How to ask for the pay rise you deserve

How to ask for the pay rise you deserve

Back yourself.

BY Elissa James, 13 min READ

Historically, talking cash was a ‘no no’. According to my (very English grandmother) it is ‘Terribly uncouth to raise the subject of money in polite company, dear.’

It comes as no surprise then, that this cultural hangover pervades the conversation between you and your boss come salary negotiation time. Asking for a pay rise can be nausea-inducing and awkward, particularly if you’re unprepared.

pay rise

Source: WGEA Report 2016

But, if you regularly put off these discussions because you think you don’t deserve a pay rise or that you’re paid enough already (perhaps just as much as your contemporaries) think again. In the US, women make only 77 cents to a man’s dollar for full-time year round work. In Australia, women’s average full-time total remuneration across all industries and occupations is 23.1% less than men’s. That’s not OK.

It may be embarrassing and awkward to add your salary as an agenda item, but we need to get over these hang-ups and start moving the needle. It’s time to be pro-active.

As with many things, preparation is key. The more I prepare for these types of conversations, the less nervous I am when making my case. How do I prepare? By following these six preparatory steps. I guarantee that you’ll be more confident and in-control come bonus season.

1. Back yourself

You are really good at what you do

Deep down you know your commercial worth. You are amazing. You are making (and probably saving) your employer a shed load of cash (A SHED LOAD). Never underestimate this figure.

Study your CV. Pretend you’ve never see it before and read it as objectively as possible. It’s really impressive. You got into a kick-ass university, you probably topped your class, your training is impeccable – you are the bee’s knees, baby.

Your boss knows this. You need to as well.

You add value

You get s*** done. You know you do. Be it the multi-million-dollar merger or organising Carol in Accounting’s going away lunch, you’re the go-to project manager, even when it falls outside your remit. Because of this endearing trait you tend to work all hours. But you love it, right? Just be sure to keep an eye out for these signs of burnout.

Plus, you add invaluable social capital to your workplace because you’re a team player and a pleasure to work with. Your boss is well aware that low moral and bad office culture inevitably affects the bottom line.

Conculsion: you’re a valuable asset.

2. How much are you worth?

You need to know your value as an employee. First, jot down what you think you’re worth. Then call recruiters and ask what jobs are available for your skill set and what they are paying.

Review online salary guides like this one. Chat to colleagues (if you’re allowed) and friends about their pay or salary bands.

Then ask Human Resources to plot out on a graph where your salary sits relative to your peers. They aren’t usually allowed to refuse these requests.

With this information in mind, set your revised target salary (best case scenario) and walk-away figure (the absolute minimum you will accept). Then add a 10% ‘man uplift.’ I know some women who add 15% as a matter of course. Whatever the figure, adding the uplift goes some way to addressing the extent to which we under-value our commercial worth.

3. Prepare a business case (literally write it down)

In light of the value you add over and above your job description, your business case will outline why granting your request for a pay rise is a no-brainer.

Include every example of when you saved the company money, when you brought in a valuable client, or mitigated a costly risk. When you negotiated a valuable clause and improved efficiencies, and all the ways you will continue to add value.

Make the most of those long hours in the office

If you work long hours (that’s probably everyone), record them. All of them. Then divide your annual salary by the hours you clocked last year. This will give you your hourly rate. Warning: this exercise can be un-nerving. Like me, you might discover that you would have earned more per hour working at McDonalds.

Because you work ridiculously hard, your hourly rate is likely to be relatively low compared to contractors offering similar services. For example, giving you a pay rise is clearly a good business decision if you cost the business $50 an hour but an external consultant charges $350 an hour. Put these insights into your business case.

Ask for feedback

Don’t let your boss take your word for it, email your favourite clients and colleagues and ask them for feedback. Include their responses in your business case.

You might feel uneasy about asking for testimonials. Put this feeling to one side, it’s irrelevant. You’ve worked hard and your clients love you. They want you to succeed and I have no doubt they will be happy to help you out.

4. Get over it

Like me, you will need to get over your people-pleasing instincts, your feelings of guilt, associations with greed and concerns about being labeled ‘difficult.’ These are born from unconscious gender bias and learned cultural assumptions shaped over many years through education, culture, and experience. They are also irrelevant.

Ultimately, if you don’t ask you won’t get. So, JUST DO IT. Find an hour free in your work calendars and schedule a meeting.

5. Be professional

Leave your (business) hat on

This is business, it’s not personal. Even if you are great mates with your boss, his job will always rank before your friendship. So put your professional negotiating hat on, STAT.

If there is one piece of advice which ranks above the rest, it is this: in the workplace, when push comes to shove there is only one person who will ever look out for you. That’s you. You can’t rely on your boss to do this. She has a vested interest in keeping costs to a minimum and her over-arching duty is to her employer, not necessarily to you. I learnt this lesson the hard way.

This is not a D&M

Avoid emotive phrases like ‘I’ve worked hard all year and I feel I deserve a raise’ – your business case will do all the talking for you.

Never highlight your flaws voluntarily, but be prepared to explain how you will address a weakness if specifically raised. If you are asked to give an example of something you could improve, spin it. For example, if you take too long on tasks, it could be that you need to work on your perfectionist tendencies.

Be the first to propose a salary – don’t let your boss get in first because the conversation will be anchored with the initial figure on the table.

6. Beware of these sneaky management tactics 

Assume your boss knows every trick in the book and will use them. Be prepared to call his bluff.

Here are some rippers I’ve faced:

“We can’t pay you market rate because we don’t have the budget.”

Usually this is plain old BS – there is always more in the pot to retain a valuable asset like you. Counter with: “If the business can’t afford market rate, it shouldn’t be in the market.”

“The business won’t have additional headcount until after the next financial year”


“The annual budget for the business has already been approved”

Read: you need to keep doing the job of two people. If you’re working two jobs you should be paid two salaries or your workload should be cut in half. End of story. This is a workflow management issue, not your problem.

“It’s out of my hands, Human Resources won’t approve your pay rise unless you come to me with another job offer.”

Major BS alert! You need to seriously consider whether you want to work for a company which uses these tactics.

“It sounds like money is your key motivator?”

This shaming tactic is a low blow. Don’t let the resulting waves of guilt or awkward atmosphere linger – smack it down with something like:

“Yes, people work for money but if it was my key motivator I would have left already.”

Et voila!

Now, you’re ready: get to it superstar!

If you’re still tempted to chuck the conversation into the Too Hard Basket, remember that one day our daughters, granddaughters & nieces will thank us for the part we played in achieving gender-parity in the workplace.

Still not working?

If the pay rise isn’t forthcoming, consider whether you are missing the mark somehow in your role. But, if it’s just that the company or your employer are wan****, it’s time to update the ol’ LinkedIn profile and move on!

This article was originally posted by Elissa James, on Iris Lillian.

Elissa James is a senior corporate lawyer and the founder of IrisLillian.com. Having worked in the law for over a decade across jurisdictions including Australia, South Africa, Gabon and Papua New Guinea, she brings a refreshing, intelligent and light-hearted perspective to the digital media arena. In particular, her thought-provoking Interview Series with high profile businesswomen, professionals and entrepreneurs will have you pondering the merits of gender parity one minute, and in stitches the next.


©2020 Business Chicks

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