With salaries rising slowly, or even stagnating in some sectors and companies, it’s easy to get caught behind the market rate for the job that you do. Negotiating for a pay increase can be a difficult and anxious time. We asked experienced career consultant Simon North for his tips on how to set about the process…
Before even thinking about approaching the negotiating table, we must have an idea in our heads of how much we’re looking for. This amount will of course depend on how much we need but we must also take into account what the going rate is for the job we do and the industry we’re in and how much we’re worth when we measure ourselves against that rate.
You can use an online salary checker to get a ballpark figure for the current market rate or you can use a job search facility to look for jobs like the one you are doing. Both can provide a useful benchmark. Without taking the figure or salary range as gospel, you can use it as a rough guide on what to ask for when negotiating your pay rise.
Another way to check what you should roughly be earning is to speak to people doing similar roles to you within your company, in the same sector or in similar organisations. Try to talk to people you know really well so you can comfortably ask them how much they’re currently getting paid and how much they’re planning to ask for at their next pay review.
Once you have a ballpark figure in your head, initiate the negotiation process by picking the right time to ask for a pay rise. If you can, wait until your company’s next pay structure review to ask for a rise. This is the time of year when money matters will be discussed anyway within the organisation. In terms of what time of day to bring it up, after lunch and in the early to mid-part of the afternoon is a great time to talk to your boss about it, because everyone’s blood sugar levels are up and this makes it easier to have potentially tough conversations. If it is ages to go until the next pay review but you believe your salary really needs to be discussed in the very near future, a good time may be when you’re talking about current projects or reviewing performance with your boss. Try not to make the request just before you take annual leave or the company closes for Christmas. You want negotiations to open as soon as possible after you make the initial request—if everyone has to wait until you return to work before beginning the process, the issue will just hang in the air.
Remember you can’t just expect the rise you want to get handed over to you immediately, even if it is the salary you deserve. You must convince your employer that you deserve the amount you’re looking for by explaining and demonstrating why you deserve it. The most effective way of doing so is by building a business case. Start this off by thinking about both what you’re contributing to the organisation now and what you will contribute in the future. Think in particular about:
- What is your USP (unique selling point)? What are you best at?
- What can you do that others cannot do?
- Where have you shown yourself to be of great value and a real asset to your organisation?
- Where have you done work or achieved results beyond what is expected of your current role?
As pay negotiations are essentially about cold, hard figures, include some figures in your business case. Show how your actions and initiative have saved the business money and drawn in extra revenue. Prepare as evidence some examples of your contribution by thinking about the responsibilities that you have and the tasks you’ve completed. Create your business case as a document that you’ll be able to take into negotiations with you. Make extra copies to hand out to your boss and everyone else at the negotiation table so that the evidence of your value will literally be in front of them.
Speaking of the negotiation table, be sure to approach it with the right attitude and feeling as comfortable as possible. Get plenty of sleep the night before negotiations start. On the day of the meeting, dress smartly, but in something you feel comfortable in. Arrive at work early so you can go through your business case and other preparations one more time. Drink plenty of water before the meeting. It’s important to be well hydrated so you don’t get sluggish and unable to think clearly in the conversation. It’s also important to eat something shortly before the meeting. Not only will this keep your blood sugar levels up, you also won’t be distracted by your growling stomach.
When it comes down to actual negotiations, be smart. Even though you should be aware of what you’re looking for, let the employer name a price first. If you show your hand too quickly you might inadvertently let on what the minimum raise you’re willing to accept is. Once the organisation knows this, then that is what they will offer you, even if you’re worth more. If you’re asked directly to name a figure first and can’t get out of it, at least avoid picking a round number. It’s too easy for the negotiators to shave off, say, 5,000 in order to get to another round number. Instead, choose a figure that doesn’t end in 0 or 5. The first offer the employer makes is unlikely to be what you’re looking for. Just because it’s the first offer doesn’t mean you have to accept it. When you hear the offer, don’t say anything. If you’ve named a top figure, repeat this number and then don’t say anything else. Silence is likely to lead to an improved offer.
You’re well within your rights not to give an answer there and then. If you feel you need time and space away from the room to consider the offer, say that you need a few days to think about it. Neither the employee nor the employer should expect everything to be agreed in one meeting. Salary negotiations can take time and it can be in your interest to take it slowly, to think hard about what you want and to help the organisation to slowly appreciate your situation and to swing towards giving you what you want. You need to be patient and understanding of their position.
Once you do manage to reach an agreement, summarize what you believe it to be before the meeting ends. You don’t want to be in a situation where you’re assuming the agreement means one thing but the employer thinks it means something else altogether. Confirm what your new compensation package consists of, the date from which it’ll take effect and any other implications of this improved financial contract.
Simon North is Founder of Position Ignition, a leading UK Career Consulting Company and co-author of their eBook ‘Up Your Game, Up Your Pay! – 85 Tips in Salary Negotiation’ Simon co-founded Position Ignition.com to provide career consulting to people looking for guidance and support through their career change, new career direction, job search and career development.