Ask An Adult: How The Hell Do I Ask For A Payrise?

Talking about money is never fun but it’s one of the most important conversations you’ll ever have… Illustration by Holly Walsh

Ask An Adult: How The Hell Do I Ask For A Payrise

by Sarah Graham |
Published on

Talking about salaries is an absolute minefield – whether it's sussing out if the guys in your office are earning more than you and your female colleagues, or trying to plan a holiday with friends who are all on totally different incomes. And when it comes to negotiating a pay rise, many of us feel completely clueless about the etiquette. Is there a right or wrong time to ask? How do you even start that conversation? And how the hell do you persuade your boss to say yes?

Young women in particular typically lack confidence when it comes to this kind of negotiation – and the odds may even be stacked against us. Research published last year found that while men and women are equally likely to askfor a pay rise, women are less likely to be successful than their male peers. So just what is making it so difficult for us to get what we're worth at work?

28-year-old Victoria is a freelance consultant and says asking for a pay rise from corporate clients is a complete nightmare. ‘I've been working with one of the big four for two years, and I realised early on that I'd given them a very low price – I could easily have quoted them three times as much,’ she says.

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‘I initially quoted them my start-up rate, as the person who asked me was a friend. It was a spontaneous and honest answer, I hadn't done any research,’ she explains. ‘I've since asked multiple times for a pay rise, knowing the total budget available. I've managed to increase it slightly, but I'm still not being paid the real value of my work.’

For 34-year-old Kristen too, negotiating a fair deal has always been a struggle, particularly in the kind of part-time, unstable work she's done since graduating. ‘A lot of the work I've done has been on zero hours contracts, when I've been so desperate for work that I really can't risk jeopardising it by rocking the boat and asking for more money,’ she says.

Conversely though, when Kristen applied for her first full-time job, in Canada, she massively underestimated her worth. ‘I really had no idea what was reasonable to ask for, and was so desperate to get a job, that I put something like 24,000 dollars as my expected annual salary. The HR assistant was so kind, she called me and said “I think they're thinking of roughly twice that, could I change the number you put down?” – so she did, and I ended up earning 47,000 a year,’ she says.

So how do we nail this? Psychologist and business coach Amanda Davies believes a lot of women's issues with pay rise negotiations stem from early childhood conditioning. ‘I think it's really complex, but as little girls we're often told that you get what you're given, and it's not polite to ask, so I think a lot of us have this mindset where it feels really uncomfortable to ask for anything, and in particular money,’ she says.

‘There's still this idea that we're somehow going to be judged as too aggressive for asking, and that it's not a good trait in a woman,’ Amanda adds – but she firmly believes this mindset needs to change. ‘It's not just a question of fairness and equality, but it's also about recognising our worth and that we're here to make a great contribution,’ she says.

For her, timing is really crucial. ‘If your company's going through a restructure, or there's a pay freeze and people being made redundant, it's probably not a good time to ask for a pay rise!’ she explains. ‘But an annual review, for example, would be a perfect opportunity, or if you've just come off the back of a great project, or closed some sales, or done something great within your team.’

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Once you've found the right moment, Amanda's advice is to be confident in justifying why you deserve the pay rise. ‘Go into that meeting prepared, with all your evidence written down in bullet points, and give a copy to your manager. List what you've achieved and what you can contribute in future, and do your market research to find out what people are being paid in similar roles,’ she suggests.

‘I know talking about pay is still a no-no but, if you can, chat with your colleagues or HR, or have a look at job sites and see what a comparable salary would be in another organisation,’ she adds. ‘Know your value so you can passionately but objectively put your case across.’

This advice really chimes with 26-year-old communication manager Harriet's experience. ‘My mentor told me to research the sector to see what pay band I would fit into, and go into my meeting with lots of data showing my results and work,’ she says.

‘Even armed to the teeth with evidence, starting the conversation was daunting, but once I'd done that negotiating wasn't quite so hard – I'd done my research and could justify my request. There was some haggling, but it was hard for them to compete with the results I was showing them,’ she adds.

Amanda believes this kind of confidence is really key to women getting what they want and deserve at work. ‘If you can combine being passionate about your worth, and demonstrating the facts and figures, that's just going to scream confidence, and that's what works,’ she says.

‘Don't say “I'm really sorry to bring this up, but can we talk about my pay?” Don't apologise! I think as women our ability to receive anything is terrible – we feel awkward about receiving compliments, a pat on the back for a job well done, or even a friend buying us a cup of coffee. So I think if we can learn to accept more of those little things in life, that will open us up to a lot more to opportunities like asking for a pay rise,’ she adds.

‘Rehearsing beforehand can be a really great way to practise before you go into negotiations with your boss, and make sure you know what the minimum offer is that you're prepared to accept,’ Amanda suggests. ‘Don't walk away without an answer – even if that answer is, "I need a week to see if it's possible," set a date to follow up. Hold your manager accountable; don't let them off the hook!’

Like this? You might also be interested in:

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** Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahGraham7**

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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