Asking for more money at work is a tricky conversation that many don’t feel comfortable with. But there are strategies and approaches that make negotiating a pay rise much more straightforward. Sari De is a careers coach who focusses on helping women climb the corporate ladder. Here, she shares how to approach negotiation whether you’re interviewing for a new job or already employed.
Welcome to The Curiosity Academy, Stylist’s new learning hub where you can access workshops, how-to guides, new research and learn the most up-to-date skills from the UK’s most in-the-know people.
Women earn less than men at work. It’s a fact we’re all aware of. The gender pay gap in the UK currently sits at 7.4% among full-time employees and 15.5% among all employees, including part-time workers.
Research also shows that, as well as earning less overall, women are less likely to receive pay rises than men. Some statistics suggest that men are more likely to ask for pay rises than women whereas other numbers show that women are just as likely to ask for a pay rise as their male counterparts are, but they are less likely to receive one. Either way, it’s a big issue that’s contributing to the overall pay gap.
That’s where career coach and advisor Sari De comes in. “The glass ceiling is a distraction,” is Sari’s belief. “As long as we’re trying to break the glass ceiling, we’re trying to play by the rules inside of a system that wasn’t built for us.”
This is Sari’s mindset when it comes to negotiating a pay rise, something she has helped countless women to do successfully. After spending 15 years working at places like Facebook and Microsoft in Silicon Valley, Sari quit her job to focus on helping more women climb the corporate ladder. Here, she shares some practical and strategic advice that could help you secure a pay rise at work.
Always negotiate during the interview process
“Never accept the first offer out the gate,” advises Sari. “They’re never going to give you the highest offer and there’s always room to negotiate.”
She explains that even if you are happy with the salary you are offered, you should still negotiate if only to get practice negotiating.
“It’s okay to ask for a salary range during the interview process,” Sari says, explaining that you should avoid giving a range yourself because the employer will likely opt for the lowest number you have offered.
“State the number that you want and see how it lands and be confident about it,” says Sari. She recommends sites like Glassdoor and Payscale to find out what the average salary for your industry and your level is. If there’s anyone you know inside the company, ask them what the average salary is there so you can tailor your expectation to that number.
Salary isn’t the only thing you can negotiate
You can also negotiate on other benefits if your potential employer won’t budge on salary, Sari suggests. “So maybe for you, what’s more important is having an extra week off every year or maybe it’s a parking space. Maybe it’s one work from home day a week or an extra stipend for coaching training.”
Bonus structure and stock options are also things to consider but remember that the usefulness of these options are dependent on how long you’re planning on staying with the company, as some stock options only vest after three years, for example, which isn’t useful if you are not planning on staying at the company for that amount of time.
Nevertheless, these are all things that you are able to enquire about to help inform your decision during the interview process. Most companies have benefit packages available to their employees; explore what is available within the package offered with your contract and consider asking your employer if there is space to negotiate there instead.
Never accept a job offer straight away
Sari advises telling the employer a timeframe you need to think about the job offer, usually two days, so you have time to think about what you would like to bring up during the negotiation process. “Give yourself a chance to gather your thoughts but make sure you always convey how excited you are so the other person feels good.”
“You have to know what are your negotiables and your non-negotiables,” says Sari. “If the money is just frankly too low, then that’s your non-negotiable and you need to go back and ask them what room they have to move.”
A question Sari recommends you ask your employer is, “I’d love to know more about how you came to that number,” so you can figure out how they calculated the salary and where you have room to wriggle.
Remember that the company really wants to hire you
Many women worry that a company might withdraw their offer if they attempt to negotiate a salary but Sari insists that this isn’t something you need to worry about.
“If a company is withdrawing a job offer simply because you’ve asked for more money or a better package, that’s a huge red flag on the kind of company it is and how you can expect to be treated.”
“If they’re extending a job offer to you,” Sari continues, “it means they’ve invested time and money in interviewing a bunch of people and you were the best. The hiring manager really, really wants you and is going to do their best to get you onto their team – you’re in a good position to negotiate.”
Discuss your salary once you’re in a job, on average, yearly
There isn’t a set time frame for how often you should negotiate your salary once you are in a job – this is dependent on the type of job, the level you came in at and your company’s policies and procedures.
“The more junior you are, the more room you have to move up,” Sari explains. “I would suggest on average having that conversation once a year. Inflation happens year on year so our salaries should change year on year.”
