Top five tips on landing a well-deserved pay rise!

Jamie Newton

Jamie Newton

Partner - Compensation & Benefits, HR Operations

The thorny issue of pay is often a real taboo subject.  I find it hilarious at how awkward people often become when discussing their salary as if I have just asked them about their current dating situation, or for their waist measurements!  The conversation suddenly moves into hushed tones and a quick scan around the room in case anyone of consequence is in earshot.  If anyone happens to frequent the Scarfes Bar in Holborn you will often see me in a darkened corner having intense conversations with individuals, and at first glance think that I am trading nuclear secrets.  Rest assured I have just been discussing their desired compensation, not anything untoward!

 I tend to go against the grain around the concept of salary requirements.  Some recruitment commentators say that asking someone their current salary and future requirements is bordering on unprofessional as surely a client will pay an individual what they are worth for the respective job on offer.  Unfortunately not to shatter this idealistic notion but the reality is in many cases an organisation will offer the minimum amount it takes to secure the candidate rather than what they are actually worth, and move up if needed.  My point here is that you can’t rely on anyone else to get you the best deal, you have to fight for it yourself.   If you don’t negotiate your salary hard and in the right way you will end up feeling underpaid and dissatisfied to some extent.  So to start off, you have to be comfortable that “salary” is not a dirty word and being honest and open about what you want is important.

The concept of increasing your pay within the UK seems to only occur in two circumstances; you either leave your current employer for a rise in your basic pay or your organisation deems you worthy enough to receive a pay rise after year end and rolls out across the board a 2-3% increase.  Amazingly is it seen as not socially acceptable to go and ask your manager personally for a pay increase and as such it is far more common for people to suffer in silence rather than address the subject head on.  Should you feel brazen enough to actually push for your market worth, below are a couple of key points to consider before you knock on your managers door.

  1. Timing Is Everything!

The timing of when you have this conversation is critical and often the first mistake people make.  There is a common belief that you can only negotiate pay at the end of the financial year when the company has looked at the numbers and can calculate pay and bonus based on profit margins etc.  Putting this into context, trying to negotiate your pay at the same time as the entire employee population surely is akin to trying to do your Christmas shopping at 8pm on Christmas Eve?   Also if the yearly performance of your company has been poor, asking for a pay increase at this time is more than likely going to fall on deaf ears.

 Be clever about the timing and understand that you can have a pay conversation at any time of the financial year should you chose to, and fundamentally there is no real reason for a company to say that their hands are tied until year end.  Organisations will cite budget issues, internal parity, and the limited chances of getting sign off etc, but in reality if you left the firm and they had to go to the external market the agency fee alone would surely cover a strong percentage of the pay rise requested anyway? 

 2.Get an accurate assessment of what your market worth is and what people are really paying.

This really is a crucial part of successfully negotiating an increase, having genuine factual information behind your request.   Now this isn’t simply a case of saying “My friend works for your competitor X and gets a 10% higher base salary, so give me a raise!”  This is about ensuring you have an active network within your profession and can reach out for benchmarking advice and guidance on pay.  There are plenty of ways to assess market worth from job advertisements of similar level roles, speaking to trusted agents for their advice, free salary surveys and market data from the consulting firms etc etc. 

It is a frequent frustration for me when speaking to individuals about their current pay who are sometimes grossly underpaid and then cite the reason being “I haven’t looked for a new role in the last five years so wasn’t aware of what market rates were!”  A vital part of managing your career is always having an understanding of your market worth to ensure that your financial progression doesn’t stagnate.  A business will always comment on having a tough year, or unfavourable trading conditions as reasons to not increase pay, but that shouldn’t stop you from appreciating what pay levels are doing across your profession and in companies that are performing well.

3. Decide on the figure you want to get to – but consider three things!

Once you have an assessment of market worth you will be able to formulate a salary range for your role.  Often during these investigations individuals tend to find out that they are paid under market rate but that there are always other companies that actually pay worse.  However there are occasions where people are genuinely being taken advantage of for various reasons and they are way below market rate to the point where it’s actually upsetting and unbelievable.  This is where emotions and one’s ego run riot and unrealistic demands are made.  If you are paid 50% under market rate, whilst that is an incredibly frustrating situation to deal with it is highly unlikely that your current company will be able to amend this in its entirety when you request an increase.  You need to think about what is realistic within your firm and the potential circumstances around the low pay level to start with.    

 Formulating a figure in mind is not as straight forward as it seems but you need to break it down into three areas.

  1. What basic salary do I ideally want that feels rewarding and generous?
  2. What basic salary do I want that feels fair for my experience and skills in the wider market?
  3. What basic salary do I want that feels fair for my organisation and as a % increase?

My advice is to be realistic about the numbers and always start off aiming for option one and if you achieve option 2 or 3 then you have successfully negotiated a pay increase.   Do bear in mind the % increase you are asking for, anything more than 20% is going to draw a sharp intake of breath for your manager, but if you don’t ask you don’t get!

4. Remember that it’s actually a negotiation!

When the conversation of the salary increase begins the art of negotiation comes into play.  Negotiating your salary successfully is about taking your personal ego off the table.  Whilst confidence is vital, this is not about what you think you’re worth this is about what the market rate for your experience and skills is paying, and what your competitors will also pay.  Therefore be factual as mentioned above, and be upfront about your concerns and succinct in your reasoning.  You’ll be amazed at how difficult people find getting to the crux of the conversation and dance around the subject expecting their manager to interject with “so you want an increase??”  Lead the conversation from the start and get your point out on the table.

After you have made a brief case, allow the manager time for consideration rather the bombarding them with your justification.  Avoid using “I” if possible and try and to use “We” to influence the conversation and ease the challenging nature of it.  Using phrases like “it would great if we could look at resolution to this together” or “How do you think we can best resolve this?” , will help your manager feel involved rather than bullied into a pay increase.   Finally be aware of your body language and tone during the conversation.  You fundamentally have done nothing wrong in asking for this pay rise so don’t walk into the room as if you are delivering bad news.  If you are walking into the room in the first place you clearly feel that you are due an increase so stride in there with confidence and positive body language.

5. Think about the ramifications of this conversation – if it doesn’t work out what are you going to do about it?

The final part of this is really having a think through the consequences of your actions before you commit to asking for the raise.  This is not gross misconduct and you are not going to ruin your future career prospects at the firm by asking for an increase in a well thought out way.  However this isn’t a conversation you want to be having every year and strong arming your boss with a new offer of employment elsewhere in the hope for a counter, is never an ideal starting point. 

These are crucial career moments and as such you need to be able to really commit to the decision.  If you truly feel underpaid and that your company are not playing ball with the wider market, then if the pay increase doesn’t materialise after this conversation, you have to really consider your future with the firm and take proactive steps to rectify this. 


If you would like any further advice or guidance on this article or any other recruitment issues do feel free to contact me personally,