Big Yourself Up

How to talk about your achievements while asking for a raise

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Moya Crockett
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Big Yourself Up is a new regular column exploring ways in which women can boost their self-confidence, get better at self-promotion and resist being sidelined in the workplace. Here, we examine how to highlight your successes while asking for a raise.

Women are not, as a general rule, very good at talking about our achievements. (There we go – being self-deprecating again.) Girls are taught from a young age that being boastful isn’t a positive trait, and as adults, we tend to feel slightly awkward about discussing our professional triumphs. If we’re praised for our work on a project, we’re quick to insist that it was a team effort; if we get a shiny new job, we might demur that we were “just in the right place at the right time”, or claim we were only offered the position because we made the interviewer laugh. (FYI: this literally never happens.)

But when it comes to careers, it’s essential that we learn to shout about our strengths and successes. Perhaps more than anything else, the recent disclosures about the gender pay gap revealed a dearth of women in the UK’s most well-paid roles – and while employers have a responsibility to compensate women fairly, it’s also true that many of us could do with practicing our self-promotion skills. Recent research shows that women are significantly less likely than men to view themselves as cleverer than the people around them, and women in Western countries are more likely to lack self-esteem than their male counterparts. Several studies also support the idea that women are less likely than men to ask for a raise – and when we do, we’re more likely to face repercussions for doing so.

But we shouldn’t let that put us off – because if you want to secure a pay rise, simply keeping your head down and hoping your boss notices how brilliant you are is not a proactive strategy. Instead, you have to make your accomplishments as visible as possible. 

Below, we consulted three negotiation experts and asked them how we should big ourselves up while asking for a raise.

Prepare, prepare, prepare

Take time to pull together evidence for why you deserve a raise 

You can probably cite some of your biggest professional successes straight off the bat, but preparation is key when asking for a pay rise. Set aside a few evenings to sit down and gather together hard evidence of what you’ve achieved over the past year (if you’ve had a pay rise in the last 12 months, it’s generally advisable to hold off on asking for another one a little longer).

Think about all the big and small projects you’ve worked on, successful pitches you’ve delivered to clients and events you’ve run. Resist the urge to dismiss something because it ‘wasn’t a big deal’ or ‘anyone could do that’: everything counts.

“If you’re practicing self-promotion, you need to do an audit of your strengths and successes,” says executive coach and author Jenny Garrett. “Try not to gloss over your achievements. Something that women do a lot is say things like, ‘I did organise the Christmas party, but that’s nothing’ – well, actually, there are a lot of logistics involved, so it’s not nothing.”

If you have no plans to ask for a pay rise in the immediate future, you should start making a note of your achievements as you go, so that you’re prepared for the inevitable point in future when you do want to request more money. Keep a running log of all of your accomplishments and have it to hand so you can whip it out whenever you need.

Show cause and effect 

Show how your ideas have benefited the company 

This is an essential part of your preparation process. It’s not enough to simply list all the things you’ve done or the hours you’ve worked: you have to be able to show the positive effect that your successes have had on the company.

Vanessa Vallely has worked in nine different banks over a 25-year career, and is now the managing director of women’s careers network WeAreTheCity. She has asked for pay rises and been responsible for increasing employees’ salaries, and says it’s vital to show “cause and effect”: in other words, to demonstrate how your presence has affected your employer for the better.

“You have to quantify your value and show the impact you’ve had during a certain period,” she says. “Have you saved the company money? Did you introduce or change a product? Did you improve a process that would save time or money? That’s the money shot, rather than just saying ‘I’ve worked really hard’.”

If possible, go to your negotiation armed with statistics and numbers that illustrate how you’ve made a difference. Print this information out on two sheets of paper – one for you, one for your boss – along with all other relevant evidence to support your case.

Ask others for feedback

Get positive testimonials from others to back up your case 

If you feel awkward talking about your own achievements, get other people to do it for you. Go to senior colleagues, clients, suppliers, customers – whoever who you interact with professionally on a regular basis – and ask if they’d be happy to give feedback on your work.

Not only does this get around some of the cringe-factor of having to big yourself up, it will actually make more of an impression on your boss. It’s also a vital step if you can’t access hard statistics to show how your work has made a difference, or if your industry is less data-driven and relies more on human relationships.

“It’s not enough just to say, ‘Yes I’m really good at this,’” says Garrett. “It’s much better when other people have said it and there’s evidence of that.” She recommends including compliments you’ve received on your work in your professional log. “Gather testimonials: ask for feedback after you’ve worked on a project and save it.” If someone praises your work, you should also let your boss know at the time, so that they’re aware of the impression you’re making on others. 

Talk about your successes straight away 

Shout about your successes!

Once you get into that meeting room, resist the urge to waffle.

“Make sure that you lay out your achievements at the point of the proposal rather than afterwards or once challenged,” says Natalie Reynolds, CEO of negotiation consultancy advantageSPRING, honorary visiting professor of negotiation at Cass Business School and author of We Have a Deal: How to negotiate with intelligence, flexibility and power. “You need to own your reasons. If you only bring up what you’ve achieved once challenged, you can sound flustered or desperate.”

Reynolds recommends sticking to the following rough structure in your discussion:

“Thanks for meeting with me to discuss my contract and pay. In the last 12 months I have been able to deliver X, Y and Z and secure an X% increase in sales. I have also volunteered to lead three new projects and encouraged ideas to be shared across a number of divisions. I have also received the following client testimonials [if you can, hand them over!]. I feel that my salary should be increased to reflect these achievements and I would like to request my pay is adjusted to £X.”

Imagine you’re not talking about yourself 

Pretend you’re talking about a good friend rather than yourself

If you could talk at length about how fabulous your best friend is at her job but would struggle to do the same for yourself, use that to your advantage.

“Studies show that when women are negotiating on behalf of other people we feel far more comfortable and perform far better, as we are not burdened by this fear of social penalty – it’s not greedy or selfish to seek a good deal for others!” says Reynolds.

She suggests asking yourself who is relying on you to get a good result in your salary negotiation (your family? Your partner? Your flatmates?), and imagining that you are negotiating on their behalf. This isn’t to put any more pressure on yourself, but rather to help you feel less embarrassed about asking for more money. 

Know when to keep schtum  

Silence can be golden when discussing pay 

Once you’ve said everything you have to say, stop talking – especially if you know you have a tendency to dissolve into self-deprecations when flustered.

“Practice your poker face,” says Vallely. “Ask for your pay rise, present your evidence, ask for their thoughts, and then just be quiet. Women tend to back ourselves out of the room before we’ve even got the answers, because we’re expecting the answer to be no – and sometimes, less is more.” 

The Big Yourself Up column is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, a year-long initiative to celebrate women’s success and inspire others to follow their lead. See more Visible Women stories here.

Images: Getty Images / Pexels / Pixabay