My understanding is a raise consistent with inflation is basically no
raise at all.
I understand what you are saying, but I disagree. Having gone through a few years with 0% raises in the past, I believe that is what "no raise at all" really means. For those years, we would have been very happy to keep up with inflation.
Contrast "Sorry, you get no raise at all this year" with "Here's a 3% raise" with "Sorry, I am cutting your pay this year". To me they are different.
If I am mainly going to receive raises about what inflation is over
10-20 years won't a new hire with a comparable offer be getting paid
the same amount I will?
Perhaps. But the market rate for new hires doesn't really track to inflation. Other factors (primarily the availability of people to fill these jobs, and the alternatives they have at their disposal) have a bigger impact on new hire salaries than the previous year's inflation rate.
Consequently, new hires could command a salary higher than the inflation rate would imply, or less.
But why do you care what new hires make anyway? You won't be a new hire, and after 10-20 years in the business, what they are making will not impact what you can make.
Do I need to do something different to get an "effective" raise?
If you want to get more than you have been receiving, then clearly you need to do something different.
That might mean working harder, it might mean working longer, it might mean taking on more responsibility - or it might mean leaving for a different company.
Many years ago, when inflation was in double-digits, I felt that high-single-digit raises weren't getting me where I wanted to be. After discussing things with my manager, I made a difficult decision and decided I needed to leave.
In that instance, I was able to find a new job in a new company at a significant raise.
But over the years, I've also been able to get promotions and/or significant raises without having to leave.