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How to ask for a pay rise

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Emma Clark Gratton

Be prepared and make your employer an offer they can't refuse.
How to ask for a pay rise

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When you type “How to ask…” into the Google search bar, the first item that comes up is “How to ask for a pay rise”, closely followed by “How to ask a girl out” and “How to ask a boy out”. The fact that more people are looking for advice on requesting money than on interactions with potential partners indicates our level of concern over the task. Asking an employer for more money can be a stressful experience, especially in the arts, an industry renowned for tight budgets and low wages even before the recent budget cuts.


‘Negotiating a pay rise can be an incredibly nerve-wracking, yet necessary action,’ said Leanne Bushby, General Manager of EP Australia, a recruitment company specialising in the entertainment industry. ‘The best advice would be to write down the reasons why you feel you deserve a pay rise on paper.’ This helps clarify your reasons, and helps calm any nervousness.

Be prepared

Mathew Hehir from Artisan Recruitment said that preparation is the most important thing. ‘Come armed and ready. Be prepared about why you think a pay increase is warranted. Pay rises are given for three reasons: a) tenure or how long you have been at the company, b) performance, so where you have gone above and beyond your role, and c) an increased cost per living where you haven’t had a pay rise for a long time.’

Hehir said that approaching any discussions around money as part of reviewing performance can help dispel some of the awkwardness. ‘Many companies have half yearly or yearly performance reviews, which is a great time to discuss salary increases. It can take the pressure off having to make a specific time to discuss this.’

Bushby recommends finding out as much as you can before requesting a meeting. ‘There are obviously many tried strategies and techniques used, however firstly find out the company policy around pay reviews. How you approach a pay rise will depend on whether the company has a formal or informal policy and whether it’s aligned to annual performance reviews or not.’

Once you have figured out the company’s pay review policy, it’s time to organise a meeting. Bushby recommends sending through all your supporting documentation beforehand. ‘Before the meeting, email through a support document clearly outlining your request, the dollar figure you want and why,’ she said. ‘State your case and stick to the facts. Align it to your work and highlight achievements, where you’ve added value, acknowledge KPI’s you’ve met and exceeded and if your salary/package links to revenue, it all helps back your case. Put a price on it and make an offer – give them the figure you want.’

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Know your worth

Many people find it difficult to sell themselves once they’re face to face with the boss. That’s why the document is a valuable precursor to the meeting. ‘Head into the meeting knowing your worth and knowing what outcome is acceptable to you,’ said Bushby. ‘Be open to discussion, be rational and justify the increase. Know where your flexibility lies in the negotiation process and where if necessary, you are prepared to compromise. Don’t make it personal. You can show strong emotions, even express disappointment or anger, but keep it about the work.'

It’s important to have an idea of how much you expect the raise to be. Naming a figure is important, as you don’t want your employer to ask how much you would like without being able to name your price. ‘Plucking a figure out of the air is doing a disservice to yourself,' said Hehir. 'Know your market value by doing your research. Look at comparative roles, speak to a recruiter, or look at online wage websites.’

Read: How to discuss salary in an interview

Discussing money can be difficult, said Hehir. ‘Australians are particularly reticent about talking about money and asking for a pay rise. We don’t like talking about it, which is why we need so much advice about it! It should really come down to your own performance: Is this what I’m worth? What is the scope to move up in this?’

Bushby agrees. ‘Do your homework to know what the current job market is like and know what your skill set is worth. Know your true value and what it would cost to replace you if you left.‘

Any discussions around performance are just that – discussions. They should be done face to face, or on the phone if necessary. ‘Having a face to face chat allows you to see how the conversation is going and come up with any questions. It allows both parties to have an open discussion,’ said Hehir. 

In the arts industry, it’s important to note that many smaller organisations (and many larger ones) are already working with tight budgets, and are not in a position to pay employees what they would like to. ‘In this case, it’s good to have a serious think about what is important to you,’ said Hehir. ‘Maybe you enjoy your job, and find it fulfilling, but the pay isn’t what you would like. If you can live with two out of three, then that’s great. And if not, then maybe it’s time to make a change.’

Request denied

If you come prepared with an idea of how much you would like, plus a good business case for why you are worth more than your current salary, and you get turned down, then you can definitely ask why. ‘If it’s a flat no, I’d be asking why,’ said Hehir. ‘Getting the rationale is important. Work with your employer to make it performance based, so set some clear goals and targets to aim for.

‘Don’t make it about salary, instead, make it about your performance. Know what you have to achieve to get the salary want.’

Read: Why we are burning out in the arts

Not all salary negotiations are a win-win, Bushby noted. 'Often someone loses. Turn the no into a positive. Listen to why your request was denied so you know your next steps. Once you’ve figured out what went wrong, you can formulate a plan to make sure you succeed next time.

‘If the request was denied due to something you can change or action, then ask to set a future date to revisit the discussion. If the denial is due to a salary limit on a position, rather than being about you, then ask what the possible career path is for you within the company? Ask what you would need to do to get a promotion/increase? If there is no career path and no room for an increase, then you know it’s time to look for a new job!’

About the author

Emma Clark Gratton is an ArtsHub staff writer.