Building a case for that big rise

July 13, 2007

The first step to landing a pay increase is to ask for one, but you must also prove you've earned it. Harriet Swain explains why doing some research beforehand and getting the timing right is all important

Interest rates are going up, the car needs an MOT and you've just seen a lovely pair of shoes; it's time to get a pay rise. Ros Jay, author of How to Get a Pay Rise , says the most important advice for anyone seeking a salary increase is to ask for one.

But don't bring your needs into the negotiations. Instead, you should demonstrate how you meet the needs of your institution. This means being able to argue either that you are not being paid enough for the job you do compared with other people within your institution (or in similar institutions), or that you are exceeding your original job description. You may be producing better than expected results or perhaps doing the job of more than one person.

If this is the case, you need to gather evidence. Jay says that usually you will not only have to convince your immediate bosses that you are worth a rise, but they will also need to convince their bosses. So you need to make this as easy as possible for them by providing all the necessary information.

Elspeth Farrar, communications director at the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, says you should only ask for a rise if you feel you are in a position of strength, so you need to find out what other people are being paid and what is appropriate to ask for in your organisation.

Helen Scott, executive officer for the Universities Personnel Association, says you need to consider whether your job has changed in scope since you started it, including whether you are taking on more responsibility, running extra courses or chairing committees. What successes have you had in publishing, or winning grants and contracts, and how does this compare with others in your department or in your role?

She suggests talking to someone else in your department who has been promoted or had a discretionary pay rise recently to see what they learnt from the process. It may be worth showing your draft application for a rise to someone senior whom you respect for feedback.

Scott adds that the scope for varying salary for a given job may be limited because most institutions will be implementing the framework agreement, which means that jobs will be allocated to particular points or ranges on a pay spine.

This means that getting a pay hike will often entail being promoted or moving up a grade, so find out exactly what you need to do to achieve promotion, Jay says. She argues that if no higher-grade job exists that exactly fits what you are contributing there is usually scope for being creative with job descriptions. It may be useful to come up with some ideas yourself about what you could be called.

Jane Thompson, assistant general secretary of the University and College Union, says most institutions also offer the chance to receive extra contribution points or accelerated increments without promotion to those who perform exceptionally well. Many also make one-off honorarium payments in special cases - such as covering for someone else - and may provide supplements in subject areas that are particularly competitive or well-paid outside academia. She says it is important to keep well informed about such possibilities, and gather evidence to back up claims you might have to any of them.

If you work part-time, take care you aren't excluded from development opportunities that might lead to promotion, she warns. You should also query any tendency by institutions to ignore contributions to teaching and administration in favour of research.

On the other hand, demonstrating that you have been exceptionally successful in the research assessment exercise could at least win you an honorarium, says Farrar. If you can present a good case for your pay going up and your exceptional value to the institution, you shouldn't be deterred by the fact that you are already reasonably well paid compared with others, says Jay.

But be careful about timing. "A classic mistake is to ask when the boss is frazzled, at the wrong time of year when salary reviews have just been completed or when job losses have been announced."

Scott says some institutions will have annual promotions exercises, where all academic staff are considered for promotion to a higher grade, while others may consider only those who apply, or on a case-by-case basis throughout the year. The human resources department should tell you criteria for promotion and what discretionary pay awards are available in your institution, and the mechanism and timetable for being considered.

She advises following these criteria carefully - don't write more or less than you should, get things in on time, and don't leave gaps unless you explain why.

"Be assertive but realistic in writing your case," says Scott. "If you don't blow your trumpet nobody else will, but those considering your case will probably see straight through embarrassingly inflated claims."

But, says Farrar don't threaten to leave for a better job if your claim isn't met - unless you really mean it.

If, after all your efforts, your boss refuses to give you a pay rise, ask why. Then ask what you would have to do to change his or her mind by the next salary review. "It is almost impossible for them to say there is nothing you could do," says Jay. If you put their response in writing and then fulfil their demands, it will very hard for them to deny you a rise next time.

More information

How to Get a Pay Rise, a Bonus, or Promotion, or Whatever Else You Want (Prentice-Hall, 2001)

University and College Union,

Universities Personnel Association,

Universities and Colleges Employers Association,

Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services

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