Let professional business coach Karen Childress help answer your career questions. Karen will be sharing hints and tips on a host of career issues in this Q&A format.

Question: How do I obtain a fair salary for the work I’m doing?
I work for a large corporation as the only full-time SysAdmin/IT guy at a site of 124 people. It is an engineering environment, and my duties cover everything IT—from tools, licensing, and purchasing to routine desktop setup and network support.

Our company was a start-up and was acquired nearly a year ago, and the job has definitely changed since I started. As with many start-ups, base salaries were sacrificed for stock options, but now I feel like they are being used as leverage to keep me underpaid.

How can I be paid at market value? I know that many people use the “bring in an offer from an outside company and threaten the current employer with leaving” game in order to have the current employer match the offer, but I’m skeptical. It seems that would cause a more confrontational work environment, but I am clearly not going to get a raise by just doing the job of an entire IT staff.

Can you give me some pros and cons on how to address this? I wish that an employee could work hard and be recognized for it and compensated appropriately, but that obviously is not how it works.

Answer: Sell yourself!
I wouldn’t recommend bringing in an offer from another company unless you are really prepared to leave. Your current employer just might call your bluff and say, “See ya.” Here are the steps I recommend:

  • Write a summary of how your job duties have evolved over the past year.
  • Write out your intentions and specific goals for your position for the next two years.
  • Schedule an appointment with your boss and/or the director of HR and/or whoever is in a position to address your salary situation.
  • Make a clear but nonthreatening presentation about what you’d like to do for the company and why you feel that you deserve a salary increase. Go into this meeting thinking like a salesperson but don’t be pushy.

It will either work or it won’t, but if you don’t ask, I doubt they’ll come forward with a pay raise just because you’re doing a great job. If you really feel undervalued at your current company and they don’t come through, you can always begin a nice quiet job search and leave knowing that you tried. Good luck!

Question: Should I ask for severance after only 10 months on a job?
I work for an ailing IT consultancy in the U.K. that is severely crippled by the economic downturn in the technology sector. I have only been with them for about 10 months, but we are being carved up. The area I work for is being eyed for a management buyout. They have asked stealthily whether people are principally interested in a “new” venture. I don’t think that I want to stay with them. But I also do not know what my employment rights are and whether I should approach them for severance, etc. What do you advise?

Answer: Face reality
I don’t know what your rights are—or if you have any, for that matter—so this is a bit tough to answer. I’d say it never hurts to ask, but with only 10 months on the job I doubt there will be a whole lot forthcoming in the way of a departure package.

If you don’t want to go with the new venture crowd, and the prospects at the existing company are truly bleak, I’d advise you to face reality and set your sights on the next opportunity. Ask the following questions:

  • What skills have you acquired at this company that will help you land your next position?
  • What have you learned about yourself that will help you choose the best job?
  • Who can give you a glowing recommendation as you seek greener pastures?

In short, get ready to move on and don’t burn any bridges on your way out the door.

Karen Childress is founder and president of ihavegoals.com. She is an entrepreneur, management consultant, and certified as a professional business coach by the Hudson Institute. A frequent speaker, she delivers keynotes and workshops to groups of 20 to 200.