How to get a pay rise in 2020: Our top tips from career coaches

Marina Gerner
19 December 2019

Are you underpaid for the experience and skills you bring to work? Then now is the time to do something about it. Check out our tips from career coaches and negotiation experts – if you don’t ask, you don’t get


Brits are not keen on talking about money, so it is not surprising that many people might balk at asking for a pay rise. The average worker believes they deserve £5,321 on top of their salary, according to a OnePoll survey of 2,000 full-time employees. And yet most people do not feel comfortable asking for more money.

But feeling undervalued is hugely demotivating in the long run. If you have consistently worked above and beyond your role, why shouldn’t you be paid accordingly?

We spoke to a range of career coaches and negotiation experts to reveal the strategies that work – as well as the ones that don’t.

“I did my homework and got a 37% pay rise”

A few years ago, Heather Docherty, 31, who lives in South West London, felt it was time for her career to move to the next level. So she decided to take stock.

“I always understood the advantage of having a mentor or a coach, and while the business didn’t provide one for me formally, I built my own network of mentors,” she says. “So first I went to them to sound out if it is appropriate to be asking for a promotion. Should I be doing this?”

She knew she was “overperforming from a target perspective” in her HR consulting sales role. She had been growing the number of accounts and her target revenue. But she also found out what the going rate was if she moved elsewhere.

“I went to a few recruiters in the market and found out what I could expect if I went to another firm. Would I go in at the same level or would I be able to get to the next level,” she explains.

One of her mentors pointed out that she should prepare to not only talk about her successes with clients, but also her reputation and leadership skills within the company.

“When you are junior, you wouldn’t necessarily think about that.” As a result, she says: “I went in well-prepared and I was able to justify why I feel I deserve to take the next step. I could show them my achievements, how I work with a team, and I had examples of where I have not just hit every metric but gone above and beyond.”

What was the result of the conversation? She got the promotion and her base salary went up by an impressive 37%.

“If you don’t ask you don’t get. Your manager isn’t a mind reader. And take the emotion and personal aspect out of it. It’s great when you really got on with your manager, but that can make these conversations harder – so look at it as business conversation.”

Know your worth

Whenever you plan to ask for a pay rise, it is important to know why you deserve one. What are your skills? What have you achieved? It is good to do some research and establish the market value of your job by looking at salary comparison sites such as Glassdoor or PayScale.

Some industries are more transparent than others.

“Put your network to work to get a sense of what people out there are earning,” says Sally Helgesen, author of How Women Rise. She says you could look at what competitors or companies of a similar size pay for positions that require your skill set.

Even though unequal pay between men and women for doing the same work has been illegal in the UK for 50 years, since the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970 – it still happens. Business cultures are changing slowly, but we are still far from parity.

“What is helpful for women, especially – or for anybody who doesn’t necessarily have a great gift of the gab or feels a little reluctant about bragging – is to keep a list. This is one of the most powerful practices,” she says.

Helgesen recommends writing down your successes and achievements so that you can refer to them when you negotiate a pay rise or promotion.

“You don’t have to spell out the value of what you’ve done, in terms of the bottom line or the dollar value,” Helgesen says, “but you do have to make clear that you recognise that a financial advantage was gained through your contribution.”

The day you ask for a pay rise

It is best to ask for a pay rise in person. Ask for a meeting or a performance review and say that you would like to discuss pay. Timing is important, as companies make budget decisions at certain times of the financial year. The rhythm of your work is important too, so avoid extremely busy times, such as Monday mornings or Friday evenings.

In addition to that, Professor Christine Naschberger of Audencia Business School has an unusual piece of advice: “Postpone your negotiating meeting if you feel that you are not in the right mood, or that your boss isn’t,” she says. “It is not a good basis for negotiation if you are not feeling positive about it or if your boss is angry or feeling resentful.”

Dessy Ohanians, managing director of Certificate and Corporate Programmes at the London School of Business and Finance, recommends putting yourself into the shoes of your employer and figuring out whether you have demonstrated contributions “in line or above expectations which would make your manager willing to fight your corner”.

Verónica Moreno, career coach at Seven Coaching, says that those who have been in a role for a while, “should explain what they have learnt, how they have become more skilled and what else they can do to justify the pay rise.”

Consider alternatives

And finally, if you can’t get a monetary pay rise, consider alternatives to money. You could negotiate shorter hours, extra holiday days, more flexible working, development opportunities or a more senior job title.

Remember that one of the best opportunities to negotiate a good salary is before you start a job.

“Don’t think that once you start, you can improve a bad deal,” says negotiation expert Steve Jones. “You have the most leverage, before you are on the payroll.”  

What to avoid when asking for a pay rise

1 Don’t mention your personal needs

“Support your request without mentioning your personal needs. You may want a pay rise to get a bigger flat, take a nice holiday or pay for your child’s music lessons, but you shouldn’t state these reasons when speaking to your boss. Rather than justifying your request with your wants and needs, focus on discussing how you have contributed to the organisation, how your role has evolved since your last pay adjustment and what your research unearthed about the current market rate for your job,” says Amanda Augustine, careers expert at TopCV, a CV-writing service.

2 Avoid ultimatums 

“Sometimes it’s tempting to lay down your ground rules in a ‘take it or leave it’ way. This isn’t conducive to collaborative negotiation and may cause your employer to shut down the conversation quickly. Try to avoid any kind of rash request in the heat of the moment. If something gets suggested to you that you are not sure about, thank the person for the offer and ask if you can have 24 hours to consider it,” says Hannah Salton, a career coach and consultant.

3 Don’t threaten to leave unless you are prepared to do it

“People get themselves into a frenzy, but don’t threaten to leave if you wouldn’t act on it. Implicit threats are more powerful than explicit ones – so rather than saying, ‘if you don’t give me 15% more, I’m out of here,’ say ‘I’m being paid below the market rate and with that to consider I have to think about what’s next for me,” says negotiation expert Steve Jones.

4 Don’t hurt your manager’s ego

“You often work with somebody who is not the decision-maker, so figure out what the process is. I used to ask: ‘Do you make the decision?’ But that’s actually an ego question. So they might say yes, even though they don’t. Instead, ask what the process is for getting a pay rise and always allow them to save face,” adds Jones.

5 Don’t point to a colleague’s pay rise

Don’t ask for a pay rise because you heard that a colleague got a pay rise.

“It never works, at least not for me. It’s none of anyone else’s business what others are paid. Why would anyone increase someone’s salary just because they increased their colleague’s salary? That’s not sound logic or financially smart,” says Rob Moore, host of business and lifestyle podcast The Disruptive Entrepreneur.

6 Don’t burn your bridges

“If the answer is no then work to turn that into a maybe. Walk away with dignity, resolution and a plan. You may be disappointed but rise above it. Be determined to succeed and never burn your bridges,” says career coach Chris Chapman.

7 Don’t just ask for job opportunities

“Never ask for job opportunities, they will come – ask for advice instead. Set the stage and make it easy for the right people to spend time with you. The more time you spend with others who may know more than you do, the more likely you are to encounter great opportunities,” says Liz Sebag-Montefiore, coach and director of 10Eighty, a strengths-based HR consultancy.

First published on 31 December 2019

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