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How to Blow Your Chances of Getting a Raise

November 08, 2022 11:29 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Author: 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 not to mention 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 performance chat with your boss, let’s talk about the bottom line: how much did I get?

Raises are touchy subjects and if you have to ask for one, things can go horribly wrong. And I mean horribly. It’s not so much about the outright question: “Can I have a raise” but rather 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 enthusiastically explained 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 thought: “That’s it? 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). Why? I had fully expected at least 10%. Where I got that figure, I have never figured out. The HR Manager was shocked. “The average raise today is 2-3%”, she said. “Oh.” Gulp. I didn’t know that. In addition, they were giving 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 (now Workhuman) 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. It’s never good to take an uncalculated risk. Let’s explore what not to do when asking for a raise.

Here are 9 ways not to ask 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. You are expected to do that. Meeting your minimum billable hourly requirement is not one. Start with market research. What is your market value? What are other firms paying for people 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 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 some take into account all regions, some of which pay less than others. Those figures are mixed into the average, bringing the number down for first and second tier cities. I find that the best people who know your market are recruiters. They have the handle on everything.

2. Basing your argument on financial difficulties or commute.
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 attitude 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.

Is your 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.

3. 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 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 and that mind set calls for persuasion. You goal is to demonstrate how more efficiently the firm now operates because of your efforts.

4. Don’t ask via email or phone.
Asking for a raise calls for a one-on-one meeting or at least a Zoom session. Email and phone does not give you a chance to persuade and frankly, it’s cold. Your supervisor does not get to see you and judge your facial expressions nor emotions.

5. Asking for a raise on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon.
Hitting a supervisor the first thing on a Monday morning while their mind is clearly on the week ahead or 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 work week 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 blindsiding them and not likely to get a great response.

6. 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. She wanted to know how to ask for an increase. She had 12 years of legal assistant 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 for $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, and never prepared an exhibit book nor conducted a document production, did not know Relativity nor handled any other heavier duties a senior 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.

Before you decide how much of a raise to ask for, do some homework. If your
company grants employees an annual raise, you’ll probably be aware of the
approximate budget, so you should stay in line with that. Firms usually budget 5% or less for yearly increases. Hypothetically, let’s say legal staff at your firm received an average of 2% more last year. Requesting a 10% increase will seem over-the-top and inappropriate but if you’ve really excelled over the year, then a 3% - 4% raise might be reasonable. No annual increase program in place? Then you need to do some more research. Often people just go with their gut when requesting a certain figure (as I did way back when) and don’t have anything to back it up. You need to consider what the market is at a firm of your size—for your skill level, specialty and geographic area.

7. Getting the timing wrong.
There are good times and there are bad times to ask for a raise. Probably in the midst of a summer program is not good, holidays are not good and if the firm is cutting back, laying off, merging or otherwise in any different  circumstances than normal, will not get you the attention you need.

8. Comparing yourself to others.
This is absolutely the worst rationale. While transparency is becoming more popular, you need to be evaluated based upon your own merits and contributions. Because Suzie is getting $5,000 more than you is not justification. She may be bringing more to the firm’s added value than you know about. However, if you are a woman and it appears as though men are getting paid more, you definitely have a good argument.

9. Issuing ultimatums.
If you go down the path of issuing an ultimatum: “If I don’t get this raise, I am going to quit”, be prepared to follow through. Don’t be surprised if the firm confidentially starts looking for someone in the event you make preparations to leave. It is entirely possible that the firm will call your bluff and say, “I understand how you feel. However, it’s probably best that you start seeking another position.” Recently, I worked with a client whose trusts & estates planning paralegal threatened to quit if she didn’t get help. While we can certainly understand her angst at working overtime week after week, there were less threatening ways to overcome the problem. What the firm did was have us do a search for not one paralegal to assist this employee, but conduct a confidential search in the event this paralegal left.

In conclusion, it may be time to change jobs. If you feel strongly that you are underpaid or not recognized for work above and beyond what you were hired to do, there is nothing wrong with exploring new options. Be sure, however, you are not hoping around. Try and stay at least a year or more before leaving. If your resume shows that you are leaving once a year, chances that your resume will be welcomed at other firms loses power. On the other hand, you just have to get up in the morning and love it.

You really do.

About the Author

Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top nationwide staffing organization. Chere has been in the field for over 20 years. She was recently interviewed by Fortune Magazine ( and The Wall Street Journal. Recently, she was named “One of the Top Women Leaders in Los Angeles.” She has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles
and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, 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 is a former administrator in an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She is happy to hear from you regarding
anything at all.

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