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! 😉 ).
My first role out of college was working as a telecommunications specialist in a local hospital system. In this role, I earned $20/hr working 30 hours a week, which annually added up to around $28,000 a year. Part-time roles throughout college had paid no more than $15-17 per hour, so I was stoked!
As a first-generation Latina, I did not have much career guidance and felt I had very limited options and aspirations for my career. The only goal I had was to get a full-time role with healthcare benefits and to get paid - I wasn’t necessarily looking for job satisfaction (the hospital system offered fantastic healthcare coverage and the full-time role was a cushier $42,000).
However, I soon became disillusioned with this prospect - I learned getting a full-time role would take years, and was based on seniority and politics, not skills. My hours fluctuated from week to week, there were toxic team dynamics that sometimes felt racially based, and my manager took a completely hands-off approach.
Becoming A Jane of All Trades
Motivated mostly by finances, I began to diversify my income stream with a few side hustles such as a tutor, an administrative assistant to small businesses, and a Virtual ESL teacher. I soon realized I needed more flexibility than my hospital schedule was allowing.
After a particularly challenging recovery from an unexpected illness, going back to work at the hospital on shifts that were out of my control, felt stifling, so I resigned. A lot went into the decision, but ultimately the main decision driver was my mental health and I was in a fortunate position to have a partner working full-time with fantastic benefits, so this risk was something I could afford to take.
It wasn’t much, but the side hustles paid between $25-$30 per hour and allowed me to create my own work schedule while also getting experience in many different industries. I leveraged pretty much any skill I had to work, and every connection I had, to provide my services as an assistant (a Jane of all trades if you will) and also learned as much as I could at each place. The freedom to create my own schedule, learn new things, grow my professional skills, and see my work make an immediate impact became addictive.
From 2016-2017, I took on a variety of challenges to help my Latino community and got to wear many different hats: I worked with nurses tutoring them in writing and developing their professional development path; assisted daycares with marketing, staffing, and training; taught English as a second language, virtually to children across the world; designed logos/letterheads/invoices for laundromats, architects, contractors, restaurants, and other small businesses; created a few websites as well at the accompanying digital assets; tried being a dog walker/sitter, and generally tried to figure out what I might want to be. This led to an opportunity to work as an executive assistant at an events entertainment company – a start-up, actually.
During my time there, I joined during a critical period of rapid growth, helping them scale the team and train them. While this contract lasted 6 months, ultimately, I knew it was not the right long-term environment for me as the CEO began to demand in-office presence that previously was not a requirement. Soon, we parted ways, and he mentioned my medical condition (by that point I had been diagnosed with IBS) as the reason why it wasn’t working out (this is VERY illegal by the way, you cannot be let go without reasonable accommodation for a disability – to this day I regret not doing something about it).
After this role, I went back to the flexibility of working from home and got another contract teaching English. This time, I was poached by a new company to teach based on my experience, and quickly, I became one of their top instructors. Their in-office team reached out to learn more about how I conducted my lesson because it turns out I was successfully turning free demos into paid classes. They also asked me to help them with creating a training program for a new cohort of ESL teachers. This meeting led me to look for corporate roles in office as I learned they didn’t have teaching experts on the team (I had gotten myself TEFL certified the year before). I leveraged my small business and start-up experience, as well as my educational background, and asked to interview to join their corporate team as an Operations Associate. One week later, I received the offer for $52,000, which I ecstatically accepted. While I had assumed all this time that it was a corporate opportunity, the company was actually a small global start-up, and I came in as staff member eight.
Getting in on the ground floor of the operation proved to be an extremely rewarding experience since nothing was off-limits. Help was needed in every area, and operations had involvement in all of them. I became part of recruiting, interviewing, and training of teachers, creating, managing, and developing the academic curriculum, mentoring and guiding interns through user experience design and product management. This role allowed me the flexibility to work in the office if and when I wanted, it was never required. Since the organization worked with teams in China and India, I often stayed home to work, and went to the office only in the afternoons. I grew to be an associate product manager at YiyiEnglish before being affected by layoffs. The team wanted to give up the NYC office and move operations to China to save costs. While I was asked to go with them, relocating my life was not something I was prepared to do at that point in my life, so I declined and took the severance.
