Getting a pay raise or promotion is very much about your timing, your strategy and your justification. Be rational, be reasonable and be unemotional.

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I get asked by a lot of people: “What’s the best way to go about asking for a raise?”

It’s been my experience that individuals who politely and professionally discuss their salaries are far more likely to get a raise or higher pay increases than those who say nothing and hope things will improve on their own over time.

To improve your chances of success, follow these five steps before you ask for a raise:

Understand the performance-appraisal process. If you don’t already know this, ask your manager or HR representative to explain it to you. For example, is it a once-a-year written process, or is it annual but with informal feedback sessions each quarter?

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Also, be sure to ask how pay raises and promotions are determined and when they are given. Are raises tied to performance and given shortly after the annual performance appraisal? Can they be given at any time throughout the year? How are people normally promoted at your company? How long does the company expect employees to perform in a job before they can be considered for a promotion?

Find out how your manager views your work. The idea is to get your manager to lay the cards on the table so you know exactly where you stand and what he or she sees as your strengths and weaknesses (or areas in which you could improve). How does your manager believe you’ve performed in comparison to your colleagues?

Determine where your pay fits externally and within the company’s pay scales. Conduct salary research via the Internet. Check out the many terrific (and free!) salary benchmarking tools, including NWjobs.com’s Salary Wizard.

Sit down with your HR representative and ask him or her to explain where your pay fits with similar positions within your company. Ask about external pay benchmarking information for comparison purposes. Given your education, training, skills and experience, is your salary below, at or above that of people in similar positions?

Map out your career-development plan. Do you already have a game plan? If not, create one. Seek to obtain a clear understanding of what you need to do to advance within the company or attain higher pay-scale levels (such as obtaining additional education, skills or experience).

Let HR and your manager know that you’re dedicated to advancing your career within the company and would like to create a career-development plan. Ask for their feedback as you map out a career path and identify training and educational opportunities.

Determine your strategy to ask for a raise or promotion. Once you have the information from the first four steps, you’ll be in a much better position to set your strategy. Be prepared to explain, in a straightforward and factual manner, why you believe your work effort should be rewarded with more money or why you believe you should be promoted.

Be able to justify why you deserve a pay raise or a promotion. What is your “value add” to the company? Why should your manager pay you more? Look for ways to quantify your performance.

Bottom line: Getting a pay raise or promotion is very much about your timing, your strategy and your justification. Be rational, be reasonable and be unemotional.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.