Career strategies series

The traditional way of increasing your earning power is to work toward a promotion. In fact, data from Computerworld ‘s 2008 Salary Survey supports this idea: Midlevel managers received a median annual base salary of US$90,000, compared with $72,450 for rank-and-file and entry-level workers.

Similarly, systems analysts earned $65,432 in total compensation in 2008, while senior systems analysts earned $84,882. And respondents who reported receiving a promotion in the past year saw their total compensation rise 6.7per cent, compared with the average increase of 3.5per cent.

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But in this economic climate, companies are more prone to adding responsibilities to your current role while maintaining the lower pay grade and job title, says Grant Gordon, managing director of Intronic Solutions Group LLC, a staffing firm in Overland Park, Kan. “There are very few promotions going on,” he says. “Employers are holding on to their pennies versus focusing on growth and development.”

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As a result, the best way to jump to that next level might be to recast yourself by redefining the value you add to your company, says Chad Fowler, author of My Job Went to India (And All I Got Was This Lousy Book): 52 Ways to Save Your Job . IT employees should shift their focus to “not staying average,” he says. What you want is to become highly valuable and sought-after by achieving what he calls “remarkable status.”

For instance, you can make yourself stand out by taking on a special project, writing articles, speaking at conferences, becoming a recognized expert in something the company does — either technologically or industry-wise — and otherwise raising your profile. You can start on a small scale by forming a local technology user group, for instance, Fowler says.

(Read about Eight essential strategies for getting that promotion you want )

“You can incrementally improve your salary by making incremental improvements, but these things allow you to jump outside your current level of performance,” Fowler says. “And almost nobody is doing this, which almost makes it easy to be recognized for doing it.”

Another way to stand out from most IT people, he says, is to become fluent in a market your company focuses on. “That would mean clients outside of IT would find you remarkable because you understand the terminology they use and you have your own ideas for improving the business,” Fowler says.

Your focus shouldn’t be on your salary, he notes. “Ultimately, if all you want is a higher salary, you won’t get it. If you focus too much on money, you’re not likely to have the passion and energy required to really differentiate yourself.”

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