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Is there a percentage threshold for a hypothetical "bad," "standard," or "good" annual raise?

I supposed a bad raise would be no raise at all and I hear a typical raise is around 3%, which barely keeps up with cost of living increases.

I recently had an annual review with my employer where I requested an increased salary. I was told that "the money isn't in the budget right now but if it were up to me I would give you a substantial increase…we can revisit in the new calendar year when the new budget takes effect."

When I pressed what "substantial" meant, I was told it was "7%". That would be an annual increase of over $5,000 dollars for me which would come in handy.

I of course think I deserve the money now, but if I don't get this hard number I was told (that is, if my increase is no increase at all or if it is around 4%) should I begin to look elsewhere?

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    Usually some kind of statistical office in every country publish yearly inflation rates - this is the "raise to keep it zero". It's impossible to say without comparing to inflation rate of that year. For USA in 2015 inflation was 0.1% while in 1980 it was 13.5%. So 3% raise in 2015 meant more than 10% raise in 1980. – Agent_L Oct 27 '16 at 16:17
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    As fustrating and counter-productive as it is, the standard answer to "how do I get a big raise" (at least in the US, for knowledge workers) is "by finding a new employer". That doesn't really answer your question, but you should use it to calibrate your expectations about raises based on performance reviews - for whatever reason, the vast majority of employers aren't willing to spend the same amount of money to retain an existing employee as they will to hire a new one. – HopelessN00b Oct 27 '16 at 16:45
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    Always be looking elsewhere. Especially before you negotiate. The best way to get a raise is to already have a higher offer in hand! – Brad Thomas Oct 27 '16 at 20:11
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    I've seen bosses time and again say "we'll give you the raise once we have the money." When that happens, what they are really saying is "we are not giving you the raise, try again later." Either the boss doesn't value you at that level, or the company doesn't value you at that level. Where to go from there depends on the situation. – Ethan Oct 27 '16 at 22:32
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    I'll never figure this out problem from a managers perspective. I understand that companies need to be "fair" and give comparable raises to their hard working employees. However if you hire someone in a high-demand field, if you don't keep up with the average salary rate for your region, they will leave. I worked for a company for 7 years. I was hired at a rate above the average rate and left earning well below. I would have gladly stayed if they would've stopped and realized that I could easily find work at 25% a rate higher than what they were paying. – RLH Oct 28 '16 at 21:57
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TLDR: You will probably need to move to a different employer to get the raise you want/need/deserve.

Some employers, in the US, punish longevity through a number of practices. My wife worked as a nurse for about 20 years. During that time she had many employers, leveraging raises with job changes. She quit nursing about 6 years ago and was being paid $38/hour at the time. She had a friend that worked in the same system for 18 years. They had the same position in the same hospital that friend's current rate of pay: $26/hour. You probably don't want to be that person.

Given your Stack Overflow participation, I would assume you are some type of web developer. I would recommend updating your resume, and moving for a 20% increase or more. You'll get it as it is a great time to be a web developer. Spending on IT tends to go in cycles, and right now budgets are very healthy for hiring new talent.

While your current company might not have enough money in the budget to give you a raise, they would not hesitate hiring someone with your skills at 95K if they had an opening. Its common, but frustrating to all that are involved except the bean counters that looks at people like us as commodities.

Think about this: both sides of the table agree that you deserve a 5K raise. But lets say next year only 3k is in the budget. So you are out the 5k you should have been given this year, plus the 2k that you won't get, plus whatever raise was fair for you next year. That is a lot of money! Time to go!

Don't bother on holding onto any illusions of a counter offer by your current employer. There will be too much resentment. Shake the dust off your feet and move on.

Edit: Some naysayers will cite short work histories as problems for future employment. It could happen in a small number of shops, but short work histories are common in technology that recruiters rarely bat an eye. If they do, as with any objection, it is up to you to sell yourself. In Cracking the Code Interview the author cites that no one is really expecting you to stay beyond 5 years.

Something like this would work just fine: "I left Acme because there were indications of poor financial health. Given the hot market at the time I was able to find a new position without the worry of pending layoffs."

If you are a contractor six month assignments are the norm. Also many technology resumes have overlapping assignments. Its what happens when someone is in demand.

