How to negotiate a pay rise


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Q: I am not sure that I am being paid what I am worth and would like to have a conversation with my manager about increasing my wages. How should I approach my next one-to-one meeting? 

A: Taking control of your career is essential if you want to succeed at a high level, and talking with your manager about any change to your contract is an important step to improve your long-term prospects. Ultimately, any conversation of this type is going to involve some kind of negotiation: whether it’s taking on new responsibilities, improving your work–life balance or asking for a salary review.

Many people are uncomfortable with the thought of negotiating, but the good news is that it’s a skill and can be perfected. The key is to change your perspective and think of negotiation as a process which starts before the meeting takes place. 

Where you stand

Careful thought and preparation ahead of negotiation with your employer will give you confidence and improve your chances of articulating what you hope to get from the conversation.

Critically evaluate your strengths and needs before the meeting. Recognise how your work fits into the wider picture and, if you can, supply evidence to back up your claims and help you quantify what you are offering. If you are struggling, make a list your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) and write them down; if you have a mentor, you should discuss these points with them and get their feedback. This will help you highlight where you add value to the company.

When negotiating a pay rise, think about how much money you need as well as how much you would like to earn. Do some research and find out the salaries of colleagues or those in other companies with comparable roles. You can use this to decide what you consider an appropriate – and realistic – salary based on your experience and skills. The Royal Society of Chemistry pay and reward survey (available to members for free) is a great starting point to compare your earnings with those in your industry and location. Decide before the meeting on any deal breakers that you will not accept. Once set, be prepared to follow through on your decision, but avoid giving an ultimatum as this could cause upset and offence. 

Once you have decided on your limits, be willing to compromise. As Deepak Malhotra, professor in negotiations, organisations and markets at Harvard Business School, US, explains: ‘If something is important to you, absolutely negotiate. But don’t haggle over every little thing. Fighting to get just a bit more can rub people the wrong way – and can limit your ability to negotiate with the company later in your career, when it may matter more.’

Think like an employer

You should also take time to put yourself in your manager’s or company’s position. How do they benefit from granting your request? Why do you deserve what you are asking for? Is this a realistic request given the company’s position and current direction?

Be aware that the person you are negotiating with (for example your manager) may need to go away and think about things before they can make a decision. In many cases they will not be able to grant what you would like, but the conversation can still give you an opportunity to outline your feelings and career ambitions. Don’t underestimate the importance of likeability during a negotiation; listen, ask intelligent questions and see if you can gain insights, find common ground and develop opportunities. A negotiation is also a great opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the company – no one wants to think you are using them simply to get what you want.

If a deal is offered, consider everything on the table. You should also request a copy in writing to confirm what has been offered.

Always remember that a negotiation about your career is a business transaction. You should leave emotions at the door and stay professional and respectful throughout. If negotiations do break down, remain polite and don’t be afraid to ask again at a later date: your manager may have more flexibility in six months’ time. 

If you have more advice you’d like to share about this month’s question – or have your own careers conundrum for Charlotte – please write to chemistryworld@rsc.org


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