You've been at your company for years, receiving slim 2-3 percent raises after each annual performance review. You know you're falling behind your peers financially, but you're not sure what to do.
Often, people 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. Harder work means a higher salary, right?
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Unless you are in sales, how much you make has far less to do with your 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 in how much they're able to give.
So, what can you do? Some employees threaten to leave. Others argue their value. A few present their bosses with competitive job offers they've received from other organizations. But threatening to leave or presenting competitive offers is rarely the answer, and companies know this. Even if the company agrees 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, however, you're unlikely to get the huge raise you're dreaming of.
Want to Make More? Jump Ship
If you want to significantly boost your salary, you have to consider switching companies completely. If that sounds too risky, keep in mind that a big salary increase will not only impact how much you make now, but also how much you will make over the length of your entire career. In fact, according to an article in Forbes, employees who stay at a job for more than two years make 50 percent less over the lifetime of their careers 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.
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. Ask the recruiter if they would share the salary range with you. This can give you a sense of the pay without disclosing your own number.
It's best to start your search before you're so unhappy at your job that you're ready to run out of the building. The longer you have, the more choices you'll have and the longer you can hold out for the highest-paying offer.
A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.
Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.