Prioritizing Health and Family
I picked up a few clients again after this role and interviewed heavily. I received a verbal offer from Bank of America to join them as a contract product manager at $80k. When the offer fell through, I eventually landed a role at Chase Bank making $75k. Their onboarding took over three months though, so my stint lasted a very short time. When I finally began working, I was 5 months pregnant, and complications arose on my second day on the job. I was hospitalized for nearly a month, as I was heavily pregnant and required surgery.
During the recovery, I quit Chase. While they were wonderful enough to pay me through the horrible ordeal, I ultimately realized the commute to Madison Square Garden every day was not going to be maintainable long-term, especially with the difficult recovery ahead. I prioritized my health and family, taking time off from work - choosing to go back to being a Jane of all Trades after nine months of maternity leave.
Exploring a New Area of Interest
As I was beginning to pick up more clients, I met the CEO of CodeSignal through Upwork. I took a skills evaluation, scored the highest, nailed the interview and was hired on a temporary basis. Initially, I took on research, administrative, and coordination tasks. After a few months of a successful working relationship, I was hired full-time at the rate of $75k per year based on NY cost of living (salaries for this fully-remote company were based on location). I attempted to negotiate here with the argument that my hourly rate did not add up to this annually. I was made aware of the total value of the benefits package, and even though I declined health coverage, I did not successfully get an offer increase but accepted on the understanding I would have the flexibility to work part-time hours.
As EA to CEO, I saw the company through two rounds of funding: Series A and Series B. After the first fundraise my salary was increased to $90k annually. I took over much of the recruiting function and helped double the size of the team, while simultaneously supporting my CEO and coordinating VC meetings. This was when my CEO approached me regarding my career path and if recruiting might be an area of further interest.
After Series B, at the end of 2021, I was promoted to Candidate Experience Lead with a salary of $120k and 500 stock options as well as being transferred to another supervisor. I was so happy with this new role and eagerly took on all the challenges associated with it - training interviewers, developing workflows and processes, collecting and analyzing data, and enabling the recruiting team to be successful.
The culture at this organization – of being people-first – instilled by the CEO was such a major part of the reason I was excited to grow my career there. However, this excitement was short-lived, as I soon learned that recruiters I had hired, with less seniority and experience were being paid far more. I developed close bonds with my peers and soon realized I should not only be earning more, but I had clearly not been valued despite my contributions to the recruiting team as a whole. I voiced this with my new manager (hired after I had started my new role) and also her supervisor (no longer the CEO, but a VP who I’d worked with during my entire time there) and was met with both curiosity about where it was coming from and then deflection of responsibility of how it happened.
When they finally took ownership of it, there was nothing done to make it right, but rather say, it is what it is. I asked what I could do to merit an increase to put me at the level with my peers and I was given a few projects to distract me from the topic for a few months, but I soon regretted rocking the boat at all.
Leaning into my Network
Before I had completed my year in that role, my position was eliminated during the massive tech layoffs that occurred in late 2022. I leaned on my network and immediately posted on Linkedin regarding my layoff. As a mom, being unemployed was a scary time, and as a Latina in tech, specifically in recruiting, I knew it would be difficult, but I was confident I’d land on my feet.
Multiple connections reached out, and even referred me for openings they were aware of. In that first week, I made it a goal to research and apply to at least 2-3 roles per day as well, customizing my resume, and ensuring this time around I was looking for a culture that matched my standards and needs. This meant also checking Glassdoor reviews prior to applying. Fully remote roles with a healthy culture and people-first benefits were few and far between.
A week into unemployment, the Head of People Operations at ComplYant reached out to me regarding an open Recruiter position. This was a great lead as they had everything I was looking for. I had been referred by a teammate and they asked me to apply. However, I didn’t hear back for a bit.
After almost a month of the job hunt, I was increasingly nervous - I’d applied to well over 75 roles, only hearing back from about 15% of those. Then finally, I heard back from ComplYant. They had taken some time to develop a take-home project for their Technical Recruiter role to evaluate skills and interest levels as the candidate volume was massive.
Being the nerd that I am, I eagerly accepted the challenge, submitted my project and soon heard back about scheduling my interviews. I had two interviews with them in one week, and after meeting them felt that the culture was definitely a good match for what I was looking for. I sent over a thank you note and received the job offer for $115k with 7500 stock options before the week had ended. I was hoping for the salary to match my previous role and managed to negotiate my pay to $118,500 – a tad over their budget for the position.
