Fear of conflict, discomfort speaking about money, difficulty “selling yourself”… are these feelings are familiar to you when it comes raising the inevitable question of a pay rise? Worry not.

“That’s completely normal for most people,” according to Fotini Iconomopoulos, coach in negotiation for senior managers and author of a book on the subject, Say Less Get More.

She also adds, to get rid of your inhibitions on this subject from the start: “You’re not asking for something you don’t deserve, which is unfair, or which is going to bankrupt the company. It’s hardly better for you to come to work every day with bitterness because you feel that you’re not properly valued.”

Feeling better? Right, let’s see now how to go about getting a win-win agreement with your employer, in 6 steps:

  • Know what you want…
  • …And what you’re worth
  • Do the groundwork
  • Who should you ask for a raise? It’s all about teamwork!
  • The right time to ask… is never the last minute!
  • And what if the answer is no?

1) Know what you want…

This might sounds like Captain Obvious, but the start of any request for a pay rise is… clearly setting out why you want it! “You don’t just ask for the sake of asking, you need to know the reason behind it,” says Christian Jennewein, former Head of Engineering at BlaBlaCar for 4 years and Director of Engineering at Deezer for 2 years.

There can be lots of different answers to this question, which can be to do with a change in your personal life or a change within the company: a change in your life plans, increased skills, new responsibilities, a promotion, you’ve been given more ambitious objectives, etc. It could also just be the realisation that you are being underpaid compared to the going market rate.

“In our context of a shortage of talents in tech, the value of individuals, and therefore of salaries, are constantly rising. So, sometimes even without internal circumstances changes, a rise may be justified”, confirms Christian Jennewein.

2) …And what you’re worth!

The second stage in this preparatory phase is knowing your value. Or to put it bluntly: the price of your skills on the market.

This is not an easy exercise, but it’s crucial to the success of your request. “The worst mistake you can make is to go and see your manager, and say “I think I deserve this much”. Nobody cares about what you think! Your credibility will come from tangible facts, your research, your market study, your knowledge of your industry”, warns Fotini Iconomopoulos, without beating about the bush.

This Canadian coach also adds, “If you’re not well-informed, you’re giving your employer the chance of taking control of the situation. Which is really a shame, because these days, with Google, you have the power at your fingertips.”

So, how should you go about it? Here are a few different ways of tackling the question.

Specialised websites: not bad

Glassdoor, Linkedin, Indeed, Payscale, Comparably, AngelList… We’re not short of information sources. But be careful with this easy option! “Honestly, I couldn’t really recommend any website,” says Nicholas Wagner, Chief People Officer at 360Learning, with 20+ years of experience in HR.

“Most of the times, the data is self-reported by users. You don’t know neither about their experience and skills, nor their full compensation package. You can find salary averages… but do you think of yourself as average?” asks Fotini Iconomopoulos.

The annual study of median salaries by talent.io: better!

More reliable and based on real salary offers made to 100,000 people on the website, the annual study by talent.io (available here) is a barometer which can already give you a more precise estimate. This is one of the best starting points… in addition to the following options.

Your network: an even more precise compass

There’s no magic secret: the best way to know the market… is to ask it!

Colleagues, people you know, friends in other companies, mentors, contacts of yours on Linkedin who have similar experience and background to you… There’s information all around you, and it’s often just a click away. “You could even write directly to people in a company you would like to work for”, suggests Caroline Ramade, founder and CEO of 50inTech, a company which advocates for parity in the tech industry.

Remember that you have to give information in order to receive information. “Don’t be afraid to open up about your salary with you peers, so you can learn about theirs in return. This will help you figure out where you stand. Compensation depends on a multitude of factors, so it’s not always easy to compare, but at least you’ll get a sense of the market,” says Christian Jennewein, who is now CEO of start-up Ciklet.

“But the mistake you mustn’t make is to compare your compensation with people who graduated with you, warns Nicholas Wagner. You need to compare like with like: if you don’t have the same professional journey, it doesn’t tell you anything useful.”

Recruitment experts: the icing on the cake

And finally, there is one more option: recruitment professionals! “In our industry, it’s not unusual to be head-hunted, sometimes quite aggressively, with salary discussions from the very first stage of the conversation. Of course, this is part of “selling” the job, and it’s always slightly off, but it gives you an idea of what common in your field,” says Christian Jennewein, former tech lead at BlaBlaCar and Deezer.

In similar vein, talent.io offers guidance from an expert in tech recruitment, who will help you estimate your salary and give you arguments to defend your position.

Why not also take part in a hiring process in order to gather information? “In a way, you are a market element, and you can get quotes elsewhere, in order to be able to negotiate better afterwards,” he goes on to say, admitting that between 10 % and 20 % of members of his teams have openly shared offers from outside the company in the past. It’s all part of the game!

Once you have completed this benchmark, Caroline Ramade recommends that you write down three different figures on a piece of paper: a “Hallelujah” (what you dream of), an “Oh Yeah!” (an amount you’re pleased with) and a “F*cking number” (the minimal amount you’re willing to accept).

Knowledge is power, and now you’re ready to move on to the next steps.

