1. Start by understanding the market rate for your work.
To build a case for a raise, you need to know how much is reasonable to ask for. How much would your work go for on the open market? The most obvious way to figure this out might seem to be to consult the many websites that provide salary information. However, many job seekers report that these sites don't account for the fact that job titles frequently represent wildly different scopes of responsibility. More reliable methods include:
As you gather information, remember that you're looking for patterns and trends to inform your thinking; you're not after one specific figure. That's especially true because salaries are only one piece of a compensation package; many companies factor in other elements as well—such as benefits, bonuses, and quality of life issues.
2. Know the best time to ask.
The time to ask for a raise is when you have a sustained track record of accomplishment that you can point to. After all, a raise is recognition of a job well done, an acknowledgement that you're now contributing at a significantly higher level than when your salary was last set. It says, "your work is now worth more to us." So you need to make sure that's true before you make your pitch.
And of course, make sure you've been on the job long enough to request a salary review. In most cases, you want to have a solid year of work behind you. Ideally, you also want the company to be in solid financial straits; when employers are going through a rough financial time, they're looking for places to cut costs, not add them.
3. Make the request.
When you're ready to make your request, lay out a case that shows you're bringing increased value to your employer. Think about what achievements you had in the last year. You can also try pretending that you're your own manager and ask what about your performance would really impress you, or what your manager should be upset to lose if you left.
Once you know what you'll base your request on, rehearse ahead of time. For instance, you might open with something like this: "I'm really appreciative of the opportunities the company has given me for greater responsibilities and more challenging work. However, I've been excelling at these new responsibilities for six months now, have consistently exceeded my goals, and have brought in new business as well. I'd like to talk about adjusting my salary to reflect these contributions."
4. Know what to say if the answer is "no."
If your boss turns down your request, don't just skulk away. Instead, ask what you would need to accomplish to earn a raise in the future. A good manager will be able to show you what a path to a raise would look like. Then, it's up to you to decide if you want to follow that path—and remember to revisit the subject once you do.
And remember, it's perfectly normal to ask for a raise when you've earned one. If your request is reasonable and backed up by your value to your employer, a good manager isn't going to react badly, even if she can't say yes.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.