Careers advice: How to negotiate a pay rise

22 May 2019

When we feel undervalued and underpaid at work our natural reaction is to look for a promotion or move to a rival firm. By the time our employer notices our real value and offers a pay rise, it may be too late. Alumni Careers Manager, Caroline Egan offers her tips on how to boost your salary before you reach the resignation stage.

1. Decide your priorities

It’s easy to convince yourself you’re underpaid if you feel underappreciated or taken for granted at work. Make sure you’re focusing on the real issue. Would a more generous remuneration package really make you happier? Perhaps a new challenge at work, more influence, better training and development, or greater flexibility, would make a bigger difference to you? 

2. Know your worth

You might need to convince yourself that you’re worth a pay rise before you can convince your boss. Remind yourself of the skills, experience, expertise, contacts, and the organisational and industry knowledge you bring. Think about how you add value to your firm – whether that’s in helping achieve strategic objectives, generating income, increasing efficiency or building relationships with customers. Gather evidence of your achievements and quantify by reference to data wherever possible.

3. Research the market

Do your research to gauge the market rate for similar roles in your sector. Recruitment agencies produce annual reports for different sectors containing salary guides; websites such as glassdoor and payscale provide rough salary guides, and it’s useful to look at a range of job advertisements. In senior or specialist roles, you may want to discuss market salary levels with recruiters. Reach out to your personal networks – although people are reluctant to disclose details of their salary package, you may pick up some ideas on salary ranges and trends. Don’t forget to compare the whole package, including pension, annual leave, health benefits and so on, not just the headline salary.

4. Strike while the iron's hot

The best time to ask for a pay rise is just after you’ve achieved something significant for the organisation or gone beyond the normal responsibilities of your role to deliver results. This could be just after hooking a new client, driving through a re-organisation or achieving a very positive appraisal.

5. Prepare a business case

You’ll need to put together a convincing case as to why the organisation should pay you more based on your specific contribution and the market value of someone with your experience and track record. Gather as many metrics and as much evidence as you can. Arrange a formal meeting or raise the issue at your next performance review. Be clear what you are asking for. It’s important that you stress your continuing enthusiasm for the job. Make it clear that you’d love to stay longer with the firm if you can just resolve this issue. Practice your pitch with a friend and ask for feedback.

6. Know what's achievable 

Think about the amount of flexibility that your line manager has: they may be concerned about setting a precedent or may have to seek permission from HR. In some sectors, pay grades may be rigidly controlled through job evaluation but you may be able to move within the scale. There may be more flexibility to offer a bonus or other benefit, rather than increasing your headline salary. Ask questions about their budget to find out their parameters, and suggest you’re looking within the market range, rather than being too specific on numbers at the outset.

7. Dealing with objections

The most likely objection you’ll face will be that the organisation can’t afford to pay you more at this time. If you’ve brought in income for the firm or reduced costs or errors this is the time to point that out. You can also explore whether there are extra responsibilities you could take on that could enable your manager to justify an increase, for example by reducing reliance on external consultants. If you focus on finding a win-win solution, are flexible about improving your benefits package overall, and present an evidence-based argument, you should get results. If you manager requests time to think about it, ensure you have a follow up date to check progress.

8. Protect the relationship

It’s important that you don’t threaten to leave unless you’re willing to do so immediately as your manager may call your bluff. Don’t let resentment at the situation leak out or become adversarial. Rather than making statements and demands, it’s better to put your case in a tentative way and ask questions to explore what is possible. ‘What potential is there to increase my package to a level closer to the market rate?’ works better than ‘I want £-x and I may look elsewhere if I don’t get it.’

9. End on a positive

If the answer is ‘No’ or ‘Not at the moment’ then ask ‘Under what circumstances would the situation change? How could I grow my role to justify a higher salary? What else could I deliver?’ Request a review after 3 or 6 months during which time you can gather more evidence and review your options. It’s likely your manager will want to keep you and will come back with a counter offer. Handled well, there is every chance that your salary renegotiation will boost your credibility in the organisation as well as your salary. Negotiate pleasantly though and know when to stop. Relationships can be quickly damaged by taking an unreasonable stance.

10. Always get offers in writing rather than trust verbal agreements

Remember, your line manager or other decision-makers might change so don’t leave this to chance.

Did you know? As an alum, WBS provide you with access to many free business and career resources you can use throughout your career, such as Pay Negotiation – an e-learning platform dedicated to salary negotiation in existing and new roles.

Existing student or alumnus?

For more support with any career-related issue, contact the WBS CareersPlus team via or for alumni.