Finding Work-Life Balance
After six weeks I touched base with my manager to discuss the role expectations and salary as they did not seem in alignment which allowed my manager and I to dive deeper into it. A staff-level Technical Recruiter’s responsibilities would likely look a lot different than what I was being asked to take on. Even the goals seemed unrealistic for that level. While not a dealbreaker, I wanted to ensure the team was aware of this and we can work together to ensure I’m on track to get a salary increase down the line. With the help of my manager, we’ve navigated many difficult conversations, crushed some major goals and implemented meaningful changes.
Ultimately, I’ve come to realize, at ComplYant I’ve experienced the best work-life balance of my career which has also led to my best work (over 32 successful hires in under 6 months for all teams - the average recruiter makes 50 non-technical hires per year, average much less for technical hires). I’ve received active coaching and support so I can level up my skills. Since then I’ve also become SHRM certified increasing my market value and expertise. Most of all, I feel valued. In fact, I am now a Senior Technical Recruiter making $125k.
What I’ve learned is that most people come from an environment (likely corporate) where they work hard and hope to be seen, because of this, at start-ups, where folks are less likely to have solid leadership and people-management experience, you need to advocate for yourself to get your due and ensure you aren’t overlooked! Everyone is busy working on making an impact and pushing forward the product; they are likely more focused on their own immediate concerns and that means there might be no one advocating for you, but you.
At the same time, the tech start-up environment is not for all. You have to be willing to do the work to be a pioneer in the field and build processes as well as develop the accompanying documentation. It can easily become stressful as there are frequent changes, complex problems, and hard conversations - so you must learn to communicate with sensitivity and tact while also being direct about your needs/boundaries so your message isn’t lost in translation.
TLDR - Key Takeaways
Before accepting a role: Do your research on salaries, and job expectations, talk to industry peers, and always negotiate, or you will leave money on the table. Ensure the company lives up to your standards too. Take the skills evaluation / do the take-home project - this gives you an inside peek into the org and a better sense of what you’re getting into. Do not accept a job offer without first meeting your supervisor and asking questions about the team dynamic and culture (not the benefits, most of the time it’s listed on the job post, if not, save that discussion for the recruiter, not the hiring manager).
Once in the role: The relationship with your manager is EVERYTHING. You should have trust and open communication to ensure your continued growth and success. This requires a high level of self-awareness (where you can identify where you want to grow and learn) and the ability to take feedback (with humility and act on it in a meaningful way). Regular check-ins are a best practice to ensure you’re on the track you want to be. Maintain a growth mindset - for example - communication is a skill you will forever be working on. Be curious, ask questions, and learn about what other teams are doing to get a holistic view of the organization and identify projects you can take on.
Don’t ever forget what you have to offer. Regularly reflect back on what you’ve accomplished - make it a point to update your Linkedin and/or resume with the skills you’ve gained and the impact you’ve made. It’s also a great way to remind yourself of your value and also ensure your resume is ready - just in case. Sourcers and Recruiters often use Linkedin to find folks with the skills/experience they are looking for, so keeping this up to date, will help you get seen for new opportunities.
If you are looking to break into tech as an underrepresented minority:
- Don’t Give Up. It took me a long time to learn what I truly wanted and to find my dream job, but I persisted. It’s a matter of picking yourself up and trying again.
- Don’t Settle. I don’t see where I am as the final stop - I know there is still more out there for me in regard to challenges, growth opportunities, and salary. Having the mindset of being a lifelong learner as well as self-awareness, will help you to keep leveling up.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help. There are a lot of resources available to help Latinas in tech and People of Color in Tech, including mentorship programs and networking events. Make it a point to connect with many different people as you never know when you will be able to leverage their help.
- Be yourself. The tech industry is changing, and companies are starting to value diversity. Be proud of who you are, and let your unique perspective shine through. In tech, females, and people of color, especially Latinos are hugely underrepresented, but as a significant segment of the population, these are important points of view that can impact an organization’s bottom line.
While long, winding, and nonlinear, I hope my unique story inspires women, especially those of color, to pursue their dreams in tech. It's not easy, but it's definitely worth it.