How to Blow your Chances of Getting a Raise

By Chere B. Estrin

It’s here again. Oh, yes. That stressful, anxiety ridden, white knuckling 30 minutes guaranteed to make your palms sweat, heart race and chest tighten followed by a sense of impending doom surrounding your otherwise well-being. Yes, I am talking about the performance review. 

We’ve all been through it. Some were good, some were bad. Some met your expectations and others, quite frankly, threw you for a loop.  While we can talk about how to get through the sometimes helpful but mostly ineffective chat with your boss, let’s talk about the bottom line: how much did I get?

Raises are touchy subjects and if you need to ask for one, rather than get an automatic increase of 2-3% in your paycheck every year, things can go horribly wrong. And I mean horribly. A lot has to do not so much with the outright question: “Can I have a raise” but rather with the way that you go about it. 

I’ll never forget my first formal review in a law firm where I had worked extremely hard becoming head of the department in less than a year. It was annual review time. Not having ever gone through this process before, I really didn’t know what to expect. I remember sitting in from of the HR Manager’s desk while she rambled on about how much the firm appreciated me, what a stellar job I had done, you get the picture. Then, she took a deep breath and said, “Chere, we are giving you an 8% increase.” I could have fallen out of my chair. “What?”, I said incredulously. I immediately thought,  “I’m only getting 8%?” I actually burst into tears right there in front of God and everyone. (I was very young and hadn’t a clue how to play the game). I had fully expected at least 10% at a minimum. Where I got that figure, I have never found out. The HR Manager was shocked. “The average raise today is 2-3%”, she said. “Oh.” I didn’t know that. In addition, they were handing me a $20,000 bonus. Oh, gosh. I had just made a complete idiot out of myself. I backed tracked. “Well,” I said. “You do understand that these are tears of joy, don’t you?” 

Raises are hard to ask for and when you do get one, you had better know whether it is good, bad or under market.. However, most people blow it because of the rationale and the way that they pose the question. But why is it that most reviews leave people feeling worse about themselves? Check out how these stats from Globoforce pair up:

  • 91% of organizations do performance reviews
  • 51% of employees see their reviews are inaccurate.

Surprisingly, only 37% of workers have ever asked for a raise from their current employer, according to data from PayScale.

And while there are many tips and tricks to ask, plenty are pitfalls that could derail an otherwise perfect approach. Many are times when employees do everything right when asking for a raise, only to ruin everything with a single mistake. 

It’s never good to take an uncalculated risk. Let’s explore what not to do when asking for a raise.

Nine ways to avoid asking for a raise:

  1. Asking for a raise without justification and market research.
    There has to be a substantial reason why a firm will give you a raise. Suiting up and showing up is not one of them.  Meeting your minimum billable hourly requirement is not one.  

Topping the list of how not to ask for a raise is approaching your boss without a formidable case on why you deserve more money. That gives the impression of being entitled, greedy, unappreciative, unprepared, and having a very transactional mindset.

Start with market research. What is your market value? What are other firms paying for those in your position? How does your current salary compare to what others are making with similar backgrounds and experience levels? 

You could look at how much your other coworkers take home., and the ALM salary survey (only for major firms) are great options for researching market averages. However, national surveys are not always the best because they take into account all regions, some of which pay less than others and those figures are mixed into the average, bringing the number down for first and second tier cities. My personal opinion is to stay away from I find those figures out of whack.  I find that the best people who know your market are recruiters. They have the handle on everything.

  1. Basing your argument on financial difficulties

While 62% of employers feel highly responsible for their staff’s financial wellness (according to a Bank of America report), asking for reasons such as commute or financial hardship will hardly ever get you a raise. The HR Manager will take the position that it is not their problem whether you are having financial problems. That only puts your boss in an awkward position, ethically and legally. Consider that they hired you to help them achieve their business goals — your financial troubles and personal reasons have nothing to do with that. 

Commute too long and you want to be compensated for it? Forget it. That’s not the firm’s problem. I recall once when a candidate asked a Director of Administration for $5,000 a year more than what was being offered. Why? Her commute was from Pasadena to Orange County and would take an hour and a half each way. The DOA just looked at her and said, “My commute is 2 hours each way. I don’t get paid extra for that.” As you can guess, she didn’t get the job.

  1. It’s just not all about you

Are you bringing added value to the table? For example, were you hired to be part of the staff but are now supervising a team? Have you taken on more or more importantly, a higher level of responsibility? Has your title changed? If so, you need to walk in with numbers and proof of how you benefited the firm: saved the firm $xxxx when initiating a new software; designed a continuing education program. Remember that you are dealing with attorneys or their delegates and that mind calls for persuasion. Your goal is to demonstrate how more efficiently the firm now operates. 