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    Thanks for keepin it real @Pete B. I am more than willing to move on to get adequate compensation. I have been in the professional workforce for about 4 years and this is my 3rd job each time I moved to get anywhere between 35%-50% annual increase. I'd like to stick around at a place for more than 2 years but as you said employers seem to punish longevity. At least in my experiences thus far. – gwar9 Oct 27 '16 at 15:08
  • @gwar9 You might want to be careful about moving on too soon - you could find yourself in a situation where you have trouble getting a new job if all your previous jobs are relatively short duration. – HopelessN00b Oct 27 '16 at 19:08
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    @HopelessN00b that is something I have considered as well. I have never been at a job longer than 2.5 years and I know there is difference in schools of thought between younger and older folks. I've been told that jobs can be wary if they see you move on with frequency but in today's job and income climate how can one maximize their earnings if they arent constantly moving on. I realize this is a whole other question entirely. – gwar9 Oct 27 '16 at 19:14
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    Yes. Let's say you make $70,000/year in the US. At your current employer, they don't want to give you an extra $5. What is the going rate for your job+experience? Is it $70k or $75k? If it is $75k or more, then you can leave and get more money. I guarantee that your replacement will then cost the company $75k or more. But they won't pay you that. As stated, employees are just cogs in the machine - interchangeable cogs to the bean counters. Good luck. – MikeP Oct 28 '16 at 1:18
  • "Short work histories" should be understood in context. If you've had 12 different full time web developer jobs in the last six years, something is wrong. Four jobs in five years particularly if your resume shows you finish significant projects before moving on is probably okay. – GrandOpener Oct 28 '16 at 14:47
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Any such number would depend on the country, the market, and the economic situation - especially inflation ratio.

Generally, if you are not in a booming or a dying technology, getting a raise above the inflation ratio is 'good'; anything below is poor.

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    A raise that matches inflation indicates that your value to the company is staying stable. In other words, the experience that you are accumulating has no substantial value to you or the company. I would consider this a poor result in most situations. – GrandOpener Oct 28 '16 at 14:50
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Keep in mind that unless you have a contract that says you get a certain amount of raise every year, the employer is not required to give you any raise.

The quality of a raise is too subjective for anyone to tell you how to judge it. You either get a raise you can live with, it makes you content/happy, and you continue working there, or you get a raise that does not satisfy you, and you jump ship to get more money.

Some (most?) employers know that raises can be the tipping point for employees deciding to leave. If you consistently receive raises greater than inflation rate, the message is that the employer values you. If the opposite, they value you enough to continue your employment, but are willing to replace you if you decide to leave.

Key thing here is there are three ways of getting increased pay with your current employer. Cost of living or annual raise is the one that we are discussing. Merit based raises are a second way. If you think you deserve a raise, due to loyal consistent contribution, or contributing above your duty, or for whatever reason, then ask for a raise. The third way is to be promoted or transferred to a higher paying position. Often times, you should also make your case to your supervisor why you should have the new position, similar to asking for a merit raise.

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    There is one objective way to measure raises: how closely does it track the median salary for someone in your industry, with the same years of experience? How would it track against a new hire with similar skillset & experience? – jpaugh Oct 27 '16 at 20:32
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You are not actually entitled to any raise at all, unless you had something contractually (legally binding) which made that so.

I'm answering this from the UK, but it has been common practice for people over the last 10 years or so to receive no yearly raise, in some sectors. This is what I would consider a bad raise - if wages are not kept in line with inflation, you are effectively earning less every year. In this regard I would not work for any employer who did not offer an annual raise that was at the very least covering the rate of inflation (these rates are easy to find in your country by Googling it).

In terms of a standard raise, I would argue there is no such thing. This depends on the industry/sector you work in, your employers opinion of your performance (note I've used the word opinion because sometimes you may think the effort you put in is different to what they think - be prepared to give evidence of what you've achieved for them, with things to back it up).

A good raise is anything which is way above a standard raise. Since there is no concise definiton of a standard raise, this is also hard to quantify.

As others have mentioned do not stay in a role where you are not being given a raise that covers inflation, because it means every year you have less purchasing power, which is akin to your salary going down. It's very easy to justify to an employer you're leaving - and indeed one you're going to - why you're making the move under these conditions.

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What makes a "standard" raise depends on how well the economy is doing, how well your particular industry is doing, and how well your employer is doing. All these things change constantly, so anyone who says, "a good raise is 5%" or whatever number is being simplistic. Even if true when he said it, it won't necessarily be true next year, or this year in a different industry, etc.

The thing to do is to look for salary surveys that are reasonably current and applicable. If today, in your industry, the average annual raise is 3% -- again, just making up a number -- then that's what you should think of as "standard".

If you want a number, okay: In general, as a first-draft number, I look for a raise that's 2% or so above the current inflation rate. Yes, of course I'd LIKE to get a 20% raise every year, but that's not going to happen in real life. On the other hand if a company gives me raises that don't keep pace with inflation, than barring special circumstances I'm going to be looking for another job.

