Silver Spring: This is my first job with a for-profit company. Before this, I worked for two nonprofit groups.

In my previous positions, at the beginning of the annual review, the scale for merit raises was announced (e.g., "This year folks eligible for such increases will receive between 2 and 6 percent").

At the new place, no such announcement is made. Raises are determined solely by the head of each department. We don't learn of the actual amount of raise, if any, until late November/early December via a letter -- about two months after the review. Further, we receive our evaluation at the review rather than before -- leaving no time to read or analyze it before the meeting. I have to turn in my self-appraisal seven days before the review -- a situation that strikes me as unfair to the worker. I would like the opportunity to digest my review and respond articulately.

I want to ask for a raise in my annual review. But I feel like I have no parameters; am I asking for too much? Too little? I feel like this whole situation leaves me vulnerable and unable to be an intelligent and prudent negotiator. Any thoughts?

You're vulnerable, but you also have more opportunity than you had at those nonprofit groups. In the for-profit world, your raises are based in large part on your contribution to the company's bottom line -- not some limited range based on how much in grants or donations the organization received. To make your case for the raise you want, you'll need to do some research. What is the average pay for someone in your position in the Washington area? Then consider your performance over the past year. What concrete things can you point to as evidence you deserve more?

Finally, the review process you describe is pretty standard. I hope you've communicated throughout the year with your boss about your performance, so there won't be any surprises.