Looking for a Raise? Avoid This Mistake

What's the number one thing people do wrong before asking their boss for a raise? Consultant and executive coach Karen Cates suggests it's failing to ask whether they deserve one in the first place.


(Photo Credit: stuartpilbrow/Flickr)

Before you get indignant, consider the context of Cates' suggestion, which she recently made in an article on Businessweek.com.

"As an executive coach, I often work with clients who think they're owed a raise. I also work with leaders who have to field those requests, in my other role as a consultant," writes Cates. "Having sat on both sides of the table, I've seen raise-seekers make common mistakes, and noticed that they often overlook the employer's perspective."

In other words, when we want a raise, we tend to think about things from our own point of view, and not from our boss's point of view, and we sometimes fail to consider our position in the market. To figure out whether a raise is really warranted, we need to be able to do all three:

1. Do research.

PayScale's Research Center offers salary ranges for most job titles, factoring in variables like years of experience, geographic location, company size, and employer. Before you can figure out if you're being shortchanged, you need to get an idea of what the market will bear.

2. Consider the employer's perspective.

Has your company had a good year, or a lean one? What's the budget look like? Have co-workers received raises recently, to the best of your knowledge? (Remember, with this last question, you're probably going to be relying on word of mouth, which is about as reliable as eye witness testimony -- in other words, often not always very reliable at all.)

3. Be honest about whether you've achieved your goals.

Ideally, you should set goals ahead of time, aligning them with your company-mandated objectives, and measure them as you go. It's easier to be honest with yourself week to week, when a raise isn't immediately on the table, than it is to assess your performance months later, when your attention is focused on money.

Over at The Muse, Sarah Chang shares her own personal feedback system, which involves a self-imposed ratings system on a scale of one to 10.

To use it, Chang regularly rates different blocks of time and work experiences on that scale, and then asks herself what she could do to make each a 10.

"Putting a number on an intangible experience suddenly makes what was amazing or not so amazing about it a lot more clear," Change writes. "When you acknowledge that things didn't go perfectly, you accept the fact that there's room for improvement, and more importantly, what that improvement might look like."

Over time, such a system might give you a better sense of whether you're hitting your personal and professional goals -- and whether, all other things being equal, you really deserve that raise.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you successfully negotiated a raise? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


  1. 6 Annoyed 13 Jul

    Turns out I'm underpaid. And if it wasn't for me we wouldn't have passed the health department.. I'm do more then my what my pay grade is worth. 

  2. 5 Steve 13 May

    I work in project management, so i can track the amount of money that i generate for the company (post overheads). I feel that if i am earning the company a clean profit that is substantialy greater than my salary, my personal earnings are justified. 

    on the other hand we have employees who's wages come out of the revenue that the other PM's and myself generate (overheads), they are more of a convenience than a staple and are unlikely to secure a raise.

    #1 rule according to Steve: Make sure that you generate more than the amount of money that you want one way or another.

    And Pat, the word that your looking for is doubt, but the use of all CAPS for emphasis foreshadows the spelling error so its fine. 

  3. 4 Patrick 11 May
    I ask myself three ouestions.1.Has my work that I do make a differance to the company.2.Did I make and save the company any moneny that pertains to my job duites. .3.DO I DESERVE THE RAISE.If in any of these three questions just a BIT of dought is there. Honestly, then I must not desreve said RAISE.
  4. 3 HMMüller 09 May

    "Find a better job that pays more. Problem solved."

     ??? Problem created!

    (I avoid a longer explanation of this, as people who think that "a jobs is there for anyone who wants a job" do not understand anyway how our economy and our society work today).

  5. 2 Vish 08 May

    I understand you cant cover an exhaustive list of things to avoid, but my simple take on how you have to approach is that - doesn't matter if the company hasn't done well, if you have performed in your role and feel confident that you have lived upto the work goals you had set, agreed to with your manager and achieved them in your job disposition, there is nothing stopping you from asking for a raise. Hence, the only point which i wouldn't agree in its entirety is your reference to how the company has performed, having a bearing on us asking for a raise. To keep it really simple, i go with this maxim shared by one of India's famous entrepreneurs - Love your job and not your company, since you never know when the company will stop loving you. Your loyalty is not going to matter when the company is going through a rough phase and extrapolating this logic, we shouldn't be worried about where the company is headed if you have done all the right things, since you aren't the only one in the company. As you rightly mention it is about researching and be equipped to answer or clarify why you deserve the raise.

  6. 1 Anon 08 May

    Find a better job that pays more. Problem solved.


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