Since society opened up again in the UK in September 2021, significant wage inflation has ensued. Employers across the construction sector have been struggling to attract the employees they need to deliver their plans, while also fighting hard to keep the talent they’ve got. Although employees may consider this an opportunity to maximise their salaries, and understandably so given the soaring costs of living, there is much to be said for taking a considered approach.
The risks of maximising earning potential
Whether or not the job market is buoyant, pushing for a salary increase before developing the commensurate skills and experience can damage your career. Pay typically reflect an employee’s ability to manage their job when something goes wrong, not the 90% of the time that everything is plain sailing, and if an individual finds that they fall short of expectations for their pay grade, it can do lasting damage to both their reputation and self-confidence. Taking a medium-term view and delivering against expectations before requesting an appropriate pay rise is not only likely to be more successful but is also lower risk in terms of continued career development.
The job market has been buoyant for the last nine months, however the Bank of England, among others, has forecast that the UK will go into recession during 2022 likely reducing the quantity of job opportunities across much of the construction sector. Furthermore, the added pressure of soaring material costs and increasing interest rates may put some companies under financial pressure. This poses two possible issues for those who have pushed their salaries as high as possible. Firstly, should their employer need to make redundancies the most highly paid individuals in at risk roles will be those who offer the greatest potential cost saving. Secondly, individuals at the top end of salary brackets may find they have priced themselves out of the market should they want a sideways or even slightly upwards move.
How to negotiate your salary
However, even if caution may be advisable, recent cost of living rises are putting many people under financial pressure and a conversation with a recruitment consultant may highlight that your peers’ salaries have increased beyond yours during the last nine months. So, should you want to try to increase your salary, how should you set about it?
Whether you are looking internally or planning a move the most important thing beyond understanding your market value is to be able to justify it. The ability to demonstrate your value – whether it is saving the company money, driving revenue or delivering tasks or projects nobody else can - makes it much easier for a manager to argue your case for you. Where possible highlight how you have delivered against or exceeded your targets (i.e. the company’s expectations of you) and show where you expect to add more value in the years to come.
If you are not looking to move then, having set your expectations and considered your reasoning, request a meeting to discuss your career progression. If you are interviewing externally then this is of course part of the process anyway. When the subject of salary arises avoid being the first to share a number – if they agree you will feel you have undersold yourself, if you go wildly in excess of the figure they are considering then you will look like an unrealistic opportunist. The company will likely not only have a salary bracket in mind but will also hopefully articulate future plans for the company and your career development at the same time. Recruiting takes time and costs money, so your manager’s (or the hiring manager’s) focus will typically be on making a fair offer rather than chancing a low-ball figure.
Whether or not you are happy with the first offer, it does no harm to ask for a little time to consider it. This is particularly important if you struggle to keep your emotions – be they disappointment or excitement – in check. The non-salary elements of an offer can make a huge difference to the true value of an offer and these in particular can get overlooked in the heat of the moment. Even if the offer does not meet your expectations, it is important to remember that companies cannot pay more than they can afford and operational costs are rising in parallel with the cost of living.
Finally, if you are looking externally, beware the counter-offer. Being perceived as using one company to leverage a higher offer with another will typically not only annoy the unsuccessful party and any recruitment consultant involved, but may also leave a sour atmosphere with the ultimately successful hiring company.
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