There's an apocryphal story about a rising star at Manchester United football club who went to manager Alex Ferguson and demanded a company car because he thought it was his due. Culturally it was something that had to be given and not asked for, so the player had to sweat it out for two years before he finally got his car.
There are all kinds of similar unwritten rules in any relationship between employee and boss, so asking for a pay rise is always a delicate negotiation, even in the IT field where job shortages still abound. Most experts in recruitment, management and personnel agree that timing is important.
"Pick your moment and wait for an appraisal. Or if you haven't got an appraisal ask for an interim one," suggests Mike Cooney, director of Right Track Training Consultancy. He points out that appraisals should be an ongoing process anyway with top-up conversations happening once a month, so this would be the ideal opportunity for such a chat.
Tone is everything - there's nothing more off-putting to a manager who has invested a lot in developing a member of staff than being approached in a strident way for a pay rise. "A sales guy once came to me and there was a distinct tone in his voice. It ruined what had once been a convivial relationship," says Cooney.
Rather than expecting immediate results, the employee could look to this meeting as being a platform for delivering a message to their employer. For example, they might have an ambition of earning £50,000 and could ask the boss what has to be achieved to get there. "This would provide a distinct message that the company should seriously review that individual's remuneration," says Cooney.
Paul Armstrong, a managing consultant with human capital management consultants Penna, Sanders and Sidney, believes that most IT professionals accept jobs at a lower salary than they need to because they don't feel they have the power to negotiate: "People get in job beggar mode - they have the mindset that the interviewer is doing them a big favour," he says.
Know your true worth
Armstrong recommends that interviewees remember that the IT labour market consists of buyers and sellers. "You are part of a solution and that has its price." But he warns that few items of value are ever sold on price.
"Try to avoid discussions on salary until the seller has a desire to buy. And never ask about salary before an interview or you'll have made yourself into a commodity."
This advice is backed up by Jeff Grout, an independent consultant on recruitment and career development. "Approach it as if money is not an important consideration. It's like the poker player who doesn't want to play his cards too early."
For the in-house employee seeking a rise, he points out that there's an important distinction between salary and package. "There are lots of things that might be negotiated including a bonus, private health insurance, gym membership or more time off.
Right Track's Cooney emphasises that negotiating a pay rise is about behavioural skills as much as thinking in terms of tradeables. Salary survey data might be a useful reference point for the employee, but he reckons this comes low on the list of negotiating ploys. "These figures tend to be very generic - and what an employer is thinking about after all, is how to get a pint out of a quart pot," he says.
Tips for asking for a raise in your current job
Few things are more nerve wracking than asking your boss for a rise. So before you walk into the meeting, you need to do some homework to build a solid case for a salary increase. Here are some suggestions from Steve Carter, UK managing director for RHI Consulting, a provider of technology professionals for the Internet economy:
- Make a business case. Offer solid reasons for an increase by outlining your specific accomplishments that have had a measurable effect on the company's bottom line.
- Pay attention to timing. When you ask for a pay rise is often as important as how you ask. All things being equal, the most opportune time is after you've done an outstanding job on a high profile project and have been given additional responsibility. Conversely, the worst time to ask is when your business is facing challenges.
- Have a back-up plan. Always consider what you'll do should your request be turned down. If you're told that you don't deserve the money, find out why and ask what needs to be done to warrant a rise. If your company can't afford the rise right now, see if there are other forms of compensation such as stock options or extra holiday.
- Research your market value. It's worth knowing the salary that people with similar backgrounds and skills currently earn in jobs that are comparable to yours.