3) Do the groundwork

We could have started with this obvious piece of advice, but as Christian Jennewein says, “If you do your job well, you won’t need to worry about your salary!” Indeed, it helps if you’re doing quality work, to begin with. If you don’t do that, any wish for a pay rise will just be a pipe dream.

Having said that, there’s doing good work… and letting others know you do good work! Which means that it’s not enough just to be good at what you do, you also need to keep a record of your achievements.

“There are some companies, like Deezer for example, where there are tools in place for following up on individual objectives, and to monitor projects and how successful they are. But if this is not in place in your company… it’s up to you to do the work,” says Christian. Sounds like politics? Not necessarily. Rather a summary of your impact and your contribution to value creation in your company.

Remember that, during your yearly performance meetings, your work for the whole period is assessed, not just what you did over the last few weeks. So, you may as well keep a record to remind yourself of all your achievement! “As managers, we assess our team members, obviously. But if a developer has written things up beforehand and comes with evidence of their successes, it makes the discussion easier,” he insists.

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4) Who should you ask for a raise? It’s all about teamwork!

Contrary to popular belief, it’s often more than just one person who decides on a rise. “Of course, it depends on the size of the company, but quite often, there’s a decision-making chain. Everyone needs to think that you deserve it,” explains Caroline Ramade.

The key here is to understand the forces at work that you need to convince. “From this point of view, mentoring is good, but sponsoring is even better,” she goes on to say. “A mentor will say to you ‘you should make a talk at this conference’. A sponsor will say, ‘hey, I signed you up to speak at this conference.’” So, you see the nuance. The key is to surround yourself with people who believe in you and are going to help you to grow.

Another important piece of advice: you should never by-pass your manager! “That’s an immediate no-go for me”, confirms Christian Jennewein. “The manager needs to be more of an ally in your success than someone standing in the way of it. Since you’re responsible for your own career, it’s up to you to help them make a good case, so that he or she will influence the decision-makers,” Caroline Ramade told us.

And this is a view shared by Christian Jennewein, who willingly defines his job as a “career consultant”: “My role is not to decide salaries, but rather to defend pay rise requests for my team with the management above me, so that everyone can be paid as fairly as possible. If you share your intentions with me in a clear way, I will fight for you so that you can get to where you want to be in the medium- and long-term” he says.

5) The right time to ask… is never at the last minute!

“Please, don’t wait until the end of the year to ask for an increase!” Fotini Iconomopoulos begins, when asked about the right timing.

This shows that you don’t know the context in which salary increases generally work. Before you even asked for a raise, there has already been negotiations going on between your manager and their own management.” she confirms. “Your manager already has an allocated budget for pay rises.”, and this is why you should let your intentions be know as soon as possible.

This is also the advice of David Buckmaster, ex Global Compensation Director at Nike, in his recent book, Fair Pay. He recommends bringing up the subject 3 or 4 months early.

Here is a practical illustration of that, as part of what goes on behind the whole process. Christian Jennewein knew his budget at the end of November, and therefore the room for manoeuvre he would have for his team’s pay rises at the start of the year. This illustrates existing constraints that will impact your request. Of course, you should factor in the economical situation of your company. “I’ve known prosperous situations as well as I received instructions to give 0 pay rise. Which doesn’t mean that nobody got a pay rise, but that they had to put that much more effort in getting it. This is something to bear in mind,” he tells us.

So, the aim is: to communicate your expectations long before that date, openly, so your manager can secure as much “pay rises” budget as needed. Remember that when you get to your performance meeting, a good part of the process has already played out.

“I know the exact salaries of my team [27 people at Deezer, for example], the economic situation of the company, how much leeway I have, and I also have my opinion about the person. With all that, I have quite a specific idea of what I can offer. So, there’s not really that much negotiation possible at this stage,” the Franco-German manager tells us. The negotiation doesn’t really take place during the meeting. “We each present our arguments, and if there’s a big difference, we leave it there, and I will try to defend their case to increase the offer,” he concludes.

6) And what if the answer is no?

You request got refused... it’s not over yet! “’No’ doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a negotiation, rather it’s the starting point,” smiles Fotini Iconomopoulos. “It’s time to gather more information and set a date for the next step.”

So, you need to not think of the refusal as an inevitable failure, and instead… bounce back right away! “It’s not possible to give you a rise. Okay… but why? What’s the problem? “It’s not the right time”. Okay, when will be a better time? “The company is not doing very well”. Okay, what are the indicators which will tell us that things are getting better?

“The aim is to create a 2nd stage, a next meeting. Psychologically, this will force the employer to make a commitment”, assures the author of Say Less, Get More.

She also recommends that you never lose your temper. “You lose your credibility, and people won’t want to work with you any more,” she insists. A constructive state of mind at all times then.

And what if you feel as though you’re being fobbed off, and the company is not giving you any answers to the questions above? “That’s a red flag for me, the coach admits. You don’t need to resign immediately… But start looking elsewhere, if you’re not satisfied with your situation!

Now you’re better informed to take on the tricky challenge of requesting a pay rise. Of course, there’s a lot more to be said (diversity of different packages, importance of company culture, etc.). But that will be the subject of a future article in the talent club ;)

Resources to look further into the subject:

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