After a few years on the job, it’s natural to want to increase your responsibilities, salary and overall compensation. But asking for a promotion can be nerve-wracking: What if your manager hasn’t been paying attention to your contributions? What if your colleagues are also angling for new jobs? What if the company is in the midst of a wage freeze? And worst of all, what if your boss just says no?

Waiting for your boss to notice how great you are is not the answer — you’re going to have to take the plunge and ask for what you want. We polled some experts on how to know if you’re ready and how to make the case for yourself:

Timing Is Everything When It Comes to a Promotion

Linda Henman, author of Landing in the Executive Chair, says the only time to ask for a raise is when you deserve one. “Most people make the mistake of asking for a raise when they want one; maybe they realize they've been in a job a while without one; their expenses are higher; they're traveling more; or everyone else is getting one,” says Henman, who has counseled executives and boards of Fortune 500 companies on corporate strategy and succession planning. “None of these is likely to impress a boss.”

And while Dan Schawbel, author of the New York Times bestseller Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success, says it’s never too early to start keeping track of your contributions, it’s important to be realistic about how quickly you can expect to progress. “The first six months of any role is training. It’s going to take a year and a half to two years before you are ready to move up.”

Throughout that time, Schawbel advises keeping a record of your work. “You want to be able to track and measure your success for every project that you do. You need to figure out how that project is helping the company – put numbers behind it. Is it increasing revenue? Is it decreasing costs? Is it increasing efficiencies? These numbers are really important because they prove your worth.”

Making Your Pitch for a Promotion

Dana Manciagli tells her clients to approach applying for a more senior position in their company in the same way they think about searching – and interviewing – for a new job. The author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job says that in her experience, most candidates take internal job searches – whether it's for a bigger role or a more lateral position — too casually. “You will often be meeting brand-new executives and be competing against other internal or external candidates,” Manciagli reminds clients.

Preparation is key, says Manciagli: First, do your research, on the department, the role and your company’s hiring and promotion policies. Use the office intranet and any material you can get from HR. Then network internally – talk to at least three people (not including your manager) and get their insights. How were they promoted? Share your plan and your path and get their feedback. Then meet with your boss and ask her what she looks for when granting promotions and some specifics on criteria (do not ask for a promotion now, this is an informational conversation to help you prepare.) Only once you have all the background are you ready to schedule a meeting.

Schawbel recommends bringing a presentation to the conversation — one that documents your accomplishments and shows how you have benefitted the company. “Laying your contributions out will prove your worth to your manager and show her that you deserve the promotion,” he says. Even if your boss already know all of this, Schawbel says the presentation can be a tool that gives you a confidence boost to help you ask for what you want — something many workers need.

All of our experts agree that this conversation should be focused on you and your contributions. It should not be a comparison to your colleagues. “Results and results alone will make the boss receptive to the idea,” says Henman. And while the millennial workforce is making corporate culture more transparent as they talk openly about salaries and other once-taboo topics, Schawbel cautions that asking for a promotion is “less about the people around you and more about what you are doing.”

It’s also important to know what you want and to ask accordingly. Is it a promotion? A raise? An entirely new role, title or responsibilities? Walk your boss through it step-by-step then ask for more than you think you’ll get, suggests Schawbel. This will leave you room to meet in the middle.

Moving Forward

Before ending the meeting with your boss, ask for clear guidance on next steps and complete any requests exactly as suggested. Hopefully your next meeting includes the great news that the company is recognizing your contribution with the promotion or raise you requested — or something pretty close.

But if that’s not the message you get, Manciagli suggests looking at this as a process that is part of your overall growth at a company. If your boss cannot meet your requests right now, find out what you need to accomplish to get there, then work toward that goal — assuming that you want to stay and grow with your current company.

And there are other options. If you work for a large corporation, you can look for a position in another department or under a different manager. Or you might learn that you need different skills to advance in your current role. If that’s the case, take the steps needed to learn them. And Schawbel, who is also the founder of Millennial Branding, a research and management consulting group that helps companies better understand the “Gen Y” workforce, points out that everyone can become an expert in one thing —all it takes is time and effort. “You may not be the best person in the company, but you create value by being absolutely brilliant on a topic. That’s how you create value.” He adds that 65 percent of managers his firm polled recently said they are looking for subject-matter experts.

Schawbel also suggests that younger employees rethink their interoffice communication strategy. “Millennials tend to use email, instant messaging and video chat to communicate, yet face time is still extremely important when interacting with management,” he says. In that same survey, he found that 66 percent of managers say that in-person meetings are their preferred way of communicating with employees, while only 26 percent said email. One takeaway? “The more your manager sees you and knows what you’re capable of, the more you’ll be viewed as a future leader.”

Regardless of the outcome, the process might also help you decide that it’s time to move on, in which case you can use what you learned from the experience to craft your next move. And wherever you land, remember the advice Manciagli shares with her clients and the hundreds of people she has mentored throughout the years: Getting promoted is YOUR accountability, not your manager’s or the company’s.