How To Ask For A Better Salary

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How To Ask For A Better Salary

Words by Mr Jonathan Openshaw

22 February 2018

Five tips for maximising your potential (and your pay packet) at work.

With 2018 well underway and the beginning of a new financial year looming next month, now is the perfect time to ask for a raise. In today’s cut-and-thrust job market, employees everywhere are getting better at selling themselves, but this newfound confidence often falls flat when the subject of salary comes up. It’s a reticence that most workers, quite frankly, can’t afford: for every time you hold back, you can be sure there’s a colleague who isn’t. But how do you start calculating your value, assessing your compensation, improving your skill set and negotiating better pay? Here, we break the tricky task down into a few easy steps.

The days of a clear career ladder are long gone and, for many industries, progression is frustratingly opaque. Before you can even think about asking for a raise, you need to first make sure that you’ve nailed your current role. When preparing for a salary review, the temptation is to start gathering info behind your boss’ back, but a stealth attack isn’t always the best approach. A recent poll by Gallup found that only half of employees actually understand what is required of them at work, and perhaps more worryingly, the figure doesn’t much change for managers; it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. So your starting point needs to be a frank discussion with your boss. Pull up your job description and review whether it still describes your role. Ask your manager for an honest appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses, and identify where you’re really adding value to the business.

Once you’ve gone through official channels, you can start on more arcane strategising. There’s a load of free salary calculators available online, from Totaljobs to Glassdoor or LinkedIn, so start benchmarking now. Compensation varies a lot between markets, so according to LinkedIn’s salary calculator, if you’re a marketing director in central London the industry average is £84,200, whereas in San Francisco Bay Area it’s $130,000. “There’s so much information to hand now, whether that’s online tools, attending events, talking to peers, headhunters or other employers,” explains Ms Jo Gilmour, director of Talent Atelier, which works with brands and executives across the creative industries. “Do some digging and you’ll soon find out what you’re worth, and what your role looks like in other comparable businesses.”

“Someone who has consistently developed their skill set through their career is worth so much more than someone who has stayed static,” explains Ms Gilmour. “Be proactive: if there’s a particular route you’d like to pursue then skill up around this; if this is a language, take lessons; if you’re lacking in digital knowledge, do a course – there are some incredible ones available at places such as General Assembly.” Demonstrating a bit of chutzpah will help in your negotiations with a current employer, but it will also make you an attractive new hire for future employers.

It’s not enough just to be proactive, however: you need to be seen to be proactive. Find new projects and initiatives that can add value to the business and then take them to your boss. Discuss whether some kind of scorecard system might be worth implementing, setting specific goals and then regularly assessing them together. It will be harder for your boss to dismiss your demands if you’ve got an Excel doc of figures backing you up, and it will help keep emotions out of the conversation. Begin arming yourself well in advance with clear examples of how you’ve gone above and beyond for the business – and how these activities have actually paid off.

You may be looking for a few extra grand because you want to move flat and take a two-week holiday to Big Sur, but don't tell your boss that. Short-term motivations have no sway with the powers that pay, so you need to couch any salary demands within a long-term plan. The language should be all about progression, responsibility and adding value, so build a clear game plan that shows you mean business. “Get granular and be clear on what exactly you’re setting out to achieve,” says Ms Gilmour. “Define goals for each month or quarter and check in with them on a regular basis. If you struggle being honest with yourself about these goals then you could also get a career coach to support you on building a five-year plan.”

We’d all like a bit more money, but this is a wishy-washy target unless you know where you’re headed professionally. Don’t hide your light under a bushel and be clear with your boss on your future ambitions within the business. Phrase this right and you’ll come across as passionate rather than mercenary, and a decent manager will try to harness this energy.

So you’ve gauged your value, started improving your skill set and have a plan in place – now for the tricky bit. There’s never a good time to ask for more money, but there are plenty of bad times, so choose your moment well. Following a big client win or a personal success is always a smart idea, while immediately following redundancies or during a pay freeze – not so much. Even when times are lean, however, there may be other benefits that you can negotiate. If your boss is desperate to keep you, then flexible working, increased paid holiday, better travel, improved training or a change of job title could all be discussed as salary substitutes, so work out what your priorities are and be ready to have an open discussion.

All salary negotiations are a discussion, at the end of the day. It’s worth practising your opening argument, but once you’ve made your case, be prepared to listen, discuss and develop. Having a goal is one thing, but a total lack of flexibility will do you no favours. Ask for more money than you actually want and have a walk-away figure in mind, but keep it to yourself. Don’t take rejection personally and however disappointed you are, do not burn bridges. If your boss can’t or won’t meet your well-reasoned salary demands then it may be time to start talking to employers that will – and who knows, you may be surprised what happens to your boss’s budget if a rival offer materialises. “Always have a walk-away point in your mind; it helps with confidence,” says Ms Gilmour. “When you receive a pay rise internally, it’s often far lower than moving to a new business anyway, so be confident that you have other options.”

Illustrations by Mr Adam Nickel