How to ask for a pay rise: this 5 step guide could earn you more money

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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how to ask for a pay rise

There’s no two ways about it: asking your boss for a pay rise can be a daunting prospect. But if you want to earn more money, there are ways you can boost your chances of increasing your salary. Here, Alice Olin and Phanella Mayall Fine of the Step Up Club offer their five-point plan to tackling the topic - and getting exactly what you want.

More than half (54%) of women in the UK are unhappy with their salary, yet 57% of us have never asked for a pay rise, according to new research.

And let’s be honest, who really enjoys asking for more money from their boss? If you’re anything like us – and basically every other living, breathing person on the plant – then the thought of asking for a bigger salary is likely to bring you out in a rash. However, most women are woefully underpaid – and it hurts.

While some of the reasons for pay inequality are genuinely out of our control (such as an unconscious gender bias, or the fact that we tend to go off and have babies during our careers – and then want to raise those children too), there is one factor that we can change: The Big Ask. But because we hate it, we avoid it.

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Most of us were raised to be good girls: good girls who didn’t boast, because no one likes a boasting girl. This is so ingrained in us that we drag these fears into adulthood, where they can grow and become even more exaggerated. We’re scared that if we ask for more money then we’ll inadvertently create some kind of backlash against ourselves.

how to ask for a pay rise
How to ask for a pay rise: there is an unconscious gender bias that means women are often underpaid compared to their male coworkers

But when we don’t ask for what we deserve in the salary department, we continue to feed the gender pay gap and, even worse, we can end up earning less than our male peers – for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

To combat this fear, we’ve devised our unique Step Up More Pay Plan. It’s never going to feel easy going to ask your boss for more money, but you can empower yourself with the tools and confidence to do so. We’ve tried this simple plan on our clients, our friends and even our husbands. Without fail, every single one of them has secured more money, or the flexibility/holiday days/pay package that they’ve been wanting. It involves following the steps in our pie chart, below.

How to ask for a pay rise step 1: the prep – get everything in place before you ask

Know your rights

Here are some current stats for your back pocket:

Equal Pay: We’ve all got a right to equal pay for equal work.

Pay Gap: From this year, companies with over 250 employees will have to reveal their pay gap to the government, which means it’s a great time to ask for more money as a woman. After all, your company is going to want to look good.

Holiday Pay: We’re all entitled to 5.6 weeks, including bank holidays.

Flexible work: Everyone (not just parents) who has worked for their company for six months or more, has a right to request flexible working. The company can only decline on specific statutory grounds.

Do your research
Find out how much you are actually worth by asking headhunters and recruiters. Also, try searching The Glass Door for a nationwide breakdown of salary brackets in your industry. Knowledge is power.

Write it down
Quantify your career wins in real evidence: we always advise clients to take a document into The Big Ask meeting. Not only will it strengthen your resolve, it is very hard, as a boss, to deny facts that are written down in black and white. Start building your evidence now.

Identify your “why?”
Think about why you really want that pay rise: is it because you want to buy your first home, or are saving for a big holiday? Maybe the reason is as simple – and powerful – as validating your own worth. Hold this thought, this driver, in your mind when you go into the meeting. Identifying the reason behind your ask is paramount to getting across that big money line – because it gives you proper, concrete motivation.

How to ask for a pay rise step 2: the confidence – build yours as you go

How to ask for a pay rise earn more money
How to ask for a pay rise: have confidence that you deserve to earn more money

Just breathe
So much about how people perceive you, is about how you present yourself in stressful situations – in fact, in all work situations. If you can appear to be someone who is confident and self-assured, then others are more likely to back you. Do this by breathing slowly, controlling your voice, standing taller and holding an open posture.

Be still
Another Fake It To Make It hack: stillness. When you’re in a stressful situation – The Big Ask, say – make sure you sit tall and still. Channel that Shakespearean King who you’ve seen on stage many times before; he emits gravitas simply by the way he holds himself.

Wear it well
We all have clothes that make us feel great. We say, wear those clothes more often. It sounds so simple, but many of us notch down, rather than notch up, our look for work. Use clothes as your visual ally to appearing more confident and together. When you are self-aware, it sends signs to others in authority that you are worth more money. 

