Getting a pay rise

Proper preparation and timing will strengthen your case for a salary increase

January 3, 2008

Ros Jay, author of How to Get a Pay Rise, says simply that the most important advice for anyone seeking a salary increase is to ask for one.

But it is important not to focus on your personal financial needs in negotiations. Instead, demonstrate how you meet the needs of your institution. Can you argue 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?

Gather evidence to support your claim. You must convince immediate superiors, and often they will need to convince their superiors. Make it easy for them by providing all the necessary information.

Elspeth Farrar, communications director at the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, recommends asking for a rise only in a position of strength. 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, recommends that you consider whether your job has changed in scope. 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?

Talk to someone else in your department who has recently been promoted or had a discretionary pay rise 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.

If getting a pay hike entails being promoted or moving up a grade, find out exactly what you need to do to achieve promotion, Jay says. If no higher-grade job exists that fits what you are contributing, there may be scope for being creative with job descriptions.

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 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.

If you can present a good case for 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 timing is all-important. “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,” Jay says.

Some institutions will have annual promotions exercises, where all academic staff are considered for a higher grade. Others may consider only those who apply, or on a case-by-case basis. The human resources department can tell you about criteria for promotion, what discretionary pay awards are available, and the mechanism and timetable for being considered. Follow these criteria carefully, says Scott.

“Be assertive but realistic in writing your case. If you don’t blow your trumpet nobody else will, but those considering your case will probably see straight through inflated claims,” she adds.

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 pay rise is refused, ask why. Then ask what you would have to do to change your boss’s 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, she adds, it will very hard for them to deny you a rise next time.


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


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