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/ Source: TODAY Contributor
By Grace L. Williams

Last week, former Google employee Erica Baker opened what is usually considered the Pandora’s Box of human resources: salary transparency. In a series of tweets, she revealed how an internal spreadsheet — in which co-workers shared their compensation — “took off like wildfire” within the company, prompting people to ask for and receive more equitable pay.

While some companies have experimented with salary transparency, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to compensation is the norm at most workplaces. The spreadsheet created by Baker and her former colleagues blew the lid off the status quo, revealing some discrepancies that amounted to very real dollars and cents.

Business team during a brainstorming in a meeting; Shutterstock ID 92410732; PO: TODAY.comwavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

But even if you don’t work for a tech giant like Google or Apple, there are some key steps you can take to move your career forward — and it begins with being prepared. Aimee Cohen, author and career expert, shared the following tips with TODAY.com:

1. When you’re asked to negotiate your salary, make it firm and make it count.

According to Cohen, a study done by Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon showed that when two employees are hired for a $25,000 job (see here and here), the employee who negotiates $30,000 — just $5,000 more per year — makes $361,171 more over the next 38 years. “You have to think over the long-term,” she said. “You only have one chance to negotiate your base salary and everything else is based off of that.” Cohen advises going to websites including Salary.com ahead of time to research the going rate, because companies want you to say the number first.

2. If you learn that a coworker makes more than you, stay calm and get strategic.

Rather than use emotion, name names or storm off, Cohen recommends taking a few deep breaths and doing your homework. Think in terms of the added value that you bring to the team and company. When the time comes to approach your superior for the chat, Cohen warns, “Never ever go for the blind side. Instead, carve out time for a sit down, one-on-one.”

RELATED: Companies bar salary haggling for applicants, but is it fair?

3. Be prepared to think like your boss.

Does he or she like graphics and charts? Powerpoint? A written summary of accomplishments? Clever employees often compile reports that appeal to the boss’s presentation preferences. While this move doesn’t guarantee a slam dunk, Cohen suggests choosing options that set you up for success.

4. Prepare for the dreaded “no.”

Arm yourself by taking emotion out of the equation, and if you’re told no, Cohen advises asking for something else instead. If money is an obstacle, what about a few more vacation days or the option to work from home a day or two a week? Cohen also encourages asking the company to pay for classes, formal training and annual memberships to organizations such as the local Chamber of Commerce. “The best part about these is that you get to take them with you wherever you go,” she said.

5. Get everything in writing.

If you’ve finished your meeting and gotten the verbal green light, the work is half finished. It is only completed once you have everything in writing and it is your responsibility to ensure that follow up and next steps are accomplished in a timely manner. “The onus is on you to follow-up,” she said. “You need to be the one to drive it to its conclusion. Don’t go cracking open the wine just yet if you still have work to do.”