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Look for Another Modest Pay Raise in 2014

Top-rated workers with skills that are in demand will fare best.

’Tis the season for annual reviews. You’ll probably get a raise in 2014. But unless you’re a star at work, you’ll hardly notice. Starting a new job? You’re likely to do better than the new hires of 2013—and for a few choice occupations, the boss is really paying up.

A survey by Towers Watson Data Services found that employers were planning to bestow pay increases that will average 2.9% in 2014. That’s up a hair from the 2.8% average increases that employees got in both 2012 and 2013. Kiplinger expects the inflation rate to be 2% in 2014, so an employee who gets the average raise will more than keep up with rising prices.

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But averages can be deceiving. There is a wide gap between the pay raises for top-rated workers and raises for employees with average or below-average ratings. Towers found that office stars received increases of 4.6% in 2013—well above the 2.6% pay hike granted to workers rated average and way more than the 1.3% received by those rated below average. Bosses will also be doling out bigger bonuses to valued employees as an incentive to stay put. The difference between a 2% raise and a 4% raise might not amount to much, “but there’s a big difference between a $4,000 bonus and an $8,000 or $10,000 bonus,” says Laura Sejen, a global compensation expert at Towers Watson.

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Even if you think you’re a hot shot, it’s no time to rest on your laurels. A survey by compensation experts Buck Consultants found that in 2013, fewer employees were rated in the top two levels on a five-level scale than in 2012. “The way to get a better performance rating is to make sure you have clarity with your manager about priorities for the year,” says Sejen. “Try to get feedback throughout the year so you can make a mid-course correction if you need to.”

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Projected increases for starting salaries are on the rise in 2014, especially if you’re in the right industry. “It’s a tale of two job markets,” says Paul McDonald, senior executive director at placement firm Robert Half. Although the overall unemployment rate in the U.S. is 7.3%, for in-demand occupations it’s much lower—4% or below for computer network architects or financial analysts, for example.

To lure new hires in high-demand fields, employers are boosting starting salaries. In fields in which Robert Half helps place employees (including technology, accounting and finance, marketing, office support, and the legal profession), starting pay will increase by an average of 3.7% for new hires in 2014.

The hottest jobs are even more lucrative. Can you develop mobile apps? Expect to be offered a starting annual salary of $100,000 to $144,000, up nearly 8% from 2013. Senior accountants, financial analysts with a few years’ experience and lawyers with four to nine years’ experience will see salaries that are at least 4% higher than last year’s, with pay of up to $77,000, $70,000 and $187,500, respectively.

To boost your chances of getting hired—or getting ahead—polish “soft” skills such as public speaking, writing and listening. And that applies even to rarefied experts. It used to be that tech people could stay in the tech department. Now, says McDonald, “people work in teams. You have to learn how to speak to nonexperts across the organizational chart.”

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