Sari suggests flagging that you are interested in a pay rise six months before you are ready for it, so that your manager is aware that you want it.
“Some companies have set times of the year where they will award pay rises but some companies have no cycle for it and you can negotiate it and get it when you want, but give yourself at least six months to be able to ramp up to that pay rise because usually, it’s very rare that you were ready for a pay rise today and that you get a pay rise tomorrow.”
Understand your company’s culture
You need to know what to ask for when you want a pay rise, Sari explains, and this is often dependent on the company you work for. For example, do they offer pay rises without promotions? And what kind of percentage increase can you expect?
“There’s a rule of thumb that says you’re looking at around somewhere between 5-10%,” Sari says, adding that you can ask HR about this information if you have a good relationship with them.
“We need to remove the stigma around talking about money. It isn’t a dirty word. It’s how you pay your bills, it’s how you put food on the table and, frankly, it’s why you come to work. So as scary as it is, the only way we’re going to get better about talking about money is by doing it. And by the way, men are doing it all the time.”
Be clear with your manager
“Another good indicator that you might be ready for a pay rise is that you’re getting exceptional feedback from your peers,” Sari says. “One of the ways that I suggest negotiating a pay rise is to have very clear objectives and results that you share with your managers.”
“Have really clear results that you’re going to deliver and check in with your manager every week to show them what you’ve promised to deliver and how you’re going to measure that success,” Sari advises.
“Being able to report on exactly what you did or didn’t achieve is a great lever for you to come back and say that you deserve a pay rise.”
Deal with your imposter syndrome
“One of the things that I suggest my clients do is keep a running document of all the things that they’ve achieved,” says Sari. “So once a week, usually Fridays, go in and type out any compliments you received and any kudos you got.”
These can be small things, Sari explains, but they will help you deal with imposter syndrome and also act as feedback for your manager when it comes to your performance review.
“I think the other thing we have to remember,” Sari continues, “is that the things that come easy to us don’t come easy to everyone else. And very high achieving women, in particular, have a lot of things that come easy to them and so we assume everyone can do them but they can’t.”
Treat rejection as redirection
If your request for a pay rise is rejected, you have to decide whether you want to continue working at the job you’re in, Sari says, explaining, “The thing that’s really important to ask is ‘Can you help me understand how this decision was reached?’”
“It could be that your manager comes back and says what you did wasn’t enough or that the company didn’t perform well and nobody got pay rises. One is in your control and one is out of your control and that may help influence whether you feel good about staying or going.”
“The only time I would say you absolutely must leave,” Sari continues, “is when you get an answer back that implies the work you do isn’t valued because then it doesn’t matter how much work you do, you’re never going to get that pay rise. You need to understand whether there’s a ceiling where you’re at.”
Rejection isn’t always a bad thing on a personal level though, Sari insists. “Rejection is redirection. You’re never going to have a one hundred per cent strike rate – that’s just the nature of negotiation and you have to be totally ready for that. The question is, what are you going to do next?”
Pick yourself up and rethink your next steps
Understanding why your request for a pay rise was rejected will be really important for ensuring you achieve one next time if you decide to stay at the company, Sari explains.
“If you were rejected because there was no budget, your next question is, ‘when will there be budget and when should I next be moving towards this?”
If you didn’t achieve a pay rise because of your performance, get feedback on that and you then have things to work on that might allow you to secure a pay rise next time you make a request.
5 questions to ask your employer when negotiating a payrise
- “What is the salary range?” This will help to ensure the salary you suggest is reasonable.
- “What other benefits are available?” Things like extra time off, a parking space or flexible working might be just as valuable to you as money.
- “How did you come to that number?” This should be your response to the salary the employer suggests, so you can figure out how they calculated the salary and where you have room to move.
- “Do you offer pay rises without promotions?” This might be a question you ask someone in your HR department in order to understand your company’s culture when it comes to pay rises.
- “What kind of percentage increase should I expect if I am granted a pay rise?” Similarly, this might be something you ask HR - this kind of knowledge is very useful to the negotiating process.
Sari De, careers coach
Sari De is a business coach who helps women, particularly women of colour, climb the corporate ladder. Sari also works with tech firms including Google, LinkedIn and Instagram to develop and scale their diversity and equity programmes.