Agony Aunt: Jackie Elliot on unequal pay, speechwriting and some CV advice

The chairman of Cathcart Consulting gives her verdict on your professional conundrums.


Money, money, money

I know we are not supposed to discuss pay with colleagues but I am sure that a new arrival at exactly my senior account manager level is being paid more than I am – after more than five years in the company and promotions. What should I do?

Well, you could ask for a meeting with the boss and start off with that precise question. Assuming you know about this inequality through a recruiter or an ad rather than office chatter, you are entitled to raise the question. Prepare well: check previous appraisals, remind yourself of any company announcements on pay and benefits and double check your peer group in the business through a look at PRWeek jobs and a call to your favourite recruiter. Be direct without too much focus on that new colleague.

You have been with the company a good length of time and there is evidence that millennials, despite being accused of being hard to retain, are actually "missing out on the pay rises that typically come with switching jobs" (FT, 25 February 2017). But don’t go near the blackmail option – it creates ill will and won’t work unless you do intend to walk out. Ask for an increase and be specific. Don’t expect an answer immediately but suggest another meeting in a few days. And then put it out of your mind – it’s a shame you had to raise it but few companies are altruistic enough to put right that sort of inequality unprompted: look at the BBC.

What makes a good speech?

I’ve been told to write a speech for our chair attending an industry event. I feel wholly unsuited for this task and nervous about making a fool of myself – and probably the chair. Advice, please.

For heaven’s sake, what a terrific opportunity – to write a speech for the most high-profile individual in the company. Get this one right and you could have a real career boost. Start with the basics: what sort of event is it, how large is the audience, what is the subject, why has he/she been asked to speak, is there any ‘action’ involved? This speech is part of the way the company presents itself externally. You already know about your company but spend some time reading more about the context in which it operates. Identify where your corporate vision shows leadership and innovation in business. Map out the speech as you would an essay but always have the voice of your chair in your head.

Once you have an outline, submit it for internal approval. Send the first draft to your boss and make sure you get a decent amount of time to go through everything. More work – but before the final flourish, unleash a secret weapon on your precious words: the best sub-editor you know. You will have given the speech a tone of voice to reflect that of your chair; now you need a craftsperson to polish the text and make sure it is cohesive, logical and as good as it can be.

Sins of the CV

Until recently I was a middle-level executive in a firm that has just gone under spectacularly – with publicity about its problems all over the world. I wasn’t involved in the problems nor did I know what was going on. Should I erase it from my CV?

No. If asked, explain that you were involved in other clients or different parts of the company and knew nothing about the problems. And don’t get drawn into gossip. Your departure is blameless – keep it that way.

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