  1. Don’t ask via email or phone

Asking for a raise calls for a one-on-one meeting or at least a Zoom session if you are working remote. Email and phone does not give you a chance to persuade and frankly, it’s a cold situation. Your supervisor does not get to see you and judge your body language facial expressions nor emotions. 

  1. Asking for a raise on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon

These are the sacred times! Hitting a supervisor the first thing on a Monday morning when their mind is clearly on the week ahead or hitting them on a Friday afternoon when they are winding up everything, psychologically, does not work. 

Instead, schedule the meeting for a Tuesday or Wednesday. During these days, your supervisor is most focused on work and hopefully, relatively free from distractions, and not under as much pressure to get things done before the workweek ends.

If you have to broach the subject on Friday, do it in the mid-morning. Your supervisor is likely in good spirits but not mentally checked out for the upcoming weekend. They are much more likely to make compensation decisions to determine salaries during this time. And above all, set up a scheduled time. Just barging in unannounced is blind-siding them and not likely to get a great response.

  1. Requesting an outrageous pay raise. No one thinks what they are asking for is outrageous. You just don’t. Recently, I was coaching a senior legal assistant who was about to receive her paralegal certificate on how to ask for an increase. She had 12 years of experience at the firm and during that time, had performed a small number of paralegal assignments. She was currently earning $85,000 per year. She intended on asking $120,000 per year and be promoted into the paralegal program. While $120,000 is not unreasonable for a very senior paralegal, the truth is that she had very little experience as a paralegal and $120,000 was not justified. She had prepared, but never drafted, pleadings; had organized some exhibits but never been to trial; never prepared an exhibit book nor any other of the heavier duties a paralegal might have done. She was very disappointed that while I couldn’t say, “Don’t ask for that”, I did tell her that chances of justification for that amount might not persuade the firm.  Do your research and stay within market ranges. 
  2. Getting the timing wrong
    Asking for a raise right after you get hired is absurd.  Your boss will question your judgment and seriously question whether it was smart to hire you in the first place. Don’t even think about asking for a raise before being on the job 6 months.  If you work for a larger company that has more structured performance reviews, you may need to wait longer. You’ll need to prove your value BEFORE asking.

Most firms use a probationary period of 3-6 months to evaluate your performance.  They need time to show they are getting their money’s worth and they also want to know they can depend on you. Read employee manuals and handbooks – you’ll want to make sure you are familiar with the firm’s policies and procedures around changes in pay.  

Pay attention to the business environment and economy and how your firm is performing.  If there is pressure on your firm to tighten its expenses, it would be better to wait.   

  1. Comparing Yourself to Co-Workers
    Almost ½ of American employees know how much their co-workers make. It’s best not to bring it up in salary negotiations for two good reasons:
  • You don’t know the whole story about why they earn more.  It could be seniority/time on the job, education level, more work responsibilities or perhaps even better at the job than you are. 
  • It presents you as petty and resentful.

Your chances improve on getting a raise if you make your case based on your contributions and accomplishments. Even if you have the same job title or position as someone else in your company, that doesn’t mean you should automatically get paid the same. The exception here is that if women are consistently paid less then men, your firm has a problem. 

  1. Issuing ultimatums or throwing tantrums 
    Huge mistake here. I once worked with an attorney who threw a chair against the wall. Not a pretty picture. Tantrums backfire.  Putting your boss in an on-the-spot decision shows that you are a wildcard and undependable.  They may have to choose between being fair or keeping the peace.  Others will find out causing more problems for your boss, encouraging them to deny your request on principle alone.  Even if they agree, if they feel forced, you may get marked as someone who should be replaced when the opportunity arises. 

Skip the drama.  Do engage making salary negotiation and ongoing dialog about your contribution and the value it provides to the organization. If your boss consistently declines being reasonable about well-deserved requests for salary increases, perhaps it’s time to find another job where your contributions are better valued. Work for an organization that appreciates you, compensates you fairly and cares about your career. 

It can be easier than you think

Asking for a raise does not have to go right up there with a visit to the dentist. Clear thinking, advanced planning and a positive attitude will increase your chances and most likely, make you happier. With an oncoming recession rumored, it might be harder than usual to get that raise but if you deserve it, you deserve it. Put your big boy or girl pants on and take that chance. The worst that can happen is probably a “no”. Then, the decision to stay or leave is entirely up to you. Best of luck!

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top nationwide staffing organization and has been in the field for over 20 years. She was recently interviewed by Fortune Magazine ( The Wall Street Journal and  was named “One of the Top Women Leaders in Los Angeles.” She has written 10 booksabout legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. Chere is a recipient of LAPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. She gives numerous webinars including those for Lawline and LawPractice. Chere is a former administrator at an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion staffing company. She is happy to hear from you regarding anything at all. Reach out at: