Negotiate your salary – the extra effort is worth it in the end

 What are you worth? Someone out there wants exactly what you’ve got!

What happens when you like your job but it just doesn’t pay enough? Well, sometimes there is nothing you can do, for example if you are in a profession where salaries are controlled, such as with public sector jobs. And some of you may have already tried bringing up the topic of salary raises without success (many countries are still in recession and salary stagnation). But there may be circumstances in which you can at least discuss salaries, if only to express your desire to stay on at the company, and your dissatisfaction with only one aspect of the job – your pay. This can be quite a positive message for your boss and also an indication that you know your worth and are not afraid to communicate it.

This post is not about the gender pay gap – that’s a whole other ongoing debate and the result may be beyond your control. I am more interested in what we can do today as individuals about our own pay, and about our own careers.

This post also assumes you are ready for a pay rise – you’ve been in the organisation beyond your probation period and you are meeting expectations. Negotiations outside of these parameters are likely to be pointless and do more damage than good.

I’m afraid none of these articles will guarantee a pay rise. There are no guarantees, but the tips that follow just ooze common sense and best practice and none of them will do you any harm. As they say, there’s nothing wrong with optimism as long as you don’t get your hopes up unrealistically. Above all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Many of us feel embarrassed to talk money. We are not supposed to be motivated by money – we are supposed to be the kind of people who come to work for the challenge, the comradeship and out of loyalty, like members of some kind of Utopian cooperative. But we have all been in positions where the cost of living is spiraling beyond our small or inexistent pay rise. So let’s look at some scenarios where it might be appropriate to raise the issue of pay, and how to go about it. Let’s start with not mentioning pay at all.

The indirect approach

In his article How To Get A Raise Without Asking For One Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, takes the view that you don’t actually ask directly, but let your behaviour do all the work. These tips are all about proving that you “add value” to your role, and go above and beyond just turning up on time every day and meeting deadlines. When you do this, you stand out from the rest and place yourself firmly in the “candidate for promotion” category, which is a sure fire way of getting a pay rise. Or at least you pave the way for a positive pay rise discussion. By “acting up” a role, or exceeding expectations, you get yourself invited to the top table. Among other suggestions, the article recommends:

  • Developing your specialism – “soak up everything you can about your company and your industry”
  • Being one step ahead – “pre-empt the question”
  • Demonstrating accountability – “When you make a mistake, just give your boss a simple heads-up, and have a solution ready”
  • Being proactive about training – “While everybody else is asking the boss to send them to training, you can tell her what you’ve already done, and your initiative will be rewarded”
  • Just doing it – “if you see a problem, fix it”
  • Speaking up about your achievements – “there’s absolutely nothing wrong with owning your accomplishments”
  • Building relationships across departments – “Person-to-person interactions are almost always more effective than department-to-department exchanges”
  • Keeping calm in a crisis – “your composure and ability to think clearly during a crisis demonstrates leadership potential, and leaders get promoted”
  • Improving your ROI (return on investment) – “you want your boss and the company to know that they’re getting a great return on the time and money they’re investing in you”.

The direct approach – full-on negotiations

Online career resource site The Muse takes the more direct approach and gives you a whopping 37 tips in one article A whopping 37 tips! According to a survey by only 37% of people always negotiate their salaries while an astonishing 18% never do, and 44% of respondents claim to have never brought up the subject of a raise during their performance reviews, mostly out of fear. The article goes on to describe how a failure to negotiate salaries from the start of your career can lead to you working extra years compared to your negotiator colleagues to keep up with their career earnings. Scary, whatever gender or sector applies. Tips include:

  • Walk into the negotiation with a number you have researched in your field and geographical location – use sites like, , or, or local recruiters and job sites for similar roles. This gives you control from the start
  • Start your negotiations at the top of the pay range you identify, in case you need to settle for less
  • Make the number really specific, not a round sum, and it will look like you have done some serious research. Avoid a range – e.g., £50K-£55K – an employer will take the lower amount as a starting point
  • It goes without saying, but have a list to hand of accomplishments and testimonials that back up your claim - all positive, all genuine. A copy for you and a copy for your boss, of course
  • Best day to ask is on a Thursday – per Psychology Today
  • Enter the room with confidence – your body language will do half the talking, if not more
  • Negotiate doesn’t just mean “obtain by discussion” it also means “find a way over or through” so bring along examples of what issues you are solving for your company or additional responsibilities you are taking – these are very powerful in proving your worth. If you are able to quantify your contribution to the company’s success, do it. Your ability to close this deal will also demonstrate an ability that has a commercial value to your company
  • If your immediate boss is not the decision maker, ask them for advice or recommendations:  flatter your negotiating partner, and they will advocate harder on your behalf
  • Listen to the response! Sounds obvious, but when you are going into a potentially scary meeting you will be focussing on your own script, so make sure you don’t overlook what the other person is saying – the key to getting a resolution is finding some common ground that keeps you both happy
  • Don’t leave it until the end of year performance reviews – pay rises, if any, may already have been discussed and budgeted for by then, so start at least 3 months earlier and get your point across in advance
  • “No” may be the last word you want to hear, but the nature of negotiation is that you don’t start off with the same objective. If you do walk in and get what you want immediately, fantastic! But it’s unlikely. You are far more likely to encounter the word “no”. But don’t be put off. Keep going. Or even stay silent for a few seconds – the other person may fill the silence with a “However”….
  • Whatever you do, don’t respond to a “no” with a threat to leave. You may well have another job lined up, but if you want to stay in your current job, don’t make it look like you would jump ship readily. You want to look like a loyal employee who knows his worth, not a gun for hire
  • Keep negotiating – it isn’t a one-off trick, but a skill that you should bring every time salary is discussed. Employers are more willing to do it than you think – and probably do it right under your nose with your colleagues! – so don’t miss out
  • Be brave! Women especially do not take the opportunity to negotiate salaries from the start. This article may be a couple of years old but it describes this phenomenon very well 

Interested? More techniques for serious career-hackers

Finally, remember that if there is nothing you can do about your actual salary, there may be other benefits that could make your working life easier, happier or more useful to your career goals. That could be flexible hours, working from home, casual dress, office location, job title, a parking space, a chance at a new project or any other condition that you believe is worth fighting for. Work is where you spend most of your waking hours so don’t be afraid to express yourself if you feel better conditions could enable you to do your best work.

Before you go in for that pay rise meeting, warm up your smile muscles by looking at a “how not to” seminar from Michael Scott .

Next week, I’ll be looking at being perfect – and why trying to achieve perfection is holding you back. The internet has been full of stories this week of outrageous overtime worked all over the world in pursuit of perfection. What if it isn’t necessary?

Until next week!