The 5 People Who Will Never Get a Raise

How you ask is even more important than what you ask for, says Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and author of Lose the Resume, Land the Job. For more information, see

Over my 30-year professional career, including more than a decade as a CEO of a publicly traded company, I’ve seen and heard it all. Probably you’ll recognize these characters too—they’re the five people who will never get a raise.

Indirect Irene: Sends the boss an email that hints about wanting to discuss something. Or, leaves a voicemail: “I, uh, want to know if we can, uh, talk about something around, you know, my last raise… Not urgent. When you have time.” But Indirect Irene doesn’t know how to have a conversation that’s about performance and not just pay. The boss has other things to think about, so nothing happens.

Outta Here Ollie: Wakes up one morning and decides today is the day. With two kids in college, a mortgage, and car payments, he needs more money. He marches into the boss’s office with an attitude of “if I don’t get a raise I’m outta here.” That day HR starts a search to find his replacement. Ollie was indeed outta there.

Resentful Renee: Says nothing to her boss when she gets a raise. She knows it’s the same percentage that everybody else got—except she doesn’t think she’s like everybody else. She deserves more! And she won’t do one more extra thing at work until she makes more money. Renee doesn’t last long at the company.

Passive Aggressive Paul: Complains around the watercooler about salary and bonuses. Tries to spread the negativity because misery loves company. His only comment to the boss is that “I hear people are unhappy with their pay.” But the boss sees right through it. Paul, too, is soon gone.

Lying Larry: Tries to force his boss’s hand by claiming to have another job offer with a significant raise in salary. When the boss asks to see the offer letter (companies typically do this, by the way), Lying Larry has nothing to show. And he’s gone.

What these five characters failed to understand is that how you ask is even more important than what you ask for.

Asking for a raise is a fair conversation--there’s no reason to avoid having it. But getting the money you want is more likely to happen if you create a partnership with your boss around improving team performance and achieving short-term goals. Then you and your boss can both end up making more money!

This point is missed by far too many people, who just assume that they’re not getting the raises they want because the boss is stingy. Truth is, the boss just isn’t thinking about your paycheck as much as you are. But when you focus on how you can make a bigger impact, you’re putting yourself in your boss’s shoes. It’s not just about you and what you want, it’s all about the team.

The process of asking for and getting more money is straightforward. Yet, so many people just don’t get it or refuse to do it. But here it is:

  • Start by initiating a dialogue with your boss and always in person.
  • Focus on the boss’s and team’s priorities, and how you can contribute to team success.
  • Own your performance objectives. Do what you commit to do.
  • Have periodic check-ins with your boss on your deliverables.

As you do more, expand your responsibilities, and learn more to further your development, it’s a natural pivot to discuss your compensation. And the way you’re knocking out those performance objectives, your boss just might be the one to start the money conversation.

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