How to ask for a pay rise?

“I’m buying a Porsche, so I need a pay rise to run it.” You might be worth the extra money, but that style of approach just won’t deliver it for you.

Whether you’re looking for a decent annual pay rise, launching an interim salary negotiation or discussing a new job, don’t focus on what you supposedly need. That’s just trying to dump your problems back on your employer and does nothing to show why you might be worth the extra budgetary pain you’re proposing they take on.

The last financial crisis established a new pattern – pay rises are not a given. Your employee handbook might specify an annual pay review but rises can be small or frozen for long periods, even in the public sector. If your organisation is under pressure, everyone is suffering, not just you. Making your case for individual consideration needs calculated preparation and mindful presentation.

Your manager understands – things in life change – but getting married, buying a house, starting a family, building an extension, replacing a car and I need a pay rise are just not words that should ever be used together in the same sentence. To work out how to get a pay rise, don’t ask for what you want, work out what you can give to justify it.

When to ask for a pay rise?

Victor Kiam, famous for Remington Razors, said, “Never worry about the money on the way in. Just get in there, show what you can do, and promotion and the money will always follow.” The implications are clear: if you’re doing your job well and achieving results, take the initiative and ask for that pay rise. If you’re competent, excellent even, your boss may just breathe a sigh of relief and leave you to it so waiting and hoping someone will recognise your talent and reward you appropriately is a poor strategy.

Asking at your annual pay rise is psychologically easiest, as the door is open and that helps reduce any nervousness you might feel. Unfortunately, that does mean you’ll be staking your claim at the same time as everyone else, when the organisation aims to keep rises low. Being offered a new role, internally or with a new employer, is another easy time to ask for a better pay deal. You know you’re in demand and can confidently discuss responsibilities and results expectations alongside an equitable pay rate.

It’s more daunting to make a request at other times because you’ll need to be the one initiating things. However, it is the best time if you’re aiming at more than a nominal inflation-related percentage raise. Be aware of what’s happening in and around the organisation because great times to ask for a pay rise are when:

> you can show you’ve been exceeding expectations;
> you’re at the finish of a successful task or project;
> positive financial, sales or service delivery results are announced;
> your contract is being extended by the organisation;
> you’re asked to take on more responsibility;
> there is a skills shortage in your industry;
> your whole sector experiences growth.

It’s a tougher uphill struggle to ask for a pay increase when your sector is in decline and the organisation has announced a pay freeze, poor financial results, the loss of a major contract or a recruitment block.

Am I entitled to a pay rise every year?

It is good discipline to review your job, pay and circumstances at least annually, because responsibilities can gradually shift over time. Re-read your employee handbook as there may be a defined review process. Ensure that you’ll be included.

Think about external influences. Inflation runs, regardless, so there is a moral case for an annual pay review, but think more widely about what else might have changed. Look at salary comparisons across your industry and make sure you’re not being left behind. If skills in your sector are becoming shorter in supply, that also warrants an annual review.

Consider your characteristics and skills, including soft skills. Be wary of citing direct personal comparisons, but if you’re recognised as stronger than your peers in terms of competence, attitude, teamworking, initiative, discretionary effort and personal discipline, that would reinforce your case for a regular review.

How much pay rise should I ask for?

Ensure you’re negotiating for a figure that’s viable. If your employer can’t or just will not pay at the level you want, the resulting disagreement will damage both of you. You need hard data which either backs up your claim or forces you to recognise a more realistic figure.

Credibility is everything, so don’t ask for 10%. It’s obviously a round figure, plucked from the air. 8.2%, 9.6% or 11.8% all carry more weight because they look as though they’ve actually been calculated and that in turn implies there’s a good rationale behind your asking. Make sure there is. You need hard data and current job ads for similar roles are a great starting point. Network with other people doing a similar job in your field and ask them to compare salary notes with you. In both cases, any evidence you gather will be indisputable.

Industry benchmarks from professional associations can be a goldmine of information. There are all kinds of salary checkers available on the web but the information they give often needs interpreting with great caution. If the data is proved inaccurate, the credibility of your claim will evaporate faster than a high proof gin.

Finally, to help decide how much pay rise to ask for, look at your co-workers. If you can get hard facts that’s great, but never name names. If there’s a solid reason why so-and-so’s pay is higher, you’re instantly cut off at the knees, so keep observations and comments general. However, knowing that others are paid more at least shows scope.

How to get a pay rise

Image: Adobe Stock Library

How to ask for a pay rise in an appraisal?

If you’re stuck wondering how to ask your boss for a pay rise, make it clear you’d appreciate a discussion about both your role and your current salary level, to ensure the widest scope for those discussions. Never bush-whack your boss with the pay issue, you need them onside. Knowing how to negotiate a pay rise is vital, so emphasise your value against each achievement.

In your meeting, the best way to ask for a pay rise is to stay calm, logical and friendly, no matter how hard done by you feel. Evidence carries more weight than an emotional tirade ever could. If you throw righteous indignation around like confetti, you’ll prompt your manager to dig their heels in, just to show who’s still the boss.

Consider why you might get turned down. Common reasons are: the business, department or project is already over budget; you’re already paid for your performance; we’ll talk in the future; times are tough; we’ve got other people to consider; we might be imposing a pay freeze and wait for the end of year figures. Understand the likely barriers and prepare beforehand to politely but firmly dismantle them as they come up.

Your boss may not have the final say, and need to fight on your behalf, so leave a short bullet point summary of your main arguments as a definitive reminder of exactly why you’re worth the raise.

Do ….

> Focus on what you can give, not what you want.
> Be firm, positive and confident, you have a right to ask.
> Be aware of the cost of replacing you, if you were to leave.
> Consider useful perks, as an alternative to cash.
> However it goes, thank people for their time.

Don’t ….

> Don’t be modest.
> Never threaten or blackmail, even with an alternative offer.
> Don’t complain, whine or plead.
> Don’t claim long working hours, money doesn’t create time.
> Never go over your boss’s head, it’s too risky.

Always play the long game

Employers, and individual managers, differ. Some will come back with a final position and some will come back to negotiate, so be prepared. If things do go against you, remember that principles are great but if you can’t afford them it’s better to live and fight another day.

Explore the opportunity to take on more responsibility and see if that further unlocks your prospects for a pay rise. If not, keep the pressure up by agreeing another specific review date. Whatever happens, drawing next month’s and next year’s salary is still way better than drawing no salary at all.

If you’re right in your evidence and beliefs, time is on your side and the pressure for your employer to recognise your worth with a solid pay rise will only increase over time. Keep building your case, adding to your strengths and developing your arguments. Professional persistence always wins in the end.