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Before 2012: Salary Negotiation Tips from The Salary Tutor

What can you do before the end of the year to set yourself up for a higher salary? We asked Jim Hopkinson, author of "Salary Tutor: Learn the Salary Negotiaton Secrets No One Ever Taught You," this question. From how to prepare for a conversation with your boss to handling that initial “no,” he guides you through your must-do salary negotiation homework before Dec. 31, 2011.

Q: What is a common mistake that people in a job make this time of year, regarding salary growth?

A: One of the mistakes people make is not knowing the budget cycle of their company. It’s fine to walk in and ask for a raise when you feel you need it or when you’ve just finished a major project, but knowing when a company is planning their financials can give you a greater chance of securing some of that budget for yourself.

Some companies make year-end compensation adjustments, some give their raises in the middle. Or right now, in November, is a common time for companies to be finalizing their budgets for next year. So, the last thing you want to do is wait until the week before Christmas and think to yourself, “Well, it’s the end of the year. I’m going to go ask for a raise,” and then find out that your boss’s response is, “Oh, I’m sorry, we just finished all of our budgets for next year and I already allocated everything.”

Q: What should workers have prepared when they go to talk to their boss right now?

A: Although you're bringing up the subject of a raise now, ideally you've been doing your homework and preparation for some time. I recommend keeping an “accomplishments manifesto” which is just a fancy word I use in my book for a document that can be a plain text document that you keep on the hard drive of your computer. Every time, throughout the year, that you have a good accomplishment, such as come in under budget on a project or you help bring up page views 20 percent on a promotion you did or you make a big sale, note that in there so that you have five, 10, 15 really good victories that you can go back to.

A lot of times at work it is a little bit of “What have you done for me lately?” Your boss might not remember that you closed that huge deal in late February or that you ran that great marketing promotion that kicked off the summer. So, if you’re able to recap and start the conversation with what you’ve done over the past year, your accomplishments, that’s the first thing you should start with.

Q: What sort of responses can you prepare in case your boss pushes back?

A: If you get a negative response and they say, “We don’t have any money in the budget. We’re really strapped now.” Or, if you’re thinking, “It’s the recession and I’m really afraid to go into my boss’s office and ask for a raise,” I always like re-phrasing it in the form of goal setting. If you lay out a plan with your boss that you both agree to, that means you’re setting yourself up for a raise in the future.

As an example, people may say, “I’m afraid to go in and ask my boss for a raise right now. “ Instead, do a recap and a goal setting session. Find a time when your boss isn’t going to be busy, let them know quickly what you have in mind, but then when you sit down say, “It’s the end of the year. I think we had a great year. As you remember I closed that sales deal in January and I did that promotion in the spring. I’m setting some goals for myself for what I want to accomplish in my career in the next year and I want to run them by you. I want to find out what goals you had in mind for me and how we can work together to reach those goals.”

What that does is show that you have the company in mind and you’re trying to better yourself. You’re saying, “I care about my career and I want to make a difference.” And you’re asking them how you can help them. And, at that point, if they say they can’t give you a raise, you can ask, “What do I need to do to get a raise?”

Then, lay out a plan and be prepared. Say, “How about this? If these are the five items that we both want to achieve in the new year, can we touch base in three or four months, and if I've accomplished them? I'd like to discuss additional compensation around the success of those goals." If they agree, go ahead and set two reminders on the calendar. The first one will be a meeting in April between you and your boss to discuss your progress and ask for a raise. The second should be a reminder for you several weeks before that so that you an evaluate where you are in the process, make sure you are on track to meet your goal, and adjust accordingly.

The end of the year can be a hectic time in the business world. However, by taking the time to set yourself up for success and aligning your goals with your company, you can improve your chances at having a prosperous new year.

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