10 Incredibly Common Mistakes People Make When Asking for a Raise

Everyone wants to take more money home for their hard work, but there are do’s and don’ts when it comes to asking for a pay bump.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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You’ve been at your job for a while and you’ve been doing great. Your work gets compliments. You’ve notched some achievements. You’re feeling good.

With all that hard work, the next natural step might be to ask for a raise — something that can help you stop living paycheck to paycheck.

It can be nerve-wracking to ask for more money. The upside is huge. But the downsides of botching that conversation with your boss are plentiful.

They can run the gamut from simply being denied or ostracized by higher-ups to getting passed over for promotions or even being retaliated against if you find yourself in a nightmare scenario.

Here are 10 mistakes to avoid when you ask for a raise.

Asking during budget cuts

Mongta Studio/Adobe hand working on laptop with virtual screen cost reduction icon

There are plenty of wrong times to ask for a raise. When the company is tightening its financial belt is one of them.

Don’t ask for a pay bump if the business that puts money in your bank account is in the middle of layoffs, a hiring freeze, or dealing with budget cuts.

At best, you’ll look like you’re painfully unaware of what’s going on. At worst, you just won’t get it.

Bringing up a coworker’s raise

Rido/Adobe multiethnic businesspeople in meeting

Pay disparity is a very real problem in the American workplace, as is discrimination. However, that doesn’t mean you deserve a raise because one of your colleagues got one.

Their circumstances may be different from yours. Maybe they have more accomplishments or wildly exceeded expectations.

Frankly, it isn’t any of your business, and speculating lends itself to becoming grist for the rumor mill.

That being said, if you feel as though you’re being discriminated against, you can speak with your HR department or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Complaining you didn’t get a raise

fizkes/Adobe annoyed diverse employees arguing at briefing

Yes, it’s tough when you get passed over for a raise or shot down if you’ve asked for one before. Nobody enjoys being rejected. Your bosses are aware of that.

You don’t need to be happy with the decision, but complaining about it during a negotiation can do more harm than good.

Not recording your accomplishments

JenkoAtaman/Adobe happy female designer finishing work

It sounds simple, but you should always keep track of your accomplishments at work because those accomplishments represent your value to the company.

Did you get a project done ahead of schedule? Mark it down. Did you get good feedback from a client? File it.

It doesn’t matter how small the accomplishment might seem. When your boss asks why you deserve a raise, be prepared to show them.

'I’ve been here for X years'

amnaj/Adobe businesswoman sitting in office looking at watch

The duration of your employment is not the same as your value to the company. If you’ve been stuck in the same position for a long time without a raise, there might be a reason.

Staying at a job for a certain time is not in and of itself a good enough reason for a raise. Maybe it’s time for some introspection or to look elsewhere if you’re feeling undervalued.

Making your personal life the reason

pololia/Adobe couple with newborn baby on bed

Your accomplishments, exceeding expectations, and being a major boon to the business are reasons to ask for a raise. Changes in your private life are not.

Welcoming a new child into the family, wanting to move, dealing with debt, or your spouse losing their job, for example, have huge implications for you personally, but don’t make good arguments for a higher paycheck.

Just as there are things a manager shouldn’t ask you, the personal aspects of your life are best kept private.

Threatening to quit

Svitlana/Adobe man saying goodbye to his ex-colleagues

Threatening the company with an ultimatum if you don’t get a raise is one of the easiest ways to find yourself in an uncomfortable position.

It will immediately steer any negotiation into adversarial territory. That's the opposite of what you want since the goal is to show how you’re a benefit to the company, not holding it hostage.

For example, if you’ve got an offer to take another job, it’s fair to bring that up with your supervisor and hear their counteroffer.

But if you don’t, and you’re bluffing, that’s a foolish gamble. Don’t threaten to leave if you aren’t ready to do it.

Overvaluing your worth

Elnur/Adobe senior employee at work wearing a crown

Understanding your value goes hand-in-hand with keeping track of your accomplishments. But it’s one thing to know what you’re worth and another to start making demands based on what you think you’re worth.

Being confident in your abilities is an excellent trait. Being arrogant is not.

Waiting for a review

88studio/Adobe businesspeople discussing on performance revenue in meeting

Your annual performance review might not be the right time to ask for a raise. For starters, reviews are often scheduled way in advance — often months. 

By the time your review rolls around, your manager or managers have already talked with HR about how you’re doing and approved or decided against any pay increases.

Don’t wait for your supervisor to make the first move. Initiate the conversation and strike when the iron is hot and you’re performing at your best.

Not asking at all

deagreez/Adobe woman making hush gesture

This is perhaps the most obvious: It’s unlikely you’ll get a raise unless you ask. In an ideal world, the higher-ups at your company will notice all the hard work you’re doing, promote you, and offer you loads of money.

But just keeping your head down and toiling away in the hopes that that happens isn’t realistic. If you want a raise, you’ve got to want it and chase it.

Bottom line

LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe translator working with smiling businesswoman

It’s natural to be nervous when you ask for a raise. After all, there’s one great outcome (boosting your bank account) and many terrible ones. But the risks highlight the importance of preparing.

Do your research. Check online to see the salaries others in your position are making. Keep in mind that your job might pay more in a large city and less elsewhere, so know what to ask for.

Finally, don’t ask for a raise over the phone or by email. Negotiating a pay raise should always be done in person.

Avoid these pitfalls, and when the time comes, you’ll do just fine.

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Author Details

Will Vitka

Will Vitka is a D.C. area reporter and writer. He previously worked for WTOP, The New York Post, Stuff Magazine, and CBS News.