Our Salary Paths series aims to give fellow Elphas a reference point for salary negotiations and encourage more women to talk about compensation. We hope that opening up the conversation will contribute to more pay transparency and equitable pay.
Interested in sharing your Salary Path with us? Please fill out this form here and we will get back to you (can be posted anonymously, too! 😉 ).
Salary 1: £14,000 (~$23,000)
My first tech job was supposed to be temporary. A stop gap if you will, a place to catch my breath from the mania that was graduate school and figure out my next step. Surely, it would be a matter of weeks before I found a glamourous media job (preferably in London) where I would move to a grown-up flat and the rest of my life would begin.
And then the Recession happened.
Just like the economy, I too was suddenly thrust into a state of inertia. No one was hiring. Not shiny new graduates, not locals, not out of towners and certainly not overly-eager ginger-haired foreigners with temporary work visas. Back and forth, I’d take the train down to London wearing my only suit to smile at media executives and wax on about the UK’s visionary media industry.
My perseverance was fueled partially by my youthful optimism and subsequent failure to understand the severity of the worldwide financial meltdown and partially by my intoxicating love affair with UK culture.
Mega insurance corporation and I crossed paths at one of the lowest moments of my adult life. My career dreams of working in media were going nowhere. I had become rapidly disillusioned. Any sane person would have packed up her bags and retreated to America by this point, but I am nothing if not stubborn. There were only 10 months left on my visa and I was determined to see my time through.
Thus I pulled myself together and walked into a temp agency whose sole function is to supply human capital for the corporate machine. The recruiter barely glanced at my flimsy resume, all artsy and writing-centric.
“Can you work a computer?”
“Great, you’ll start Monday.”
And with that lack of fanfare, I was sent to assist the Collections department. Collections is the meek-mannered, tea-drinking corporate version of the mafioso sent to shake you down for money owed. It is their job to ensure that consumers pay their bills quickly and their unspoken duty to stall brokers from getting their commissions for as long as possible.
In retrospect, it was hilarious having a math-phobic person managing large financial accounting IT systems. If you ever had any doubt insurance companies are wicked, here is your proof.
Shortly before I joined the behemoth company they had absorbed a number of smaller insurance companies and inherited multiple antiquated legacy finance programs. Quite reasonably they decided to consolidate all of these programs into one system for efficiency’s sake. But in an absurd cost-savings move, they decided to place 13 million customers on a platform meant for small businesses. As you might imagine, this caused a few hiccups in customer accounts with payments askew and negative media attention. Hence, an army of temps was deployed to manually fix the system’s errors.
Working at the Mega Corporation was everything I never wanted for myself and yet somehow everything I needed. The funny thing about letting go of your expectations of how your life should be is that it can lead you to what it could be. It was an amazing 10 months until my visa expired.
Lesson Learned: Don’t be afraid to try new things, even if they don’t make sense on paper. Every experience you have is a building block for your long-term career.
Salary 2: $40,000 (Increase of $17,000)
When the visa expired, the party was officially over.
I returned to the US with two suitcases and zero plans. All I knew is that I wanted to use my communications skills to work on a team, but I was open to whatever that might look like or wherever that next role might take me.
I applied to over two hundred positions across the United States. I applied via online portals, email and even a fax machine. Zoom interviews weren't a thing back then, so I was flying on my own dime to cities like New York, Nashville, and Chicago for final interviews.
For each position I applied to, I always included a cover letter which included a sentence or two on how I was relocating to [company location] soon. They didn’t need to know that “soon” meant when a job offer was in hand.
After six months of job searching, I received an offer for $40,000. It was an entry-level Marketing role at a mid-sized software start-up in Chicago. I did not negotiate salary, but I did negotiate a later start date so I could arrange my move to a new city.
A month later, I was in the Windy City.
From the start, there was friction between my new boss and myself. She was a micromanager, I was immature and hard-headed. Together we were toxic. I refused to admit to myself that I had made a mistake.
I was determined to make it work for “at least a year” but I was let go several months later. It was humiliating and shattered my confidence.
I thought I would leave tech for good after that, but I couldn’t leave Chicago as I had signed a two-year lease. I had to make it work somehow.
I ended up temping at a Chicago advertising agency reception desk for several months while I figured out my next steps.
Lesson Learned: Not every move you make in your career is the right move. That’s okay. It’s what you do afterwards that matters.
Salary 3: $40,000 (Increase of $0)
An opportunity came up to join a British start-up launching in Chicago. It was a business development role where I would be introducing their product to the US market.
Their refusal to negotiate on the salary should have been the first red flag. When I attempted to negotiate a slightly higher salary, they snapped at me for reneging on the initial number I said I would accept on my application (my previous salary). I backed down quickly. I needed the job and the stability that would come with the job. I accepted.
I ended up staying with them for 3.5 years. In retrospect, I probably stayed 1.5 years too long. I did not receive a raise or cost of living adjustment once during this time. No one on the team even earned a commission, which I learned later is unheard of in most US corporate sales roles.
However, this role gave me the opportunity to prove myself. Start-ups are building everything from the ground up. Interacting with everyone from CFOs to foreign ambassadors and local government officials gave me the problem-solving skills I have carried throughout my career.
Lesson Learned: There’s a saying that goes something like “in every role, you should either be earning or learning”. This was a learning role.
Salary 4: $69,000 (Increase of $29,000)
After years of selling multimillion-dollar data centers to global corporations, it was time to move on. I was tired of a 90-minute commute each way and living paycheck to paycheck. As the last remaining member of the original US team, I was losing confidence in the direction of the company. I needed to see what else was out there.
