As a career coach, one of the questions that crops up time and time again, especially with my female clients, is how to approach a conversation about money at work. You know you're worth more... but what do you ask for? And how do you ask?
Often bandied about as an explanation for the gender pay gap, the myth that women are less assertive than men when it comes to asking for more money at work was debunked earlier this month. A study of 4,600 Australian workers showed no difference in assertiveness between the men and women in the sample. Women asked for pay increases just as often as the men!
So, apparently, we do ask. But sadly, the evidence shows that we still don’t seem to get quite as much as our male colleagues.
Depressing, isn't it? But it’s good to know that supposed female reticence or lack of ambition can no longer be blamed for the gender pay gap.
Whether or not this news comes as a surprise, there’s no denying that it’s a conversation many of us dread – regardless of our gender. So if you’re long overdue a pay increase, how can you go about asking for more money?
Here are my top tips for confidently and successfully negotiating a higher salary:
1. Know your value
You know you’re worth more money, but how much more? If you’ve been offered a similar role elsewhere for more money, then you’ll have a pretty good idea. But if you’re not sure what to ask for, begin by doing some research into what your kind of experience, expertise and talent is worth outside the company. Websites such as Payscale and Glassdoor, along with job advertisements for similar roles, may give you some idea of what other companies are paying.
If you know that someone at your company is being paid more for a similar role, and you know how much, this may help you come up with a figure. But don’t rely on this information alone when building your case.
Be realistic. Know that performance-based pay increases are generally an average of 3%. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask for more than that, especially if your research tells you that you’re wildly underpaid, but do use your judgement and know the significance of what you’re asking.
2. Timing is everything
Think carefully about when you ask. If your boss has been dealing with budget cuts, redundancies or anything else that might give them a reason to refuse, be tactful and wait a while. On the other hand, if you’ve just won a big contract, or exceeded your targets for the year, that would seem like the perfect time to ask.
Be prepared to be flexible and choose your moment carefully. If you’ve scheduled a meeting with your boss and he/she seems in a rush or distracted, try to delay it. Give yourself the best possible chance of getting a ‘yes’.
3. Make your case
Even if a pay rise seems long overdue, do put forward a clear business case as to why you’re worth more. Simply saying, “I know so-and-so is paid more than me” almost certainly won’t clinch it for you. Even if you happen to know your colleagues’ salaries, avoid mentioning them altogether and stick to making a positive case for your own increase.
Put together a list of ways you have added value to the business since your last pay review. How are you going to be adding more value in the months to come? Have you recently taken on more responsibility? How has the quality of your work improved?
Bear in mind that when you present your case you need to keep things positive. Avoid turning it into a list of reasons you feel you’ve been underpaid.
4. Be strategic
This is a negotiation, so you’ve got to know how you’re going to play it. Start with your absolutes - you know what your ideal salary increase would be but you also need to decide how far you’re willing to negotiate. What’s your bottom line? Are you going to ask for more initially so that you can “settle” at your perfect number?
Then prepare yourself for your boss’ possible responses. Would you be prepared to accept an increase on your bonus or commission instead? What do you plan to do if you don’t get what you ask for? Remember that nobody responds well to an ultimatum.
5. Stay cool
Take a moment to compose yourself before the meeting; you want to go in there feeling as calm as possible. Make your request, state your case and then listen to your boss’ response. Don’t be tempted to repeat yourself. If you’re feeling nervous, breathe! Try to slow down and sit still. You’ll appear stronger and more confident. Most importantly, do not be aggressive and don’t lose your temper.
Don’t let it be the first time you’ve pitched for an increase out loud. Find a helpful friend or family member who is willing to practice the conversation with you. Have them play Devil’s advocate. If you’re fully prepared, you’ll be more likely to remain calm and composed when the time comes.
Last but not least, don’t let this conversation come as a complete surprise to your manager. You should aim to have a constant dialogue with your boss about your performance, your workload and your aspirations throughout the year. Make it clear that you’re ambitious, in every sense. That way, if they are given budget to increase salaries at any point, you’ll hopefully be first in line.
And ultimately, remember that it’s less about making it hard for them to say no, and more about making it easy for them to say YES."