Living in America ain’t cheap. Just look at the Consumer Price Index, the weighted average cost of vital consumer goods and services, including food, medical expenses, and transportation. It rose by 2.5% from 2016 to 2017, the highest one-year rise since 2012. Meaning, it’s more expensive to live in the U.S. now, relatively speaking, than it was then.

Which is why you need to know how to pull the most coin from your profession. Rather than just punching a clock like Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf, it might be time to pursue a raise. To find out the best ways to accomplish the mission, we asked some of America’s top staffing agencies to tell us their strategies.

Don't fall victim to 'premature evaluation'

If you’ve demonstrated a wide range of abilities that have given you measurable value in your current job for at least a year—and you haven’t made an ass of yourself at any corporate outings or been caught having sex with the cleaning lady on your desk—it may be time to ask for a raise.

But—and it’s an important but—respect that one-year minimum, as it takes time to prove your true worth.

The exception is if your entire role has expanded to include brand-new responsibilities, not just a heavier workload. Do tread with care, however. “A request prior to a year could make you look like someone who’s constantly looking for more, and therefore not a good person to keep in the long-term plans,” says Greg Detter, senior VP of staffing firm Creative Circle.

Assume they want to keep you

Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the prospect of asking for a raise—your company probably wants to keep you as much as you want to stay, even if that means having to pay you more.

“Recruiting and training a new worker is expensive,” says Detter. “The cost of employee turnover could be six to nine months of that person’s salary. Most companies want to keep people happy and working.

Accordingly, if you picture yourself staying long term, Detter recommends making this known. “Paying an employee more money is a whole lot more palatable if it means keeping a good person happy for the long haul.”

Get the timing right

The ideal time to submit your request varies by fiscal year, as well as an organization’s earnings announcement and bonus schedules.

If it’s late in the fiscal year, make your request a month or two before the calendar flips, especially if it’s a large firm that’s more process oriented, so it can go through all the layers of approval, says Lisa Garfinkel, division director of Ajilon Staffing. “Most raises are decided before the end of the budget year, so don’t wait until the last minute.”

Company size matters, too, says Garfinkel. “If the money isn’t in its yearly budget, it can be impossible for a smaller organization.”

One big "don't" all our experts agreed on: Don't try to leverage another job offer into a raise at your current job.

Personal timing also matters. “If you’ve just completed a successful project or brought in new business,” says Lauren Ferrara, assistant city manager at Creative Circle NYC, “your bosses will be much more open to a salary bump.” Follow your instincts and strike while the iron’s hot.

Finally, during the season before you seek a raise, stress that you want feedback on your job performance to grow as a team member. “In addition, own up to your failures—turn them into learning moments for others. That way, even if you don’t get a formal review, your peers and managers understand your value.”

If the timing's not right, here's how to set yourself up to get noticed when it is: 

  1. Don't slack off in your current role. “Exceed expectations, beat deadlines, and offer to do more than your job description calls for,” says Ajilon Staffing’s Lisa Garfinkel.
  2. Take on new responsibilities. Volunteer for projects—mentoring a junior staffer, piloting a new initiative. “This shows you’re committed to both your own success and the company’s,” says Lauren Ferrara of Creative Circle NYC.
  3. Join in on company "extracurriculars." “Don’t skip the office happy hours/birthday parties/lunches,” says Garfinkel. And if you aren’t up to playing on the corporate sports team? “Show up and be a cheerleader.”
  4. Love what you do. “If you’re happy at your job, people will see that and know you’re committed and an integral part of the firm,” says Ferrara.

Know how much money to ask for

“Raises are usually based on percentage, not dollar amount, the average being about 3-5%,” says Ferrara. “If you make $40,000 and ask for $10,000 more—a 25% raise—that may not be possible.”

So consider the health of the economy, and ask your boss about the company’s raise protocol so you can be realistic when determining how much of a raise to request.

Be able to prove your worth

Have you contributed beyond your responsibilities? Why are you an indispensable asset to the company? Did you beat a budget or nab a big new client? Prepare these answers—complete with all the proof you need to back them up—before making your request.

And if you’ll be meeting with HR, says Ferrara, to monetize your worth, go a step further and learn their language. For example: “Because of my management skills, I upped productivity in my department X%.” Or, “Because of my strong client relationships, I was able to upsell services and generate X amount of new business.” Promote yourself—even if that means presenting your boss with a basic worksheet explaining the above.

But remember, there’s a fine line between making a case for yourself and looking desperate. “Instead of friending the boss on Facebook and posting a picture from the office over the weekend with #grinding,” says Detter, “just work hard and trust that it will be noticed in the right way.”

Don’t hold a gun to their heads

One big “don’t” all our experts agreed on: Don’t try to leverage another job offer into a raise at your current job.

“Fewer than 15% of all employees who accept a counteroffer from their current company are still there one year later,” says Garfinkel. Why? “The counteroffer may be issued as a Band-Aid—and you’ll be labeled a flight risk.”

The same goes for using an outside offer to seek sympathy on financial grounds: “Telling them you can’t afford to keep a job won’t help your cause,” Garfinkel adds. “Your finances are your own problem.”

Just look them in the eye, make your case, and go for the handshake.