How to ask for a pay rise step 3: build your personal brand

Be your ‘best bread’
We are both suckers for expensive bread; we know the ingredients are the same as your usual sliced white, but we’re consistently seduced by the packaging! Why are we telling you this? Because no one is immune to branding: and thus, you need to use your personal brand to your advantage in the lead up to your Big Ask.

Unique is great
The way you build your personal brand is by identifying everything that makes you unique, and then knitting it back together into a bankable commodity. Maybe it’s that you’re young in a grey top industry, that you’re a woman in a man’s world, or that you’re amazing with technology? A personal brand is based on a range of qualities and traits. Think about yours, because the more instantly recognisable you are, the more people will talk about you; when your reputation grows, asking for more money becomes an easier task.

The other great thing about a personal brand is that it depersonalises The Big Ask. Rather than thinking, “Do they like me, will they pay me more?,” it will help you think in a more constructive, “Is what I do worth the money?” manner. 

How to ask for a pay rise step 4: the self promotion – learn to tell others your career wins

how to ask for a pay rise uk 2019
How to ask for a pay rise: learn to master the tricky art of self promotion

Grafter versus messenger
It isn’t enough to just work hard at your day job; if you want to earn more money, and secure that big pay rise, you need to tell others about your achievements and aspirations. This is called self-promotion. As women, we tend to think that just sitting at our desk for more hours will get us there in the end, but self-promotion is the number one career activity linked to higher salaries.

How do you do this? In the office, one great way is to request feedback meetings. We say ask for about four a year; they’ll be great for hearing constructive thoughts from your boss, and they’re also the perfect time to tell your boss what you’ve been doing – and communicate your wins. Plus, these feedback meetings get your face seen more, and help take the sting out of one-to-one meetings with your boss. The more you do them, the easier they become. So when you get to The Big Ask, it won’t feel as scary.

Build your evidence
Don’t just organise your achievements into a mental bullet point list. Instead, knit them together into a story: the story of your career. This makes communicating your achievements and aspirations easier, and more memorable too. Plus, the more you tell that story, the more you’ll believe it, too. 

How to ask for a pay rise step 5: the transaction – how to actually get what you want

how to ask for a pay rise 2019
How to ask for a pay rise: following the 5-step plan could get you the salary of your dreams

Starting. Hoped for. Fallback.
There is a clever tactic for when you’re in your boss’ office and you want to secure that pay rise: learn to broker your own deal. Before you go in, work out your starting amount and what you really want. Then, work out your fall back, which should be the absolute minimum you’re willing to accept. Your hoped for salary will be in the middle: once you have this in mind, you’ll know your financial perimeters, and that will help you stay strong if your boss tries to barter you down.

Assertive versus aggressive
How we ask for more money is imperative to getting what we want: so think about your tone and your language. Aggression is an absolute no-no in these situations – instead, be firm and confident in your beliefs, as well as open to hearing their side too. Listening is a powerful tool. When you are able to calmly leave gaps in the conversation, your boss will see that you are self-assured.

Consider the whole package
The idea here is that everyone leaves this conversation a winner. Even if you only want a pay rise, don’t ever go in to that meeting and ask for that in isolation. Rather, build your pay rise into a bigger package. Then this package, such as a pension contribution, more flexibility, and a bigger holiday allowance, can be used as a trading tool. You throw the holiday allowance in, but actually you’re not that concerned about it, so you give it away: “OK, I won’t have that extra week, but I won’t budge on the extra salary.” When you’re brokering the deal, pull out the document of evidence that you’ve been building; it’ll give your ask more weight and substance. And actually, make The Big Ask an all round less daunting situation.

So there you go. We know that if you follow our plan, you will get the money that you want – and deserve. Asking for more money is always going to feel uncomfortable, but with our Step Up More Pay Plan you will be able to do it with confidence and punch. Now, go get ‘em. 

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This article was originally published in January 2018

Images: Getty, Unsplash


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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Commissioning Editor at Stylist. Follow her on Twitter

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