Let headhunter Kevin Rosenberg help you set your career compass. Kevin is managing director and partner of BridgeGate LLC, a California-based search firm. Kevin, who specializes in IT management searches, shares tips on a host of career issues in this biweekly Q & A format.

Q. I’m 35 years old and have been a professional developer for about eight years. I hold a degree (equivalent to a master’s) from outside of the United States. I am a technical lead of an e-commerce project for a major bank, and I am looking for a way to move my career a little further along—perhaps as a software architect or program manager. I really like the MS program at NYU since it addresses most of my points of interest. However, some people close to me recommend an MBA with an IS emphasis. Which is right for me?
Daniel D., New York City.

Rosenberg: Daniel, listen to your gut. If you love technology and the path of architect is your personal calling, then pursue the degree that best suits your interests. An MS program can be as well regarded as an MBA. Some people would argue that it’s not so much what degree you took, but rather the conviction, dedication, and effort you exhibited to complete the advanced degree. The most important aspect to consider when selecting career-furthering education is what you hope to get out of the program and whether the curriculum supports that objective. An MS may not be the ideal path for the IT consultant wanting to pursue a career with the Big 5, but it certainly would not hurt. If you aspire to maintain a hands-on and technical career for the foreseeable future, and the detailed tech-centric emphasis of an MS gets your juices flowing, then go for it!

Q. How do I, as an IT professional, get management to recognize that they are underpaying me and that they need to increase my salary? I do not want to play the offer-counteroffer game. I like my job and my boss. I just feel like I’m being taken advantage of.
Name and location withheld.

Rosenberg: You have heard that you “can’t get blood from a turnip”? Well, in the labor game, some companies value their staff and invest heavily in making sure that they pay their people well—and some companies don’t. Those companies in the latter group are, well, dumb as a rock. Therefore, there is no good answer to the question, “How do I get a pay raise?”. Salary is not an absolute. There are many variables to consider when contemplating equitable compensation, such as bonuses and perks. Many companies offer nominal or market-neutral base salaries, but have outstanding bonus programs or other perks like training, options, deferred compensation plans, and so on. All of these issues should be considered when determining whether you are fairly compensated.

You also need to do some soul searching. Are you realistic about your worth in the “real” market, or do you just feel you are more valuable? Being honest with yourself can save you a number of letdowns later. If you are grossly underpaid, determine what you really can command in the market. Also contemplate carefully what you might give up. Then decide what you should do.

The offer-counteroffer game is a strategy I will never advocate. Use it, and you will be looking for another job within six months. And instead of burning one bridge, you’ve now burned two or three. So if you have decided to leave, don’t waver. If your skills are truly marketable, and you live in an area where job creation exceeds the supply of qualified candidates, there is no excuse for the stupidity of a company unwilling to protect its most valuable asset: you. You should leave and become fairly compensated somewhere else.

Poor compensation packages are usually a symptom of a much greater systemic problem. Low-paying companies are typically stagnant, old-economy organizations. These are the same companies that:

  • don’t invest in progressive technology
  • don’t invest in developing people
  • don’t value innovation or progressive thought

Therefore, any effort you invest to right the situation may not work. These are not great places to build a career. Move on.
Send your career questions to Kevin . He’ll try to answer them in upcoming columns.