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3 Useful Tips to Prepare for Your Next Salary Negotiation

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Even with the employment rate improving, you may feel like your wages aren’t going as far as they used to.

It’s not your imagination. The recently released PayScale Real Wage Index found that U.S. wages are down 6.5 percent since 2006. Even pay in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) jobs is stagnating. Salaries for these jobs rose just 1.0% annually, according to PayScale, a provider of compensation data.

That said, you don’t have to settle for being underpaid if you have in-demand skills. So how do you determine your real value before meeting with your supervisor?

Here are 3 useful tips to prepare for your next salary negotiation.

1. Know what you’re really worth. Haven’t been on a job interview in a while? It’s worth contracting a recruiter to apply for a few positions to see how the market reacts to you. Are you getting bites quickly from appealing employers? That’s a sign you could have more power to negotiate a decent-sized raise than you think.

If your applications are getting ignored, ask trusted contacts for candid feedback on why that might be. Are conditions in your industry poor—or are you lacking certain qualifications needed to get a better job? If you’re not getting an enthusiastic response, you may need to accept your current wages until your situation changes.

2. Tap the grapevine. Many employees are underpaid compared to others in their company because there is no transparency in pay. It is risky to share salary information with colleagues within your company. It’s possible you signed an agreement when you were hired to keep it under wraps. But, if you didn’t sign such an agreement, exchanging information judiciously with friends who have the same job title in similar sized companies can give you a sense of the where you fall in the normal pay range for a position. Knowing that a rival company generally pays 20% more, for instance, can give you a good talking point next time you ask for a raise.

3. Think like a free agent. Have you worked around the clock without a substantial raise for years? If it is okay to moonlight, at your firm, consider taking some freelance gigs. The pay you get for consulting projects will give you a sense of what your work is really worth. If, say, the fees you can command for outside projects are twice a high as what you’re getting paid for doing an equivalent amount of work for your company, you may be able to make a strong case for higher pay. You might, for instance, mention, “Consultants who do what I do are now getting $250 an hour.” That can be a good reality check for your boss about what a bargain you actually are. Just make sure it’s clear you’re planning to stay put and not start a business of your own. You want your boss to have a strong incentive to invest in keeping you happy.

About the Author

Elaine Pofeldt is an independent journalist who specializes in writing about entrepreneurship and careers. She was a senior editor for Fortune Small Business magazine, and her work has appeared in Fortune, Money, Forbes.com, Inc. and Crain's New York Business, among others.