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Pump Up Your Salary

Sunday, December 19, 2004; Page M09

The end of the year is fast approaching, which means jingle bells, shopping hell, eggnog and . . . annual reviews. If you've been nice, not naughty, that also means it's prime time to ask for a raise. Maybe your company's performed well this past year, or maybe it's cutting corners, but either way, if you know you've done a great job, then by all means, step up and ask for what you're worth. Here are some tips on how to finesse your way into a salary upgrade:

DO YOUR HOMEWORK. How much should they be paying to keep you, anyway? In your mind's eye, you are, of course, priceless. But when it comes to your salary, you need to arm yourself with information before asking for a raise. Find out how much local employers pay someone in your position. Salary.com has an excellent salary calculator to give you some idea of what your price tag should be.

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EXPLAIN WHY YOU'RE WORTH IT. You'll get nothing unless you make a case for yourself, so give your boss a reason to dig into her glass penny jar and slap some extra change down on your desk. Spend a week or two planning what to say, and as you make your list of accomplishments and attributes, be specific. In what ways did you save the company money? When and how? Do you put in more hours than expected when necessary? Are you a leader? In what way? If you've got documentation to back this up (e-mails or memos praising your performance, for example), use it. Put your accomplishments in writing, and at your meeting, hand your boss a copy and start from the top. This gives her time to absorb the information and something to keep in case she needs to think about it or make a case to her boss.

PLAY IT COOL. Phew. The hard part's over. Now, give your boss the time and space to say yes: "I know you can't make this decision right now, so why don't we talk when you've had time to think about it." Demonstrate that you're a thoughtful, reasonable person, and she'll be more likely to give you what you need.

CONSIDER THE WHOLE PACKAGE. Maybe there isn't enough money. That's okay -- there are ways to compensate you other than cold, hard cash. Do you want a certain kind of health insurance? More vacation time? Do you want to do an executive MBA program and have the company pay for it? Employers offer a variety of non-monetary benefits to make the raise that couldn't be . . . be.

GET IT IN WRITING. She said yes? Congratulations! Now the all-important follow-up: Ask for a note confirming the terms of the salary increase. If you're worried about sounding pushy, a more casual e-mail works just fine: "Hi, this is just to confirm that you've agreed to increase my salary by X amount, beginning on Jan. 1," you might say. Then save her e-mail when she writes back.

DON'T GIVE UP. If your boss says no, don't let not getting the raise sour you on your company or job. Say something like "I really appreciate your looking into it, and I hope you can keep it in mind for the future."

Another option is to ask for a salary review at a future date -- say, in three to six months. While you don't want to hound your boss, it is okay to let her know, gently, that your compensation is as important to you as your quality of work is to her.

Jennifer Ramo

Ramo is a member of the New York and Louisiana bar associations. She practices law in New Orleans and always negotiates her salary.

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