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Salary negotiations: With these 5 questions, you will be perfectly prepared

Published April 10th, 2022

What’s the best way to prepare for your next salary negotiation? Our expert Katrin knows exactly what it comes down to. Here she is sharing five questions that will help you to perfectly prepare for the next pay raise meeting with your manager.

The topic of salaries is a tricky one and has a lot of potential for stress and frustration. But asking for a wage increase should always be a positive thing – as it is related to your career development and the appreciation of your success. Good preparations can help you to make the conversation a positive experience and a real opportunity to advance your career.

Here at Tomorrow, we work with a ‘Salary & Skill Matrix’ that is accessible and clear for everyone. The different salary stepstones are linked to clear criteria. And the associated policy specifies, among other things, that we don’t negotiate salaries, but base them on the matrix. How often we have these talks is also defined here, along with many other approaches that are mainly focused on our values.

Why we have a transparent approach to salaries

The matrix and the policy help us to reduce uncertainty about money, avoid injustices and pay gaps and enable everyone to talk to each other as equals. That is something that’s dealt with differently by many companies. And there are often good reasons for that. After all, different types and sizes of company call for different approaches.

In my professional career I’ve experienced a lot of salary talks and negotiations. And not only from an employer’s perspective, because my own salary is a matter that I need to address every now and again too.

Previous experience has shown me that there are different ways that you can have a positive influence on the direction that the conversation takes. There’s always a way to develop the right strategy; the most important thing is that you develop one in the first place.

The goal is usually clear – i.e. how much you want to earn in the future – but not necessarily your reasons for it or the ways you could achieve that. What often happens is that you end up lacking the necessary powers of persuasion to really make yourself heard and get what you want. And that soon results in frustration on both sides. 

A good strategy: how to negotiate your salary properly

For me, the key to successful negotiations and a good dialogue with your manager is therefore going into the meeting with the utmost clarity regarding your own needs and wishes.

And answering the following five questions will help you with this. So let’s get started:

1. What really matters to you? 

Check in with yourself first: what is it exactly that you’re not happy about? Does it really boil down to earning more money or would you like more recognition, more responsibility, more flexibility or a new scope of duties? Work out what need drives you the most and how that need can be met. That’s really important, because once you have it clear in your mind, you are giving yourself more ‘bargaining chips’ to negotiate with.

Maybe your boss can only pay you a certain amount of the salary you wanted, but that doesn’t mean that the conversation has to be over there and then. Because if you know what needs drive you, then a more senior position, additional holidays or the opportunity to work remotely or manage an exciting project can lead to a compromise that feels good for you. Which can sometimes be better than a higher salary alone.

2. What kind of a relationship do you have with your team leader?

Your manager is only human too – and everyone wants to be loved and respected. So in that regard, we are all a lot less rational than we usually think we are.

If you have a good relationship with your team leader, it will be easier for you to feel at ease when talking to them, and also to confidently stand up for yourself. And your boss will also be more open and willing to negotiate if you create a positive and trusting atmosphere during your conversation. That way, everyone’s a winner! Clarify what kind of a relationship you have with each other and, where necessary, how you can strengthen it even further.

No one is saying that you should be going for lunch together every week, but it’s often the little things that can make a big difference.

Kindly ask them for a meeting and explain what you want to talk about. Start by thanking them for taking the time to talk to you, perhaps ask them how they are and then move on to what you want to say. Listen attentively to their replies and sum up what you have understood. Phrases such as: Now I have a better understanding of why it’s important to you that…” can help with this.

And, at the end of the day, professional, positive relationships also give you a better feeling and make it easier to work together on a daily basis.

3. Do you know what your stress points are?

Create a set-up in which you feel at ease. Although it’s incredibly important to prepare what you want to say, it’s just as important that you feel at ease and confident on the day. Ensure that you’re wide awake and clear-headed. It’s a good idea to take a little walk before the meeting or simply open a window and deeply inhale and exhale into your stomach. Sit upright with your feet firmly on the ground. Make sure you feel comfortable in what you are wearing. You don’t want anything to distract you. Have good arguments and underline them with your confident demeanor.

Both you and your boss want to make the company better. You’re both working together for the same cause. Remember that it’s not about you personally, but your job. If you manage to keep that in mind, you might feel a little less nervous and stressed.   

Sometimes it can help to run through the conversation in advance with friends. That will help prepare you for any possible resistance or different directions that it could take. Ask your friends how they think you did and find out when you were lost for words or – to simply fill the silence – perhaps talked too much! It’s all a question of routine so my advice is: practice, practice, practice!  

4. Are you leaving a back door open for yourself? 

You have prepped yourself to perfection, know your market value, have reflected on your needs, worked out what you need to fulfil those needs, have the arguments clear in your mind… and then suddenly you lose all confidence mid-conversation? As soon as the first critical questions are fired your way, you nervously back down, end up settling for less and even thank your manager profusely?

If that’s ever happened to you, make sure that you’re not being your own worst enemy and building your own barriers! Write down your most important points and share them during the conversation with your manager, simply by giving them the piece of paper. There’s no going back now so make sure you see it through! And at the end of the day, you might not have only been able to negotiate a higher salary but you will have overcome your fears as well. And that will make you feel as twice as good!

5. What if you don’t get a salary increase? 

All of the above advice is helpful, but it won’t guarantee that you’ll be able to negotiate the salary you want. If this is the case, you basically have three options:

  1. You can get annoyed about how the conversation went, take the situation personally and leave the meeting sulking. But doing that won’t increase your salary either – or do anything for your mood! So that’s not a good idea, even though it’s completely understandable as an initial reaction.

2. You can briefly let out your frustration and then start preparing for round two. 

You listened attentively and know the arguments put forward by your team leader? That’s great. Put this knowledge to use and invest your time in the topics and projects that your manager feels are important for the company and your own career development. If that wasn’t clear during the conversation, actively ask in a follow-up meeting how you can contribute and show them the value you can bring to the company to justify your salary demands. Clarify with your team leader when your next salary meeting will be and ask them whether there are any specific KPIs or parameters that your success is measured by.

3. You can quit your job. If you aren’t convinced by your boss’ arguments, or they don’t have any, and your request is rudely brushed aside, then there are better places for you to continue your professional development.

Take the reins for your own future: if you’re not getting the appreciation you deserve, if your expertise, commitment and performance are neither reflected on your pay slip or in the form of other incentives, and if you have lost all faith in your employer’s salary policy, then be willing to walk away and start exploring new avenues. Because – don’t forget – there are always other options out there!  

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