Get Rich or Die Trying: How to Ask for a Pay Rise
Don’t rely on your employer to know your worth. Here’s how to approach the dreaded salary chat
image The Devil Wears Prada / Dune Entertainment
words Isabelle Aron
Let’s face it, there’s not a whole lot of surplus cash floating around right now, but that shouldn’t stop you from asking for a payrise. Negotiating a rate or salary is an important life skill to master; not only could you potentially be earning more now, it’s about your future earning potential and of course, your ability to embrace uncomfortable conversations and back yourself.
Already sweating at the thought? Us too. If the only interactions you have with your boss are brief exchanges on Slack or awkward small talk in the office, the idea of having a proper conversation about your salary might fill you with dread. But here’s the thing: if you don’t ask for a pay rise, you probably won’t get one. And you know what? You deserve it. You’re not entitled, or greedy, or abnormal for asking. A brief conversation, with some helpful tips here, could lead to more money, or at least the increased self-esteem that comes from knowing you stood up for yourself; it’s a win-win.
To help you stop fearing the chat, we ask the experts for advice on the best ways to approach it.
So, where do you even start with negotiating a pay rise?
First things first: do some research. Unless you have a very nice boss, they’re unlikely to give you a pay rise just because you ask for one. It’s best to go in armed with some cold, hard facts to back up your request. Kim Scott, a former Google and Apple exec and author of Just Work and Radical Candor, says the first thing you should do is find out “what the market is”. She adds: “Do some research and find out what other people at your level are paid”. If you find the idea of asking someone about their salary awkward, you’re not alone, but Scott says that needs to change: ‘There’s nothing wrong with talking to your peers about what they're getting paid.’ Glassdoor and LinkedIn are also good tools for finding out the average salary for similar roles in your industry.
Okay, then what?
You need to demonstrate that you’re an essential employee. “Build a business case for the extra value you add,” says Evelyn Cotter, CEO of SEVEN Career Coaching. That could mean sharing data, sales figures, client or team feedback or new ideas to improve the company. ‘That shows you’re in tune with the business and the manager’s needs, which will get their attention,’ says Cotter. This is key, adds Scott: “The more you can quantify your impact, the easier it is to get a raise.”
But how do you actually have this conversation?
If only there were a handy ‘How To Get A Pay Rise’ script you could follow, eh? But Scott says this wouldn’t actually be helpful, because you’d “sound like someone else”. Instead, she says: “Your goal is to go in confident”. Whether it’s having some killer stats up your sleeve and solid examples of your work and progress, or just carrying yourself in a self-assured way, it’s about doing whatever you need to do to come across confidently – even if you’re feeling terrified inside (which Scott says is totally normal, FYI).
Is there anything you should avoid doing?
Don’t “allow yourself to be gaslit” in these situations, says Scott. “If you know that you're performing at a higher level than your peers, be prepared to say that,” she adds. “Talk about the impact you're having on the business. Be clear about what your boss's expectations are and why you're exceeding those expectations.” For Cotter, it’s crucial to not make it all about money. Yes, that’s what you want, but it’s how you present it to your boss that matters. “Talk about value – how you can add more value, the value you have in the marketplace,” she says.
What if your boss says no?
Even if you’ve made a solid case for why you should get a pay rise, your boss might still say no. If that happens, Cotter advises having “a few asks up your sleeve”, such as asking for more training or an objective plan to get to the salary range you’re hoping for, or going down to four days a week of work instead of five, for the same pay. It’s fine to ask outright, “Can you tell me what you think it would take for me to earn a pay rise in the future?”. A good boss should be able to answer that. And be steeled for the feedback, however harsh. Get a ‘maybe’? Be clear what the next steps are - ask can you have a check-in by a certain date, or a timeline for following up for that firm yay or nay. And if your boss totally shuts the conversation down? It might be time to move on. “Some of the best career advice I ever got was: ‘Don't forget to quit’,” says Scott. “Remember that you're not stuck in these jobs. Being paid fairly matters, and it’s okay that it matters. It doesn't mean you're greedy.”