Despite soaring energy bills, rampant inflation and sky-high rents, wage growth has failed to keep pace.
Asking for a pay rise can be an awkward conversation – and for many the endeavour ends in failure. But amid a war for talent that has seen companies bending over backwards to draw in new hires, the best time to negotiate a pay rise is before you even start.
Marilyn Devonish, a therapist from Hertfordshire, had been earning £12,500 working part-time when she applied for a management consultancy role. Thanks to her negotiation skills, she was able to secure a salary of £50,000.
Ms Devonish, 54, asked the company for fully flexible working hours to go with her salary. “I did my whole spiel and when I got to the end there was a moment of silence,” she said. “They looked at me and said ‘when can you start’?”
‘Negotiate a pay rise at the beginning’
Salary negotiation has become increasingly common following the pandemic, as companies scramble to fill labour shortages.
Of the 1.14 million advertised vacancies in the UK listed on job search engine Adzuna, roughly one in 10 invited salary negotiation.
However, Paul Lewis, of the website, said four in 10 UK jobs are currently posted without a salary range, leaving applicants unsure of where to begin negotiations. “Encouraging negotiation without giving pay ranges may be furthering systemic salary imbalances as well as potentially putting off women and minorities from applying,” he said.
Abby Robbins, of recruitment firm Yellowbricks, starts negotiations on behalf of jobseekers to help them start on the salary they’re worth without souring relations with their soon-to-be bosses. “Companies always have a bracket of what they’ve got to play with and they try to get people to come in on the lowest rung of the salary band, so they can progress through the band before promotion,” she explained.
It is up to candidates to ask for higher pay at the offer stage of an application, Ms Robbins said. “I always go for more even if the candidate hasn’t asked because I know the company has it in the tank.
“It’s hard if you really want a job and you’re grateful for the opportunity but you know you’re worth more. But it’s hard once you’re within a company to negotiate a pay rise – you have to do it at the beginning.”
‘If you don't ask, you don't get’
Samantha Lubanzu, a mum-of-five from Manchester, said she first began negotiating her starting salaries at the age of 17, when she worked at a bank. “I was very cheeky most of the time,” she said. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
Ms Lubanzu, 38, honed a technique of asking her peers what their salaries were before applying for jobs – and demanding percentage based increases at the interview stage.
“I once went for a promotion where I was stepping up to be a leader, but the salary was in the same band,” she said. “I literally bullet-pointed all the extra things I would be doing in the new role and said, ‘I want a 5pc increase more’. It’s better to ask for a percentage increase rather than a flat number.
“People get really into the amount rather than what it actually looks like; 5pc doesn’t sound like much but can make a difference.”
Mr Lewis said candidates often fall into the trap of assessing their own worth by what they are currently being paid. Instead he urged jobseekers to “research the market value for the role and think about the value you would bring to a company, such as skills, qualifications, and experience”.
‘You've got to know your worth’
Successful negotiators could end up on salaries significantly higher than what is being offered. Catherine Warrilow, from Oxford, recalled negotiating a starting salary double the amount she had originally been offered.
Ms Warrilow, 43, who now works for ticket company daysout.com, said she “went in quite hard” on discussions of pay and netted an additional £20,000 a year.
She has since been more discerning about job opportunities. One company, Ms Warrilow recalled, offered her a salary £10,000 less than the market average. Ms Warrilow declined the role, prompting the company to match the market average and bolt on an additional £10,000, which she also declined.
“For me that isn’t a great footing to start on,” she said. “Because they’d gone lower initially, the perception was I wasn’t worth the original salary. You’ve got to know your worth.”