expertise. If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect others to believe in you?” she says. Outline your strengths and accomplishments with confidence and conviction.

One trick is to pretend you are advocating on behalf of a friend. “This dissociation can help you put your best foot forward without cringing,” Tomlinson says.

Be specific about what you have achieved since your last pay review and the value that you have added to the business in the last year or since you took on the role. Demonstrate how you have exceeded your original responsibilities or gone above and beyond what is expected of you doing a similar role.

“It’s not about your need to pay your mortgage or student loans. It’s about your worth, value and results in the role,” Krembs says.

Close-up of a businesswoman sitting in an office
Don’t be afraid to list your work achievements. Photograph: Itanistock/Alamy

Offer to take on more

Think about your long-term career goals and offer to take on more of your boss’s work, particularly if you can delegate some of your own work to someone else, linking any pay rise to meeting additional, higher-level targets and responsibilities.

You want to put your promotion or pay rise request in terms of how it’s going to help them with their issues

Author Simon Horton

That way, you can frame your pay rise request as a desire to take on more rewarding and important work and to spend your time in the most impactful way for the business, suggests Linda Babcock, the author of Women Don’t Ask. “If you are negotiating your duties, think about the projects or tasks you’d like to work on that will build your skills and help you move up.”

There is also then a sweetener in the deal for your boss, which is important, says Horton, who trains hostage negotiators, lawyers and corporate dealmakers. “You want to put your promotion or pay rise request in terms of how it’s going to help them with their issues.”

They will be thinking about how they can get their own pay rise or promotion, and freeing up more of their time so they can meet their own targets will appeal to them. “If you can link it to their drivers – their real drivers – then they are much more likely to go: yes, this makes sense, let’s do it.”

Join a union

If enough people in your workplace join a union, it can put in place collective bargaining structures so that there’s either an annual or a biannual process, during which the pay of everyone in the company is reviewed.

“The employer will put an offer on the table or the union will put a request for a pay rise on the table, and they’ll bargain over that,” says Kevin Rowan, a Trades Union Congress spokesperson. “You’re not then going cap in hand to your employer, as an individual, saying: ‘I’ve worked really hard, I need a pay rise.’”

Instead, the whole of the workforce is effectively negotiating on your behalf, Rowan says: “And the whole of the workforce is clearly much more powerful than you, as an individual.”

Give notice

If you are freelance, it is perfectly reasonable to explain that your business has been affected by the recent price rises or increases in the cost of energy or raw materials, for example, and that your rate is going up as a result – but it’s a good idea to give your clients some advance notice before you do so. “You might say: I’m increasing rates for all my clients by 10%. You’re a really good client to me, so I’m not going to do it with you until a certain date,” Horton says. “Then, in your invoices, put the full price on there, and underneath that a line with the 10% ‘loyalty discount’ and state the end date.”

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