How to ask for (and get) a pay rise

All too often people ask for a pay rise at the wrong time. Either the request is long overdue and can sound like a demand, or too soon and the manager feels it’s not warranted.

This decade is set to be the weakest one for wage growth since the 1900s, according to the Resolution Foundation. So it’s more important than ever to time your pitch right: it may be the difference between success and failure.

The optimal time

Your annual review is often the best time. It’s common for these reviews to take place shortly after the end of the of year – be that calendar or financial – and usually with some notice. If you can’t wait until the annual review, then choose your moment wisely. Specifically, Monday mornings are a universal no-no, as are Friday afternoons, or any day of the week following poor financial results.

Facing some home truths

Ask yourself some tough questions before asking anything of others. Why are you underpaid? How does your salary compare with the market? Can your employer afford it? Have you checked your organisation’s salary bands? Why are you asking for a pay rise? The answer to this last one is crucial and could be the key to how you frame your case. Is it an issue of equality or parity? Has your personal situation changed, meaning you can no longer afford to live on your salary? Are you prepared to move on for a pay rise? These are all things to consider before developing your pitch for more money.

Understand this: the past is the past

The mistake made by most people when asking for a pay rise is to attempt to justify an increase based on past performance. Talking about that great win, how hard you’ve worked, the disaster you single-handedly averted is not (most of the time) going to cut it. You’ve been paid for what you’ve done – that’s how the salary system works.


If time is on your side, then plan and start working harder and smarter to excel in your job while demonstrating an exemplary attitude in your work place. Seek out ways you can bring value above and beyond your main responsibilities. If over the past month or three you’ve excelled then your boss is likely to see you as someone to develop and one to keep.

It’s not all about you

As a headhunter, I’m often involved in a salary negotiation on behalf of a client, and as a manager, I’m familiar with requests for pay rises from team members. My favoured approach is one that works for both employee and employer: start by thinking more for what you can do for your employer and less what your employer can do for you. If possible, start laying the ground work several months before putting in the request. No manager likes surprises when it comes to pay rise requests (there’s always a budget somewhere that must be stuck to) so don’t be shy about making it clear up front that it’s a topic you wish to discuss.

Approach a pay rise request in a similar way to a job interview. The common mindset of someone asking for a pay rise is: “This is what I want from you.” Instead, try the “This is what I can do for you” approach – the approach you took that got you the job in the first place. Get yourself in that mind set. Prepare your pitch, practice it and perfect it.

Be future orientated

Talk about the future, share your plans and ideas, and demonstrate the passion and enthusiasm that you have for your work. Set out the goals and ambitions that you’d like to fulfil in the job, and then explain the benefit that this will bring in terms of your organisation’s strategic objectives.

By linking what you’re going to deliver, and the value you will bring to the organisation, with your pay rise request, you’re giving your manager the best-possible reason to say yes. You’ll also be providing them with the material to make your case to their boss if that’s what’s needed.

No tantrums

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. The worst that can happen is your boss will say no. If this happens, avoid an emotional response and remain professional. Use it as a learning experience and find out why you didn’t get it. Don’t threaten your boss with resignation; in most cases they will call your bluff and it will cause your relationship to sour.

If a pay rise is not possible right now, try alternative requests for things of value to you – professional development, additional holiday allowance, membership of a professional body, gym membership, paid days off to volunteer, and so on.

I know plenty of people that earn tens of thousands more than their contemporaries because they asked for a pay rise more times than most, but have done so in a clever and informed way. They demonstrate the value they will add. There’s a fine line between doing more than is asked of you to excel and doing so much that you’re taken advantage of. There are only so many hours in a working week, so be smart and make each one count.

Image by Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images. Members of the GMB union dressed as “Maybots” demonstrate outside the Palace of Westminster, London in November 2017, protesting the public sector pay cap before the Autumn Budget.

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A version of this article first appeared in Influence magazine, Q1 2018

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