NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) -
Shake off the sand, shine the wingtips. After two months of long weekends and vacations, corporate America is entering its busiest planning season.
Nearly 60 percent of large companies do their salary planning in the fall, a recent Hewitt Associates study reports, which means that over the next few months they'll discuss hiring, firing and compensating -- as in hiring, firing or compensating you.
What can you do now to make the season's closed-door decisions work to your benefit? Here's advice for people ripe for a raise, insecure about their jobs or ready for a change.
Ready for a raise
Right now, many 2006 budgets are still malleable, making this the best time to request a raise for next year. (If you wait until November or December to work up the courage, it may be too late.)
It's smart to let your boss know you're in tune with the planning calendar, says Mary Cheddie, vice president of human resources at retailer Orvis, so there's no need to be coy.
"Just say, 'I imagine you're planning the budgets and I'd like to talk about a raise,' " she suggests.
What you're essentially requesting is a performance review, so in addition to asking for more money, make sure to explore how you can improve and make yourself more valuable.
At the very least, you could boost your chances for a bonus: More companies (including more than 75 percent of accounting, finance and infotech firms) are supplementing or replacing raises with spot awards.
Ready for trouble
Almost 40 percent of job cuts are announced in the fall, more than in any other season, says outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. The winter months are almost as bad.
What can you do in a few months to increase your chances of survival? Little things that raise your profile: Volunteer for projects no one wants. Send your boss an end-of-the-quarter memo detailing the 12 ways you've saved the company money this year. If your efforts don't save your job, they may secure a solid reference.
Ready for a change
If you're plotting your next big move, use the fall to position yourself with prospective employers.
"A conversation you have in October might get you a job in January," says career consultant Ronna Lichtenberg. "The process takes a while, so fall is a good time for early-stage meetings."
And now that so many decision makers are back in the office, it's open season for networking.
"Most professional groups consider their year to run from fall to fall," says Rick Grefé of the AIGA, an association for designers, which means local chapters are revving up again.
If you're job hunting online, you'll also benefit from new technology on HotJobs.com, a leading search site. Following the lead of upstarts Simply Hired and Indeed, HotJobs now gathers listings from all over the Web -- even from employers who aren't paying to advertise their openings.
It's still the more popular job-search site, but the newbies are also worth monitoring if you're serious about improving your situation. And who isn't?
Click here for our special report, "Your job 2005"
Are you playing doctor at home? It's now possible to screen yourself -- or your kids -- for everything from high cholesterol to cancer to illicit drugs using home medical test kits. If you've diagnosed a condition, or use test kits because you're having trouble getting or affording medical care, we want to know about it for an upcoming story.
Send e-mail to EMcGirt@moneymail.com