Help desk: `I deserve a pay rise but I don't know how to approach my boss'

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The second in a series that offers advice on work-related problems from different experts each week.

For the past two years I have worked as an administrative assistant but have never received a pay rise. My company doesn't have yearly pay reviews and I don't know how to raise the subject with my boss. What should I do?

Liz Lawson, Bristol

Sheila Harris, director of Martina Keane Associates, recruits secretaries for the upper end of the job market:

Asking your boss for a raise is never easy. But it is an important step forward in your career, so it is vital you get it right. Being prepared is probably the best advice, not only in terms of the way you approach your boss for the raise, but also in terms of your performance beforehand. The first step is to work yourself into a position where there is no doubt in anybody's mind that you are stretching the boundaries of your job specification.

To do this you must be very clear of exactly what your job spec is, so take some time to speak to other administrative assistants in your company and find out what they are expected to handle. If there is a colleague whom you admire, think exactly why that is and try to take a leaf out of his or her book. Even better, speak to friends in other companies, refer to any notes from appraisals, and look out for trends within the industry that could give you that all-important edge.

Once you have done this, look to your areas of weakness and see how you can develop. Ideally, you should be doing this two to three months beforehand so that you can overcome any problem areas and, more importantly, your boss forgets they ever existed.

Beyond this you should be innovative. If there is a project your boss is having difficulties with, try to think how it could be overcome - you'll not only earn yourself vital brownie points by producing a solution but you will be putting yourself in a position where your boss feels confident about consulting you for ideas and advice.

Always be one step ahead and, if you can, gain a reputation for it. Make a point of knowing your boss's strengths and weaknesses as this can help avoid many problems. Meet and break any deadlines, particularly in the last few weeks before you ask for your raise - even if you have to put in a few extra hours, it could really pay off.

Finally, be sure of what you want, be realistic in your demands and be aware of how much other people are earning in a similar position within the same industry.

If you are successful in following these steps you should, by this stage, have built up such a wave of momentum that your boss is not only likely to be giving you more responsibility but, in all probability, happy to reward you for it.

Dr Ayo Salami lectures in accountancy at City University's Business School:

The uncertainty surrounding the possible reaction of any employer makes asking for a pay rise a particularly delicate issue. The thrust of your problem is how to raise the issue of a pay rise without being confrontational.

If the other employees within your firm have received pay rises, then it would not be too discourteous to point out the anomaly in your situation to your boss and politely enquire as to why your circumstances are different.

Most companies have performance appraisals, usually on an annual basis, which generally provide an opportunity for the employer and the employee to address issues of concern. If yearly pay reviews are not available, but there is an appraisal procedure, it would be appropriate for you to bring up the question of a pay rise.

This should be relatively easy if your appraisal is positive. In asking for a pay rise, it would be useful if you knew how your salary compared with those in similar jobs. There is a high chance that if you are significantly underpaid then requesting a raise at your performance review would not be too arduous a task.

If your firm does not have an appraisal procedure, then it would be a useful starting point to suggest that the company adopt one.

Tell them that through an appraisal scheme their employees will be able to develop their potential, through training and fully understanding the company's goals.

If you do have an appraisal and it is negative, then asking for a pay rise may appear cheeky, and I would suggest that you first address any legitimate issues of concern raised by your boss.

Interviews by Nicole Veash

If you would like expert advice about a work problem, write to Helpdesk, City+, Features, `The Independent', One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182 or e-mail C. Fielding