How to get a pay rise in the middle of a crisis

Here’s how to have that difficult conversation in a difficult time

Felicity Hannah
Tuesday 28 July 2020 12:07 BST
More than half of UK manufacturers are planning to make staff redundant this year
More than half of UK manufacturers are planning to make staff redundant this year (PA)

This is a very tough jobs market. The official unemployment count between March and May was 1.35 million, according to the Office for National Statistics.

And although that included a very slight fall of 17,000, the number of people on UK payrolls fell by 650,000 – with some economists predicting that unemployment could potentially rise to 4 million when the furlough scheme comes to an end.

So it may feel like a buyers’ market in terms of recruitment. If you’re a jobseeker or if you feel you’re due a raise, it may not currently feel possible to hold out for a competitive rate.

But your long-term financial security will be enhanced by securing the right salary from the start.

Jason Grandin, managing director of the tech recruiter CPS Group UK, says: “Prior to the pandemic almost all industries had been facing big talent shortages, creating a candidate-centric jobs market.

“Post-lockdown, many potential candidates are feeling that businesses hold most of the cards, particularly if they have been made redundant by their previous employer.

“Still, just because there are more people open to opportunities, does not mean that employers can or will take advantage of candidates.”

So how do you do that in a health crisis, coupled with an economic crisis, attached to a rising risk of a jobs crisis?

Here’s how.

Be realistic

Is now the time to ask for a rise? Take a careful look at your sector, advises Patrick Barr, owner of Barr Performance Coaching and author of The Successful Career Toolkit.

He says: “If you work in one of the sectors that have been devastated in recent months [like] the hospitality, travel, tourism and entertainment sectors I suggest that it would be very insensitive to ask for a pay rise.

“If you have colleagues that are being made redundant or are at risk of being made redundant asking for a pay rise may come across as being very greedy and so not a good idea. However, if you work in a sector that is doing well then there is no need to hold off on your request.”

Understand your value

You can’t sell yourself for the best price if you don’t know what you’re worth.

“The hiring process should be a two-way negotiation, but the candidate will need to sell their value to the employer, and this means knowing your own worth,” Grandin says.

“Research the kind of salaries being offered in your field and your area, and if you aren’t being offered a similar amount then begin negotiating.

“It’s the same thing with working conditions – if working remotely is important to you, for example, take some time to find out if it’s practical and widely occurring in your industry.”

Get ready to negotiate

By going into this ready to negotiate, you can take the time to arm yourself with the information you need.

Martin Schweinsberg, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at ESMT Berlin, says failing to negotiate is the “biggest mistake you can make”.

But that negotiation has to be based in reality. “When you do ask for something, remember to do so thoughtfully and tactfully, especially now. Acknowledge the special situation we’re all in, and don’t pretend that their business isn’t also affected by Covid-19,” he says.

“Ignoring this will make you seem delusional.”

One of the best ways to negotiate is to have options, Schweinsberg adds. “Work on your alternatives: keep applying for jobs and going to interviews. Nothing is more empowering than having alternatives because the recruiter knows they may have to pay more to get you.

“Alternatives give you power in negotiations.”

Of course, you may want to negotiate a rise within your current role. Barr says: “Make it easy for your boss by being well prepared with a business case as to why you deserve a pay rise, this will make it easier for your boss to get approval from their boss or others if necessary.

“Specifically, you need to clearly demonstrate the value you deliver for the company. In this regard you should highlight the positive outcomes or material benefits you delivered for the company over the last 12 months. The impact you deliver for the organisation will underpin the likelihood of success of your request.”

In a tough climate like this it can be easy to lose sight of your own worth. Taking the time to prepare examples of your previous impact can help in a negotiation and also help boost your own esteem.

Business coach Erica Wolfe-Murray says: “When negotiating – don’t get into a race to the bottom. Ensure you have been through your experience with a toothcomb, understanding how you can add value to the job role through all your past experience.

“For example if you’ve worked for a fast growth company, reveal how your skills and ability contributed to that growth.”

Gather information

Another thing that gives you power is knowing what the sector typically pays and what the company you’re working with typically pays.

Shefali Davda-Bhanot is the director of Seventh Degree Limited and a member of the Women in Recruitment organisation, which aims to attract, develop and retain female recruiters.

“Proposing unrealistic salary ranges demonstrates a lack of understanding and preparation, whether this be too high or too low,” she says.

“Discussing salaries can be a taboo however it is important to seek advice from peers and consult online forums and tools such as StackOverflow for techies, Glassdoor, Monster or PayScale to support individuals to deduce a salary range.

“I would also avoid divulging too much information on your current salary. This is an important point as most companies differ with their ‘package offering’, ie one company may have several types of insurances and an excellent pension included in their package, however may have a slightly lower basic salary.

“Most organisations would need to understand a candidate’s salary expectations during the hiring process, my advice would be to provide a salary range as opposed to exact number in order to provide room to negotiate later on in the hiring process.”

Know what to avoid

Whether you’re negotiating the salary for a new role or an existing one, there are some things to always avoid.

Liz Sebag‑Montefiore, a career coach and director of HR consultancy 10Eighty, says it’s essential to avoid certain behaviours that might appear unprofessional.

“Don’t plead on emotional grounds or get confrontational. It's not a good idea to say you need the extra money to buy a new house or because a baby is on the way.

“You have to prove that you deserve the extra money. Bursting into tears if your request is refused won’t work in your favour.”

If you refuse, do it gracefully

While some people are struggling to find even one role just now, you may be one of the lucky ones who is actually in a position to pick and choose between roles.

So if you’re rejecting an opportunity keep one eye on the future, says Schweinsberg.

“Whatever else happens, build a relationship with your counterpart. You never know when you will see each other again. If you decline an offer, never just say “no” – tell them that “right now is not a good time”.

“You might recommend someone who would be a good person for the job, helping both the company and a friend. Negotiation by negotiation, you can build relationships that support you through this downturn and in the future.”

Have some alternative asks

Of course, it may not always be possible to gain the rise or request the salary your ambition wants. So if the negotiation feels like it’s going nowhere it may help to have a back-up plan.

Amanda Augustine, the careers expert at CV-building service TopCV, says that most businesses have very tight budgets just now.

“You might want to explore other benefits with your new employer in the event that you are unable to secure a financial raise. For example, this could be a more senior job title, extra holiday days or development opportunities.

“Understand which way the discussion is going and keep these up your sleeve as a way of reaching a compromise with which you and your new manager are happy.”

Schweinsberg agrees: “Companies are more flexible now in discussing individual arrangements: want to sleep in, work from another city, work on a specific project, or have a specific job title? Now is one of the best times to ask for this.”

The current crisis makes a lot of things harder. But by forming a plan, having the data you need and preparing your negotiation strategy thoroughly, you can stand the best chance of securing the salary you deserve – no matter what the backdrop.

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