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As project manager Anil Shah plays the job portals, his last two home and car EMIs have lapsed and he's considering asking his dad for a loan. Anil initially worked in a high-end technology firm and moved into management two years ago.

Each new employer hired him for his impressive technical and personal skills. But his delivery track record finally caught up with him and he was fired five months ago. With six years experience spanning eight companies, and a salary of Rs 11 lakh per annum, Anil's choices are limited. It could happen to you.

As an MBA student, you might look forward to a starting salary of Rs 4 lakh per annum . You might anticipate 20-30 % salary growth each year, knowing well that if your company doesn't oblige, you can easily move to another.

Opportunities for employment and growth today are tremendous, as companies in every industry retail, software, advertising , airlines, telecom, manufacturing, BPO, films, media, architecture, you name it expand with unprecedented abandon. But how realistic are your expectations? And have you ever thought about whether your capabilities and your contribution really deserve that high a salary you are earning?

Observes HR consultant P N Singh, chairman of Grid Consultants, "The overall growth of the industry has led to a manpower crunch which has resulted in undeserved and unsustainably high salaries. It's like the time when unions pushed salaries up and every sweeper in the Thane-Belapur industrial area earned Rs 20,000 per month! But then companies got hit, the entire belt collapsed , and people were left jobless.''

It is possible that, at some point, the knowledge workers salary boom will come to the same disastrous end. Says Kiran Bhat, managing director , Xebec Communications, "Employment portals are fuelling unviable expectations and MBA institutes are stoking the fire. Professionals seem unconcerned that a high salary will carry high performance expectations .''

"When youngsters ask for 20% growth in salary, are they confident of contributing 20% to revenue? Even companies don't grow at 20%, how can individuals expect to do so without extraordinary contribution?'' she asks, somewhat indignantly.

"It's not just performance,'' adds psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani. "Learn how to learn. You need to keep up with technology, grow your people skills, and build a network. Learn how to manage—not just your subordinates but also your peers and boss. And be careful not to burn out.''

"Build your savings! Keep your needs under control!'' he urges, having seen too many who got caught in the consumer trap, fell prey to brands and hype, became slaves of their iPods, laptops, expensive phones, home and car loans and lived on credit card debt till shake-out time, when they found themselves in big trouble.

With several organisations in the retail sector hiring foreign nationals comfortably within industry standard pay scales, the writing on the wall is clear.

Says B S Nagesh, managing director, Shoppers' Shop, "We have retail professionals from the UK, Philippines and South Africa on board. They bring experience of the world market that a local may not be able to offer.

Youngsters these days hop companies every year ostensibly for the learning they gain. At some point people are going to turn around and ask, 'yes, but what about your performance? What did you deliver ?''

"In the fashion industry you take several seasons to learn and observe trends, buy merchandise and eventually review whether your decisions held good. So, it takes 2-3 years for a person to be gauged by the organisation or even herself. Leaving a company in one year does good to no one,'' he adds.

Reliance Retail president Raghu Pillai, one of the highest-paid professionals in the country, is a case study worth following. Initially a hands-on salesperson, he worked with tyres, then PCs, then music. At every step, he picked up new products and turned them to gold.

When he took over RPG's Spencer's , he broke new ground, established the FoodWorld and MusicWorld brands and chains of stores, set standards for modern retail in India, and created a team of people who, 10 years down the line, are pleasantly surprised to find themselves leaders in a burgeoning industry.

His salary is high. Big deal. Raghu's lifestyle has remained unchanged these last 10 years. What continues to keep him happy is the excitement and challenges of the job, and ultimately his contribution to the organisation . His employers confirm that he has never been one to ask for extra—its they who have feted him.

PROTECT YOURSELF

Every high-growth industry today is service-oriented . Sharpen your customer-facing skills. It's the hardest part of any job, but also the most rewarding.

Be loyal to your current employer. This doesn't mean that you have to stay forever or neglect your own needs. But while with this organisation, commit yourself to its growth and success.

Match your productivity to your growth. For a 30% growth in salary, increase your contribution by 30%.

Find ways to fill the gaps in your knowledge and capabilities. Learn from those around you, read industry literature and enrol for training programmes.

Ask yourself, 'What did I do to earn my salary today ?' With this attitude, your salary can only increase.
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