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How often have you talked to a friend who hasn’t received a real raise in years and is feeling frustrated? Perhaps you are that person. You’ve been at your company for years, receiving two to three percent raises each time you have a performance review. You know you’re falling behind financially as compared to your peers, but you’re not sure what to do.

Often, employees in this situation will recommit themselves to their work. They decide that if they work hard enough and show their boss how great they are, they’ll be rewarded in a few more years. It feels very personal and somewhat emotional. Hard work means more money.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Unless you are in sales, the issue of money has far less to do with your own performance than you might imagine. Once you’re hired at a company, you become part of a system. The system typically only offers pay raises during review time. And, managers are restricted on how much they’re able to give.

So, what can you do? Some employees threaten to leave. Others argue their value. And, a few present competitive job offers. Threatening to leave or presenting competitive offers is rarely the answer and companies know this. Even if they agree to your demands, there’s still a good chance you’ll leave later – and you may damage the relationship with your company in the process.

If you want to stay at your current organization, your best bet is to make a case for your value during your annual performance review. Even then, you’re unlikely to get the huge raise you’re dreaming of.

In order to truly impact your salary, you have to consider switching companies completely. Big salary increases not only impact how much you make now, but also how much you will make over the lifetime of your career. In fact, Forbes makes the case that employees who stay at a job more than two years make fifty percent less over the lifetime of their career than those who don’t.

Once you’ve decided to change jobs, do your homework. Find out what the going rate is for the work you do. It’s important to know your worth before you begin.

When you interview, you’ll quickly find that one of the first questions a company will ask is, “How much do you make?” If you answer this question, you can bet that your new salary will be based upon how much you’re currently making. To maximize your salary bump, try to avoid answering this as long as possible. One technique is to ask the recruiter if they would be willing to share the salary range with you. This can give you a sense of the pay without disclosing your own number.

And, start your search before you’re so unhappy at your job that you’re ready to run out of the building. The longer your timetable is, the more choices you’ll have and the longer you can wait for the highest paying offer.

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

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