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How to ask for a pay rise, a step-by-step guide to negotiating your salary

Author: Emma Allison
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You’ve probably hit at least one, if not a few, career milestones so far. Perhaps you’ve just got your first job interview lined up, or earned that promotion you’ve been chasing, or maybe you’re leaving your role for a new challenge.

But there’s one milestone few of us ever reach: asking for a pay rise.

Below, we dig deep into why we find it so difficult to ask for a pay rise and how you can get the courage to ask the big question in the best possible way.

Most people struggle to ask for a pay rise

How do you ask for a pay rise? Most people feel particularly daunted when it comes to negotiating their salary, with an overwhelming 61% of people saying they’ve never broached the subject. You know your worth, but often actually asking the question feels so uncomfortable that a new job to bump up your pay packet may seem like the easier option. 

The statistics showed that men were more likely to ask for a pay rise, with 46% saying that they had done so, compared to just 30% of women. 

Whether you want to ask for an average pay rise in line with UK cost of living increases, or are looking for that leap up the career ladder with a more substantial remuneration, here at Forward Role we’re here to help.

We’ve spoken to four industry experts who have real-life experience of asking for, accepting and rejecting pay rise requests. They each gave us their top tips for putting forward the best possible case, along with some specific tips on what would prompt them to say yes.

Timing is everything

Learning how to negotiate a salary can be tough, but first up – consider your timing. Don’t just stroll into the office one morning and book a meeting with your manager - there is a time and a place for everything. You need to consider the circumstances around the meeting, because the surrounding situation can have a big impact on the result of your request.

Brian Johnson, Director at Forward Role, says this type of conversation has to be timed perfectly:

“Timing is an important factor when negotiating your salary so think about where your pay rise sits within the bigger business plan. When does your organisation review annual budgets? Is there a popular time for management to conduct performance appraisals? Ultimately you need to ask the question as soon as possible but these are key things to be mindful of.

It is also much easier to award a pay rise that has been discussed for a period of time, than give someone a pay rise for work they have done retrospectively. So if you are indispensable in your role and feel you are performing better than your current pay suggests, let your manager know in advance that you would like to arrange a future review meeting, where pay is going to be a topic.”

Know how much you are worth

So you’ve weighed it all up and decided you’re going for it, but how do you ask for a pay rise? 

Apart from the desire to earn more money, it’s all about balancing your aspirations of a six-figure pay cheque, and asking for a salary that you deserve. For example, do you know the level of an average pay rise for your role in the UK? Many people are often under the impression that, if their manager grants them a pay rise, they will simply pluck a higher figure out of thin air.

If you’re asking for a pay rise, you need to have confidence in your abilities and understand what that’s worth to the business. You add value in many different ways, but ultimately in this scenario you have to put a price on yourself. Although it may make you feel awkward, it is more likely that your manager will respect you for knowing your worth. 

Will Craig, Managing Director at Digital Impact, gives his advice on going in with a well-rounded figure:

“In my opinion, there’s one thing employees always overlook in salary negotiations: knowing your market value. If you want to convince your employer to raise your salary, it makes sense to know how much your competitors are willing to pay you. After all, if you don’t know what you’re worth, how can you know what to ask for?

“Before negotiating a raise, I recommend you speak to your co-workers and your peers in the industry to get an idea of how much they’re paid. Complement that research with salary info from job advertisements posted online. That will give you a solid figure for what the market will pay for someone of your capability and experience.

“If you’re currently being paid less than that figure, that’s a great bargaining tool.”

Spend a little time browsing job boards, note down a few salaries that are being advertised for roles that are the same or similar to your own. Calculate an average and consider if you’re happy with it - this will give you an idea of the region you should be aiming for.

When it comes to salaries, there is no one-size-fits-all. While everyone may enter a role at the same level, as time progresses you will pick up certain skills and become more proficient in some areas compared to others. Search for average pay rise figures for the UK or use a Salary Survey tool to narrow down the field and get a better idea of your deserved salary, based on industry averages.

