Workers can expect an average pay increase of 3% to their paychecks in 2014, on par with hikes seen in the past two years.

Post-recession, employers are slowly beginning to increase wages after halting raises during the financial crisis, according to  a new report from compensation consulting firm Towers Watson.

Only 4% of the 900 mid-to-large-size companies surveyed plan no pay increases, a significant drop from the 75% of companies with the same response during the 2008 recession, the report says.

At a time when raises are barely keeping up with cost-of-living increases, standing out in the workplace is a must in order to secure a coveted wage hike, says Jaime Klein, president of Inspire Human Resources.

“You need to succinctly articulate your worth, and communicate why you are worthy of a raise,” Klein says. “The way to start is to articulate how you help the company’s bottom line. They want to measure what you can do to meet the company’s goals.”

And according to Kimberly Smith, managing partner, Eastern Region, for executive leadership firm Witt/Kieffer, this process begins long before review season.

“If you are thinking, ‘How can I ask for a raise tomorrow?’ it’s already too late,” Smith says. “It begins at the end of last year’s review. You need to think, ‘where do I want to go? What are my career aspirations?’”

Smith says employees need to focus more on career trajectory than their salary. Workers who want to set themselves apart to be in a good position to get a raise should be stretching the boundaries of their current job. “Think past career and economic aspirations. Think of the role you are currently in and stretch the boundaries of the job.”

Employees more likely to get sizeable raises have taken the initiative to help their boss, colleagues and even new hires, says Klein.

“Many organizations don’t have the budget or bandwidth to do full orientation programs for new hires. Take people under your wing, show that you care about the organization and are a team player,” she says.

Workers who can prove they are a “generalist” can also help them advance in the workplace, says Klein says.

“At this moment in time, companies are hungry for individuals who can wear multiple hats and take on tasks without [the company] having to increase its headcount. Stretch yourself and help out on assignments when others are on medical or maternity leave,” she says. “And every leader loves to have stuff taken off their plate.”

Workers that want to stand apart from their colleagues should also be striving to improve their performance. “Ask where you can add value to the firm, and what will better position you for a raise in the future,” she says. “That dialogue is where you should start.”

And finally, employees who show they are invested in the company and want to have longevity within the business, tend to be more successful getting raises, according to Klein.

“They want to make the investment in their employees that show leadership potential and are good fits for the future,” she says. “Those that are in perpetual beta and are constantly growing, training and are adept in technology—that is the currency in which companies are trading today.”

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