May 19, 2016

Why Hard Work Isn’t Enough to Succeed


One of the most common messages I received as a child was, “Work hard, and you will be rewarded.” This sentiment was echoed by loved ones, teachers, and mentors. There’s a good chance you, too, heard the same rumor about life being fair and equitable.

Don’t get me wrong: Hard work is a critical component of success. However, the fact is that there’s more to it than just hard work. This can be a tough lesson to learn, especially for young professionals.

Even the Best Workers Don’t Always Get Rewarded

It’s not uncommon for a newly minted graduate to work harder than their colleagues do. They may even be smarter and contribute more new ideas. In some cases, they also save the company more money or generate more in sales.

On the surface, it seems obvious: “I’m smarter. I work longer hours. I produce more revenue. I should be paid more.” Right?

Not necessarily. At least, not yet.

After working for one to two years at a job, many young professionals begin to feel frustrated. They have proven themselves. They’ve worked long hours.

And they’ve figured out just how much more their lazy coworker makes than they do.

So, the young graduate does what seems natural: They ask their boss for a raise. They’re shocked to learn that it’s not in the cards for them – at least, not in the way they were hoping. Sadly, companies generally only give 2-4 percent raises annually. This is often the case even if you’re a great employee. Your future pay at a company is almost always based on your current pay.

Companies also want to ensure that employees have room to grow each year. If you receive the top pay available today, how will they incentivize you over the next five years? (That’s their reasoning, anyway.)

Perception Counts Just as Much as Reality

FireworksOften, your value is tied as much to perception as it is to reality. You may work hard at your desk for hours on end, but if no one knows about it, they won’t know your true value. This perceived form of value is created through building relationships – with your boss, upper management, and your colleagues.

Your value may also be tied to how rare your skills are. How difficult is it to replace you? How many people are available who can also do the same work? The more unique your skills are, the better. If those unique skills also generate a lot of revenue for the company, you’re even more likely to be perceived as irreplaceable.

Just remember: Putting in your dues is where it’s at. Keep in mind the valuable experience you’re gaining. When you were in college, you would have gladly worked for free.

After you’ve put in your time and are ready to move up, consider moving on. Even the best employees are lucky to receive small raises. An external move can sometimes increase your overall pay by more than 30 percent at one time.

And when you do receive your next offer, use your negotiation skills to get the best start possible.

A version of this article originally appeared on The Memphis Daily News

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.

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Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching ( She is host of the Copeland Coaching Podcast, and author of the career eBook "Breaking The Rules & Getting The Job". Follow Angela on Facebook (, Twitter (, and Instagram (