Be prepared

Before walking into your pay review meeting, you need to think about the things you’ve done and be ready to talk about them (more on this later). The business you work for is just that, a business; being able to demonstrate how your good work has positively affected the business as a whole is key when negotiating your salary.

David Ingram, Founder of Bring Digital, says he wants to see people come to him with real and tangible proof of their efforts:

“It’s always easy to give a pay rise when an employee can tie their achievements back to real commercial value for the company. For example ‘I created a social media strategy that has driven £125,000 of new sales’ or ‘I reduced the need to outsource our human resources services, which has saved us £36,000 a year.

“If an employee can come to a pay review with a list of their achievements against expectations you set at a previous review, then it makes it much easier to sign off. For example, ‘you wanted me to improve my leadership skills, and I’ve taken a course, read the three suggested books and taken responsibility for the development of a junior staff member’.

“Both of these points come down to preparation; really taking the time to think about how your value to the company has increased since your last review, and bringing along the information that can evidence this.”

Make your case

Leave modesty at the door and get ready to give voice to your many accomplishments, but be sure you tie these back to your job and the company to make them tangible. If you’re there to negotiate a pay rise you need to be sure you can demonstrate why it’s deserved. Don’t be afraid to shout about the things you’ve achieved, this is your chance to showcase your skills and validate what you’re worth.

Peter Brown, Former Senior Reward Consultant at Paydata, gives his advice on creating a convincing case...

“Most bosses are respectful of reasonable pay rise requests, so the best thing to do is just ask for it. However, it’s essential that you build a case for why you deserve a raise. Otherwise, you’re just asking for more money without a reason as to why your manager should even begin to review your current salary, let alone increase it. A manager will want to see any pay rise as justifiable, so it is important to consider the why.”

Peter recommends ensuring that you can answer the following questions when asking for a pay rise, as these will help you to make your case about why exactly you deserve a rise:

  • What have you contributed to the company since you started?

  • Have you taken on any additional responsibilities?

  • Have you completed a training course, managed a new team or started a new project?

  • Have you hit and/or exceeded your targets?

It’s not all about what you say

You’ve prepped and you’re feeling confident, but what if your ‘pay-rise-negotiating-head’ goes? 

Try to be calm and relaxed; anxiety can throw you off balance. Your cool-as-a-cucumber demeanour might make you seem overconfident and cocky, or your wish to not appear boastful may make you play down your awesomeness. It can be tricky to get right!

What you want to avoid most is appearing too nervous, tentative, defensive or angry. Speak slowly and steadily, and maintain relaxed eye contact with the other person, without staring them down. Keep your voice strong yet reasonable and you will come across both confident and convincing.

The ‘yes’ you’ve been waiting for

You did it! You’re feeling great; you asked for a pay rise and you’ve secured it. Recognition for all your fanatic achievements and hard work is yours, but don’t slow down the pace now, keep that momentum going and set your sights on your next career milestone.

How to deal with rejection

Once you’ve finally figured out how to ask for a pay rise, planned out what you’re going to say and worked up the courage to do it, it can feel a little embarrassing and frustrating if you receive a rejection. But the way you handle it will say a lot about your character, and your manager will be looking out for your reaction.

Firstly, it’s not the time to argue back. It’s best to simply accept their decision straight away and gain understanding around their decision later. However difficult it may be, keep your emotions in check and try not to let your facial expressions or body language portray any feelings of anger, disappointment or upset.

Secondly, tell them you understand and ask for the reasons behind their decision. This could range from issues with your performance to average pay rise levels in the UK market, or even financial problems within the company itself.

If it is the former, show your commitment and enthusiasm to improving by asking for an opportunity to make a plan - with input from your seniors - on what you need to achieve in order to get that all important ‘yes’ next time you make the decision to try and negotiate a pay rise.  

At Forward Role we're here to help you throughout all stages of your career, so if you'd like to chat to one of our consultants, please get in touch.

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