Asking for a pay rise comes easily to some employees, and induces a cold sweat in others, but it need not be an awkward conversation, say career advisors.
It’s simply a strategy that can be learned
The key to success is to be prepared and do your research, both on your market value and your worth to your business.
“Avoid going in blind,” said Roland Seddon, managing director at MRK Associates, a recruitment agency for professional support staff, based in Aylesbury.
“Don’t go in off the cuff without having understood what value you are in the market and how necessary you are in the business,” he said.
“People need to do the research on what their value is before they go into any kind of negotiation. They need to know what’s realistic.”
One way to find out your worth is by talking to recruitment agencies and looking at live jobs in the market at a similar level. Professional conferences are another good forum to discuss wages.
Those who are newly qualified in accounting can expect to earn salaries of up to £25,000. If you decide to take the chartered route, accountants can earn £26,000 to £50,000+. According to a 2014 salary survey by Stott and May, the average earning potential of chartered accountants with two years of experience is £47,900 plus bonus.
But with some forecasts predicting an average pay increase of only 1.7% next year, and a meagre outlook until 2020, employees have to learn more than ever to negotiate better for their wage.
“Part of it is understanding what your skill set is and how that relates,” said Seddon.
“If you’ve started as a ledger clerk, and you’ve gone on to learn a whole load of new skills, then you’re in a much stronger position to say I’ve got loyalty and I’ve taken on more stuff, my pay needs to be higher than just an inflationary rise that I’ve had the past couple of years.”
Few businesses today are so hierarchical that it is difficult to have an amicable conversation with your boss about money, said Seddon.
“It should be firstly about whether the manager has any money in the pot? If they have, they would be mad not to look after a good and valued member of staff who is loyal,” he said.
“If they haven’t got the money, then the person needs to decide themselves is the money more important than the fact that they may actually enjoy their job and the business they’re in. But if they are after career progression as well that might swing it to say now is the time to move on.”
Timing is a key factor
For Marcus Alexander, managing director at Appleby Associates, an executive career consultancy, timing is also a key factor when asking for a pay rise.
“The timing side is about things like when does the company’s financial year run to, because most companies won’t think about trying to get together their next budget until at least three to four months in advance,” he said.
Employees should have a gameplan rather than expecting an immediate rise when they asked for one, he advised. “They’ve got to be thinking about how do I plan this out, and they need to see it as a project.”
He also emphasised preparation. “They’ve got to be thinking first and foremost about what do they actually want as an individual. And what is therefore the value proposition that they’re putting forward,” said Alexander.
“If they haven’t done their research to find out what the market is doing and essentially what the company is doing then they’re going to be on the backfoot.”
An annual review would obviously be a good time to ask for a raise, but it should not be the moment to address the issue for the first time, he said. You should first suggest the idea to your boss ideally six months beforehand, to give them time to prepare.
“There are generally two reasons why an individual gets paid more money. Either they improve their boss’s bottom line, which is either in terms of revenue generation or costs saved, or they make their boss’s job easier,” said Alexander.
“Then they should have the evidence to back up that claim when they are talking to their boss.”
Career experts advise avoiding the threat of leaving for another job in pay negotiations as it is a strategy that can easily backfire.
Even if you are not immediately offered the money you are looking for, “do not use emotional blackmail in the heat of the moment,” said Alexander. “You’ve got to go away, consider it and then respond back, because then you’ll be seen as a professional individual.”
If you don’t ask, you don’t get
Vicky Salemi is an American public speaker, consultant, writer and a career expert for the Monster employment website.
As a former corporate recruiter she has now made her a career out of helping others with theirs.
When approaching salary negotiations, employees need to be strategic, and precise, she says.
“You need to track your performance. Don’t assume your boss knows exactly what you’re working on and how well you are performing, especially if your boss works in another office or you’re working from home,” she said.
“You need to say ‘I want to get on your calendar and let you know what I’ve been working on the past three to six months’. Don’t do it just when you’re looking to get a pay raise, but continuously,” added Salemi.
“You have to say ‘here’s what I did to contribute to the department, here’s the money I saved, here’s how much time I saved, here are the additional projects I’m working on. Here are all the reasons why I’m a value for this company’,” she advised.
“Then what you need to do is ask a question and say, ‘based on this information I think I’m worthy of a raise, what are your thoughts?’ It’s a conversation.”
You need to start a precise timeline, as negotiations could take months, said Salemi.
“You don’t want to leave it open-ended, you want to make sure they have a sense of timing and you want to follow up with them and be very communicative,” she said.
“You need to be specific in terms of time. Not ‘I’ll follow up with you in a few weeks’, no, you get on their calendar and you make a specific time that you’re going to talk again four weeks from today.”
Women especially need to learn to negotiate better for their salaries, she said. “I think sometimes we tend to undervalue our services and we absolutely have to stop doing that.”
Anecdotally, when she was a recruiter, nine out of ten men always negotiated every single offer, whereas typically only one of out every ten women did.
“Employers expect you to negotiate more than when you don’t,” she said. “I wish I could tell every single woman that they absolutely owe it to themselves to negotiate and they will be hopefully happily surprised that more often than [not] they will see results in their favour,” she added.
“As a recruiter I have to tell you that sometimes people were very awkward in how they stated it, and they were very nervous and they stumbled on their words, but it didn’t matter because they still negotiated.”
Salemi recalls several times when she was recruiting that she had been given the leeway to offer a higher salary, but the candidate did not get it because they did not ask.
“I’m sitting there extending an offer and they’re sitting there saying ‘great, when can I start?’ and I’m thinking in the back of my mind please ask me. But if they didn’t ask me then that was £4,000 ($5,000) that they could have got,” she said.
“The next time you do get offered a salary, you’re going to pause, you’re going to be polite and confident and articulate and you’re going to say ‘can you go any higher?’”
Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.