Ask and you may receive. Don’t and you definitely won’t. Robert Bowles discusses how to get an increase in salary

Q. I’ve been offered a new role in a new organisation and I have been asked what my expected salary is. I’ve never had to do this before, what should I say?

A. Negotiating your salary is one of hardest things you can do in your career. You may not have the chance to; your salary may have been set when you started your job or the organisation you work for may have a very rigid pay structure that it is reluctant to break. You may, however, get the chance when you start a new role, either with your current employer or when you start with a new one.

How can you secure the salary you want when asked for your expectations? Start off with a range, and remember this is a negotiation: if you don’t start off with a realistic range, there is nowhere for the negotiation to go and it will soon break down leaving both parties dissatisfied, and possibly you looking for another new role.

There are two real factors to think about when determining a range. The first is the market rate for the role you’ve landed. The second is what is acceptable to you. They may not always align, but hopefully you’ve applied for a job with a figure in mind and you need to be realistic about what salary you can achieve. At the same time, however, make sure you are comfortable with your new salary. Only you can know what figure you are comfortable accepting. Try to make sure this figure is in the lower end of the range you suggest. Setting the range can be particularly challenging if the new role is very different from your existing one, or one you previously had, but there are ways to check what the market rate is. Look at recruitment websites and job advertisements to see what sort of salaries are being offered for similar roles in your industry or sector. If you are an RSC member you can also make use of the Pay and Reward survey (previously called the Trends in Remuneration survey), which we commission on a regular basis.

The Pay and Reward Survey

Every two years, we create a report on salaries in the chemical sciences, based on information provided by members. As an authoritative review of pay in our sector, the results can be very useful in your negotiations and also for planning your career. This summer, we’ll be sending our members the Pay and Reward Survey to gather the information – the more responses we get, the more accurate the report, so we hope you can help us to gather the data to make it as comprehensive as possible.

Are you earning enough? The answer is probably no. Most people you ask will say they’d like to earn more – it’s human nature. But if you’re really unhappy about your current salary, what can you do about it? You really only have two options. You can look for a job that pays more or try to negotiate an increase in your existing salary.

If you choose the latter route, be honest to yourself; does your performance justify an increase? What successes have you delivered to your employer and what effect have they had on the bottom line? Being able to add numbers is important. Don’t just say you want more; justify it with concrete examples of how you’ve added value.

Check the market rate for your current role in the ways discussed above, again finding evidence that you are underpaid can help you make a strong case as to why you should get a increase. It will also plant the seed in your employer’s mind that you might leave if they don’t match your expectations and – as long as you’re valued by them – make them more likely to try meet your request.

Offering to take on new responsibilities is another great way to justify a pay rise, and conversely if your employer asks you to take on extra responsibilities, especially the direct supervision of other staff, make sure you at least ask if there is a commensurate increase in salary, even if it’s only temporary. The answer might still be no but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Remember though  money isn’t everything. The benefits of working a job you find rewarding intellectually or which gives you a great sense of satisfaction can be hard to put a price on. If you do decide to change your job, don’t just think about the money, as you won’t stick at it. Plus, you’re less likely to make a success of it if there aren’t other things that make it the right job for you.

If you have more advice you’d like to share about this month’s question – or have your own careers conundrum for Robert – please write to