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One of the most common messages I received as a child was, “work hard and you will be rewarded.” This sentiment was echoed by loved ones, teachers, and mentors. There’s a good chance you heard the same rumor about life being fair and equitable.

Working hard is a critical component to success; don’t get me wrong. However, there’s more to it than just hard work. This can be an especially tough lesson for young professionals.

It’s not an uncommon experience for a newly minted graduate to work harder than their colleagues. They may even be smarter and contribute more new ideas. In some cases, they save the company more money or generate more in sales.

On the surface, it seems obvious. “I’m smarter. I work longer hours. I produce more revenue. I should be paid more.” Right? Not necessarily. At least, not yet.

After working for one to two years at a job, it is not uncommon for a young professional to experience frustration. They have proven themselves. They’ve worked long hours. And, they have figured out just how much more their lazy coworker makes than they do.

They do what seems natural and ask their boss for a raise. They’re shocked to learn that it’s not in the cards for them – at least, not in the way they were hoping. Sadly, companies generally only give two to four percent raises annually. This is the case even if you’re a great employee. Your future pay within a company is almost always based upon your current pay.

Companies also want to ensure that employees have room to grow each year. If you receive the top pay available today, how will they incentivize you over the next five years? That’s their reasoning anyway.

Often, your value is also tied up in perception as much as it is in reality. You may work hard at your desk for hours on end, but if no one knows about it, that value may be overlooked. This perceived value is created through building relationships – with your boss, upper management, and colleagues.

Last, your value may also be tied up in how rare your skills are. How difficult is it to replace you? How many people are available who can also do the same work? The more unique your skills are, the better. If those unique skills also generate a high value of revenue for the company, you’re even more likely to be perceived as irreplaceable.

Just remember, putting in your dues is where it’s at. Keep in mind the valuable experience you’re gaining. When you were in college, you would have gladly worked for free.

After you’ve put in your time and are ready to move up, consider moving on. Even the best internal employees are lucky to receive a small raise. An external move can sometimes increase your overall pay by more than thirty percent at one time. And, when you do receive your next offer, use your negotiation skills to get the best start possible.

Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at and on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.

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