During my time in Sales, I learned a lot about writing business proposals and presenting to different audiences. I learned that I loved building post-sales relationships with customers, but hated pitching prospects. Traditional sales wasn’t for me, but I wasn’t sure what my next step might look like. At the time I was considering roles in proposal management or a newly emerging field called customer success.
I interviewed repeatedly with tech companies and non-profits across the Chicagoland area but never made it to the final offer stage. Time for a different approach.
I decided to expand my search outside of Chicago and consider other US locations for my next role. This time I flew to Miami, Houston, and Pennsylvania to interview on the prospective employers’ dime.
Another tactic I tried out was searching for new roles posted on technology career-focused websites. It was through one of these sites that I discovered a mid-sized software company in the Los Angeles area was hiring a customer success manager. I applied online and spoke with their internal recruiter over the phone. I then completed a writing assignment and submitted it for consideration when the recruiter called me.
Bad news. The role had been filled by someone else who was further along in the process.
However, the recruiter liked me. He told me if I wanted to be considered for another role at the organization, let him know and he would push me forward for consideration. I took a quick look on their website and saw that there was a project manager role open on their marketing team. I had never formally held the role of a project manager, but I’ve always been detail-oriented and managed multiple projects at the start-up. So I took a chance and asked him to consider me for the marketing project manager role.
Things quickly fell into place after that. I interviewed virtually for the first time ever with my prospective manager and multiple team members over the course of a month. The offer came in just before the 4th of July weekend.
My original offer was for $60,000. I did some online research and found out that the average marketing project manager salary at that time was $70,000. I negotiated $69,000 and asked for a delayed start date so I could arrange a move from Chicago to Los Angeles.
I hesitated to accept as I was terrified to repeat my initial Chicago experience. In the end, the money was too high to turn down. I decided to take a chance on myself and try California for a year. If it didn’t work out, I could always come back to Chicago.
Two weeks later, I road-tripped across America with my cat to our new home. I was eating lunch in Las Vegas when my former coworker texted me the news: the entire US division of my old company had been laid off.
Two days later, I arrived in California and started my new job.
Lesson Learned: Trust your instincts. Knowing when to leave is an underrated skill.
Salary 5: $83,000 (Increase of $14,000)
After two years as a marketing project manager, I was restless and bored. I missed the creativity that came with coming up with my own projects versus running other people’s projects.
I was starting to consider leaving the organization when my manager announced she was starting a new team within Marketing called Customer Experience. The team was focused on developing content and programming for existing customers (as opposed to prospects).
I reached out to her to learn more about the new team. Could there be a place for me on her new team? She thought my project management skills could be utilized in a newly-created role around customer retention. I reviewed the proposed offer and decided it was fair, so I accepted the lateral move.
Lesson Learned: Keep an eye out for existing opportunities within your organization. This can be a great way to grow your skill set without the hassle of a traditional job search.
Salary 6: $93,000 (Increase of $10,000)
Three years passed as we grew the team and the function at the organization. Shortly before my longtime manager left the organization, I campaigned for a promotion.The role I wanted didn’t exist yet, but it was an expansion of the activities I was already doing. I laid out concrete examples of what I had accomplished in the role and what I was looking to do next.
She accepted my proposal and gave me a $10k raise.
Lesson Learned: Ask for what you want. You just might get it.
Salary 7: $115,000 (Increase of $22,000)
By the beginning of 2022, I was ready to move on after six years at the organization. The Great Resignation had been in full swing for the past year. I watched as many respected colleagues moved on to exciting new opportunities.
This job search was unlike the ones I had done prior to moving to California. My priorities were different this job search. I wanted a 100% remote role so I could expand my professional opportunities without the expense of moving states again. I wanted a new employer in the tech industry with a strong people-centric culture. And financially, I wanted to hit the six-figure mark after a decade in the industry.
It took almost a year of interviewing with different companies. I reached the final stages multiple times, but nothing felt right. In late summer, I came across my current organization. They made a similar product to my previous organization but served a different market.
I was able to use my experience at my last organization to speak to their pain points and how I have dealt with similar ones in the past. The role was a brand new one with an opportunity to combine both strategy and creative execution in customer communications.
The recruiter initially came to me with an offer for $110,000 but I told her I was hoping for somewhere in the middle of the $110,000-$115,000 range. After a few tense days of waiting, she returned with a new offer. $115,000, the top of my range. I accepted without hesitation.
It’s been about six months since I joined the new organization. I’m glad I took a chance on a completely new direction.
Lesson Learned: Visualize what you want. Be as specific as possible. And then go for it.
I’ve had a very unorthodox career path in B2B technology. It’s mostly been a mix of stubborn persistence and luck, but here are five lessons I learned over the years.
- There’s no one right way to have a career, only your way.
- Don’t be afraid to pivot and try out different things. Someone once told me “change is scary, but not changing is scarier”. You always want to be growing.
- Hone your career story. Being able to tell that compelling story with confidence helps recruiters connect the dots between your past experiences and how you will add value in this new role.
- Invest in your professional community. Give freely of your time, whether that’s attending your peer’s events, reviewing their work or just commenting on their LinkedIn posts. You get twofold what you put into your network.
- Moving between organizations and roles increased my salary by an average of $17k each time. I raised my salary $92,000 over 11 years, but this number could have been even higher if I had moved organizations more frequently in my 20s.