The best time to think about getting a raise is December. Not because this is when people give promotions. But because it's NOT when people give promotions.
In order to get a raise you need to plan carefully, so by the time you get to your performance review at the beginning of next year, your boss already adjusted the P&L to account for your salary.
So December is the time to prepare. And the most obvious preparation you should do in this regard is to find out what everyone else is getting paid for what you do. Use online resources for salary comparisons.
Here are five other things you can do to get a salary increase:
1. Understand your boss's perspective. (This is not a moment of truth, it's a moment of negotiation. You convince your boss you're worth more and your boss convinces you he or she is fair, and you reach some sort of compromise that makes everyone happy.)
So be reasonable in your approach. You don't deserve a raise just because you've been doing your job well for X number of months. It's your job to do your job well -- that's why you were hired. You need to show that you're doing more than you were hired to do, or that you're doing different work that's typically paid at a higher rate. (Gather as much information about your boss's perspective as possible in order to form your strongest negotiating position. Consider this list of 10 things bosses hate most about employees.
2. Expand your job duties. (Get really good at your job immediately so that you can take on more responsibility in another job, in another capacity. Look around for something more to do and figure out how to do it. Then tell your boss you're doing more than one job and you want to be paid extra for doing the other job you've already been doing.
If you think your boss will balk at the idea of you taking on more responsibility, start looking like your current job is under control. One way to do this is to have a completely clean desk. A clean desk says, "I'm totally on top of my workload. Please give me more." A cluttered desk says, "Help. I'm drowning."
(I'm not making this stuff up -- researchers actually study offices. Here's a summary of why you should have a clean desk.)
3. Consistently over-deliver. (Even during a salary freeze there's always more money for superstars, because losing a superstar costs a company a lot of money. So getting a raise is about conveying to the office that you're a superstar. This could be in the form of taking on more areas of responsibility, but it could also be in the form of exceeding expectations in a very obvious way.
Exceeding expectations is something that must be announced. If you finish your project, that's what people will understand. If you finish your project with incredible results, you need to remind everyone what the expectations were and what you delivered. If you don't toot your horn, no one else will. A hallmark of a superstar is they know how to toot their horn without being annoying.
Superstars aren't overnight sensations -- they work at it. So start performing like a superstar six months before you want to ask for a raise.
4. Get a mentor. (Employees who have mentors are twice as likely to be promoted as those who don't, according to Ellen Fagenson Eland, a professor at George Mason University. A mentor can help you position yourself, time and again, to receive a raise.
An effective mentor helps you see your path in a way that maximizes your talents and stays consistent with your goals for life. This isn't a small task, and almost all successful people say they have more than one mentor. But start with one, because that will significantly increase the likelihood that you'll get the raise you're going to ask for.