7 reasons your salary hasn’t budged — and what you can do about it

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If you're expecting a major pay increase this year, don't hold your breath. In fact, more than half of Americans polled did not receive a salary boost in 2016 despite a competitive hiring market, according to a 2017 Bankrate survey.

Those who did receive an automatic yearly raise didn't fare much better. Last year, U.S. salaries increased by a mere 2.8 percent and this percentage is expected to hold steady in 2018. For reference, the average millennial salary is $35,592. A 2.8 percent raise comes out to just under $1,000 — and that's before taxes.

In light of this, it's imperative that you take charge of your salary, especially if you haven't seen a pay increase in more than a year. A good place to start is by assessing potential reasons your salary isn't budging, says Kat Cohen, CEO and founder of educational and career consulting firm IvyWise.

1. You didn't ask

Salaries often stall because young professionals are too timid to ask for higher pay, says Cohen, but even top performers may not receive a salary bump without asking for it.

Although this conversation can be intimidating, it usually pays off. A 2018 Bank of America report indicates that nearly 80 percent of millennials who asked for a raise in the past two years received one.

You also might not have realized how your job has changed and if any additional work you're doing is outside your normal scope of duties. Growing up in a digital age has made young professionals accustomed to being accessible around-the-clock. Many millennials report spending more than 6 hours a day on their email, for instance, more than any other generation.

However, employees "need to know how to ask for more competitive compensation if they find themselves taking on more work," says Cohen. Start by assessing your workload, she says, and consider the labor you're putting in that isn't a part of your job description. Perhaps you've taken on the responsibilities of someone more senior, helping your boss train new employees or overseeing a team of interns. Ask your employer about a plan to adjust your compensation and possibly even your official role to match the work you're actually doing.

2. You should ask for a promotion instead

It's possible you're making all you can in your current role or your current department. Consider where else in the company you can contribute best and look for positions that would be a natural move for you.

Reach out to people within your company who are hiring for positions in which you're interested. Introduce yourself, ask what's needed and what problems they are looking to get solved. Some experts even suggest you write a proposal for the role. You could even offer to do a project as a trial.

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Also network within your company get on the radar of the hiring managers. Introduce yourself to the people whose projects interest you most. That way, you're the first person they call when there's a vacancy that fits your skill set.

3. You aren't negotiating benefits

"When it comes to compensation, it's not always money young professionals are looking for," says Cohen. According to a Glassdoor employment confidence survey, 89 percent of employees age 18-34 would take better benefits and perks over a pay increase.

Before planning a benefits negotiation, says Cohen, review your entire compensation package including health insurance, bonuses, equity, flexible hours, and tuition reimbursement options.

"It's essential to go into the conversation with a thorough understanding of what you are currently being offered, what you wish to receive, and how it relates to your workload," she says. You can ask for things like work from home flexibility, which saves you transit costs, or more flexible work hours, which can save parents money on childcare.

You might also consider which benefits your company offers that you haven't taken advantage of. Perks like 401k matches can add to your bottom line, even when they don't specifically add to your take-home pay.

4. You aren't performing well

The rise of merit-based pay increases mean you can't count on the automatic cost-of-living bump. According to a 2017 study by professional services firm Aon, 40 percent of employers are reducing or eliminating pay increases for poor performers. This means that it's more important than ever to excel in your given role and to be a top performer. "Employees who want to receive a salary increase need to really set themselves apart," says Cohen.

If you didn't snag a raise this year, think back. Has your boss had mostly positive things to say about your work? Or did you find yourself in a lot of closed-door meetings about your performance?

Ask yourself: Do you solve problems or just point them out? Do you add to stress around your office or help reduce it? According to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, standout employees "understand that the greatest value [they] can offer a boss is to reduce their stress."

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5. You're not developing soft skills

Soft skills like leadership, problem-solving and communication are just as important as technical skills — if not more so. And as automation sweeps through the workplace, these skills will only become more in-demand.

While it's important to fine tune your "role-specific" technical knowledge, says Cohen, make sure that you're also rounding out your professional profile with complimentary soft skills.

Since you're more likely to value and truly listen to feedback from co-workers who you trust, ask close colleagues to share what you do well and how you can improve. Inquire if there are ways you can better communicate or present yourself and be attentive as they offer their recommendations.

"Determine a handful of soft skills you excel in and strive to highlight these throughout your career," Cohen says. "Becoming the go-to person when the company needs a new idea or someone is looking for a true leader will help set you apart."

6. You aren't asking for or applying feedback

Constructive criticism is essential for growth, says Cohen, but many early career professionals fail to seek it out — or implement it once given.

Rather than waiting for an annual review, she says, ask your supervisor for feedback after completing a major project, when areas of improvement are top of mind. Be sure to jot down all suggestions made and ask for clarification if needed.

"A young professional who demonstrates an ability to learn and evolve will stand out as someone with long-term growth potential, which is something all companies are looking for," says Cohen.

7. You're not strategic

Don't be afraid to time your next career check-in with your boss. Find out when budgets are set at your company so you can discuss your career trajectory while money decisions are still being made.

Raises are often tied to the company's fiscal calendars, leading to more promotions (and pay bumps) in the summer months, compared to other times of the year.

Come to this talk with a list of career highlights from the past year, what you've contributed and how you've grown as an employee. Ask what more you can contribute, giving your boss what he or she needs to advocate on your behalf.

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