But there are all sorts of special circumstances. If the economy is in a depression and unemployment in my field is 50%, I'll probably figure I'm lucky to have a job at all and not be too worried about raises. If the economy is booming and all my friends are getting 10% and 20% raises, then I'll want that too.

As others have said, in the United States at least, the best way to get a pay raise is to change jobs. I think most American companies are absolutely stupid about this. They don't want to give current employees big raises, so they let them quit, and then hire replacements at a much higher salary than they were paying the guy they just drove to quit. And the replacement doesn't know the company and may have a lot to learn before he is fully productive. And then they congratulate themselves that they kept raises this year to only 3% -- even though total salaries paid went up by 10% because the new hires demanded higher salaries. They actively punish employees for staying with the company.

(Reminds me of an article I read in a business magazine by an executive of a cell phone company. He bemoaned the fact that in the cell phone industry it is very hard to keep customers: they are constantly switching to other vendors. And I thought, Duh, maybe it's because you offer big discounts for the first year or two, and after that you jack your prices up through the roof. You actively punish your customers for staying with you more than 2 years, and then you wonder why customers leave after 2 years.)

Oh, if you do change jobs: Absolutely do not buy a line of "we'll start you off with this lower salary but don't worry because you'll get a big raise in a year". When you're looking for a job, it's very easy to turn down a poor offer. Once you have taken a job, leaving to get another job is a big decision and a lot of work. So you have way more bargaining power on starting salary than on raises. And the company knows it and is trying to take advantage of it.

Also consider not just percentage increase but what you're making now versus what other people with similar experience are making. If people comparable to you are making $50k and you're making $30k, you're more likely to get a big raise than if you're already making $80k.

If the company says, "We just don't have the budget to give you a raise", the key question is, "Is that true?" If the company is tottering on the edge of bankruptcy and trying to cut costs everywhere, then even if they know you're a good and productive employee, they may really just not have the money to give you a good raise. But if business is booming, this could just be an excuse. It might be an excuse for "we're trying to bleed employees white so the CEO can get another million dollar bonus this year". Or it might be a euphemism for "you're really not a very useful employee and we're seriously thinking of firing you, no way we're going to give you a raise for the little bit of work you do when you bother to show up".

My final word: Be realistic. What matters isn't what you want or think you need, but what you are worth to the company, and what other people with similar skills are willing to work for. If you are doing work that brings in $20k per year for the company, there is no way they are going to pay you more than $20k for very long. You can go on and on about how expensive it is these days to pay the mortgage and pay medical bills and feed your 10 children and support your cocaine addiction, but none of that is relevant to what you are worth to the company. Likewise if there are millions of people out there who would love to have your job for $20k, if you demand a lot more than that they're going to fire you and hire one of them. Conversely, if you're bringing in $100k a year for the company, they'll be willing to pay you a substantial percentage of that.

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your question is based on a false premise. there is no "standard" for raises. some jobs in some years see huge raises. other years those same jobs may see average pay rates drop. if you want a benchmark, you would be better off looking at typical pay rates for people in your job, in your city with your experience. sites like glassdoor can provide that type of information. if you are at the low end of that range, you can probably push for a raise. if you are at the high end, you may find it more difficult.

typically your employer will pay you just enough to keep you from leaving. so they will offer you as little as they think you will accept. you can either accept it or find another job that pays more. if you work in software, then you can probably make more by switching jobs. if you work in food service, you might have more trouble finding higher pay elsewhere. if you do find another employer, you might be able to elicit a counter-offer from your current employer. in fact, even suggesting that you will look for another employer may prompt your current employer to be more generous. that said, if your employer thinks you are on your way out, they might cut your bonus or lay you off.

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There are many variables to this answer.

One is, how close are you to the average salary range in the industry you are working in. If you are making more than average it would make sense that you are not getting a big raise from the employer's perspective. You have to be a top performer if you are looking for the top salary range. Big raises come from promotions or new jobs, generally speaking.

The short and personal answer is, I worked at a big company (bank) and now know that companies do not give large raises to people as a rule. Honestly the only way to make good $ is to leave, all employers have all kinds of excuses as to why they are not giving you significant raises. Large raises and bonuses are reserved for "management". The bigger the company, the less likely it is that they will give you raises just because, esp. above 3-5%.

At the same time, the market sets the rate, and if you are not getting passively recruited, it may mean that you need to work on getting a broader skill set if you are looking to make more $ somewhere else.

The bottom line is, you have to think of yourself as a free agent at all times. You also need to make yourself more attractive as a potential hire elsewhere.

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