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How to prepare yourself when asking for a pay rise

7 Apr 2023

Gina London of Language of Leadership advises employees on what to do when asking for a pay rise and how to prepare accordingly.

Imagine you’re a little kid on the playground. Two other children are twirling a jump rope and encourage you to hop in. You agree and then find yourself lingering, standing on the periphery. The sound of the rope smacking the ground with each consecutive spin becomes hypnotising. Your head and hands begin to move in rhythmic unison with the swing of the rope as you try to determine the best time to try and leap in.

Ultimately you give up and walk away. You would have liked to join in, but you just weren’t sure when or how to get started.

This is how a lot of people feel about asking for a pay rise. We may officially be grown-ups, but when it comes to setting a meeting with the boss to present our case for a salary increase, many of us internally revert to that uncertain youngster.

Perhaps as you read this, you’re thinking that you’ll just wait until the end of the year and ask as part of your annual performance review. But as Harvard Business Review has reported, more than a third of all global companies have replaced yearly evaluations with frequent informal check-ins between employees and supervisors.

So, then, what are the best times to ask? And how can I prepare? Here are a few suggestions.

Timing is everything

“Timing is everything” is how the saying goes and it’s true. Look around you. If, like with much of the tech sector this year, your company has been wracked with employee cutbacks and layoffs, now is definitely not the time.

On the other hand, if your organisation is preparing to post strong quarterly earnings or is demonstrating in other ways that business is going well, this may very well be a good time. If you learn that a colleague has successfully asked for a raise, that’s another good indicator. Thirdly, if you have just completed a project your manager recognised you for as making positive impact for your division or company, then now is definitely a good time.

Do your homework

Don’t merely focus on the results of a single project, however. Instead, open Excel or one of the many Excel alternatives and start putting quantitative examples of your sales effectiveness, process efficiency or anything else that you can think of which will contribute to building a broader case.

Since you’re going to be asking for more money, you must demonstrate that the extra work you have taken on or any accomplishments you have achieved have increased your value to the company. Each of us must be able to give specific examples of why we’re worth it.

Stick to the facts

When it comes to pitching your worth, managers don’t want to hear a sob story or an overly-emotional appeal. This is a tip I admit I hadn’t really considered until one of my former HR director clients pointed it out to me.

She said that way too often an employee will say something like, “I’ve dedicated 15 years of my life to this company and missed countless football matches and dance recitals of my children.”

Or, if there are no kids in the picture, another version goes like this: “I’ve given my complete heart and soul for this firm and sacrificed having a family.”

Neither of these approaches will cut it.

Instead, as I already described, limit your evidence to listing in detail your performance success in a rational and logical presentation. Try to attach real numbers to the profit margins you improved, the sales targets you exceeded or the savings you made for your company.

Be clear that you’ve earned this, not that you are owed this. There’s a difference. And please, as my client reminded, don’t cry.

Create a ‘future plan’

This is a clincher. Show your boss how committed you are to continuing to contribute to the company by writing a three to six-month personal development or project plan with solid ideas that lays out how you aim to keep adding value in coming years.

It’s better to present this as a document or PowerPoint rather than to only share the concept verbally. Take time beforehand to craft an appealing document you may give to your manager as a leave-behind to review.

Pop the question

This final tip might seem obvious, but too many people don’t do this. Again, remember that child at the jump rope on the playground. You don’t want to get this close, and then discover you can’t actually take the leap.

Don’t present all the evidence as suggested above only to fumble at the finish. For instance, it’s not enough to conclude by saying you are worth more, have a specific figure or percentage increase in mind.

Practice saying this out loud. Many of us don’t feel comfortable talking about money. There’s a whole lot of psychology that backs up this anxiety.

If you’ve done market research and have evidence that your job pays more than other places – or you can prove your performance – don’t be afraid to ask for a new number.

Then stop talking. Give them time to react.

No matter what they say, keep calm. If they don’t agree to your request, seek to understand their reasoning, and encourage them to help you structure a personal development plan.

This can help guide and propel you to take that jump rope leap and become successful the next time. I don’t want you to skip your next opportunity.

By Gina London.

Gina London is the founder and CEO of Language of Leadership, a Dublin-based consultancy which supports predominately Fortune 500 companies and executives in every facet of leadership communications. Gina is also an Emmy-winning former CNN anchor and reporter.

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