How NOT to Ask for a Raise

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Theresa Zagnoli

As you’ve no doubt observed, in today’s economy, raises are not handed out on a regular basis. And those lucky few who do receive an increase often find it’s less money than they had hoped for.

As a CEO I want to pay my valued employees as much as I can. But there are right and wrong ways to approach me or any leader when asking for a raise. Instead of telling you how to ask for a raise, my purpose here is to minimize your chances of being told no.

When asking for a raise, you can reduce the chance of rejection by avoiding the following 10 mistakes:

  1. Ignoring the importance of timing. The number one reason I do not respond positively to a raise request is because people choose the wrong moment in the day, the week, or the year. If the company is scraping money together to build new software, every penny counts. If the banker has just left the building, test the air. If you just messed up a project or made a noticeable mistake?even if not a deadly error—forget about it.
  2. Not quantifying your contribution. It’s all about the money. In a public company, there is an obligation to the stockholders. They make money first and everyone else makes money second. In a private organization, even under a benevolent dictatorship, money does not flow freely. The smaller the company, the less cash flow. The less cash flow, the more difficult it is to find money in the budget for raises. If you are doing something or intend to do something to increase that cash flow and can show it, a raise is much more likely.
  3. Being unprepared. Do your homework, write the memo, and be able to talk about the company’s needs?not just yourself, what you do, and how much money you want.
  4. Asking the wrong person. Don’t depend on others to deliver your message for you. They won’t.
  5. Apologizing. A raise is not a hand out. It can be a win for both you and the employer. If you are an asset to my business, I want you to have as much money as possible. Chances are, your boss feels the same way. Sit tall in your chair, wear your best outfit, and show confidence.
  6. Believing you “deserve” more money. You don’t.
  7. Talking about your personal needs: a bigger home, better car, etc. I don’t care if you live in a cave. Your earnings are tied to how much you contribute to the organization.
  8. Talking about what someone else earns. This is not only in bad taste, but dangerous.
  9. Threatening to quit. You won’t. (Or if you do, I won’t care).
  10. Complaining about your workload. Try mine for a week.

What to do Before You Ask
Timing is everything. Understand that asking for a raise unexpectedly causes conflict with your manager, his/her manager, and so on. For those of us determining compensation, when people ask for raises out-of-turn it wreaks havoc on the budget. We are more likely to just say no, rather than work on finding the money. So your first step is to have some understanding of the company finances, the fiscal year, how salaries are determined, the bonus plan, etc. Is the company on budget, losing money, or rolling in dough? Are there any plans for large capital expenditures in the near future? Have there been layoffs? If your company is not well-structured or does not communicate these details to its managers, then ask. You need this information to formulate your plan.

Take a look in the mirror. Dust off your job description and determine if you have been doing the tasks listed and, more importantly, doing them well. If the description contains language like “performs any and all other functions to make the company run smoothly and look good” and you recently refused to stay late to help support staff on a large project, reassess your performance. Are you a team player? My favorite passive-aggressive example is the employee who has her coat on but stops by my office on her way out to ask if there is anything I need. Duh. I call this esprit de corpse. This is not team play.

Create your raise profile. Think about what you have contributed to the company since your last salary assessment. Have you taken on on more responsibility with or without a raise since the last go around? Propose what more you can do. If you have not been offered more money, it is likely that (unless there are severe financial reasons within the company) you are being paid what someone believes is the correct compensation for your current contribution.

Set up a meeting. Once you have profiled yourself on paper, write an email to the person you want to meet with. Ask for a meeting to discuss a salary increase. Include the major points you intend to discuss. This is important because most individuals do not determine salaries on their own. Even if they have the authority to do so, they will want to confer with others. With your memo in hand, he/she can discuss your request with the necessary people. An additional benefit is that when you meet, your manager is able to say something other than “I will look into it and get back to you.”

There is no better feeling than rewarding someone who is company-centric and contributes to the success of the company. Everyone benefits from such an employee. Show your manager that you are that person and you may be rewarded with a raise in sooner than you think.

Here are a couple of AMA seminars that can help you when it’s time to ask for a raise:
Developing Effective Business Conversation Skills 

Assertiveness Training

About the Author(s)

Theresa Zagnoli is founding partner and CEO of Zagnoli McEvoy Foley LLC, is a leader in communication consulting. She has been providing practical trial consulting and communication solutions to attorneys and business leaders for over 20 years. For more information, visit