From Lost to Found - Finding My Place in the Workplace and Navigating Foreign SalariesFeatured

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! 😉 ).


Growing up in Shanghai to a fiercely successful businesswoman of a mother, it seemed like I would be destined to follow a similar path. Yet hundreds of interviews later, a prestigious job seemed well beyond reach. Perhaps I was not a traditionally fit candidate for banks and management consulting firms, but I’ll let you decide.

For context:

  • I graduated in March 2011
  • From University of California Los Angeles
  • With a B.A. in Economics and B.S. in Psychobiology with a combined GPA of 3.62 (for non-US folks, GPAs are out of 4)
  • Had a few internships in business-related roles under my belt (though all in Asia)
  • Required work sponsorship

While I worked at an unpaid internship to extend my stay in California, I was fortunate enough to find a small firm willing to sponsor me. I started as a Business Analyst for a market research and business planning firm on $45,000 per year and left as an Engagement Manager on roughly $60,000 three years later. My boss at the time was an ambitious woman in her late twenties and became my source of inspiration in a male-dominated workforce. While she didn’t play favourites, I could tell that she trusted and always placed me on projects that would stretch me and, later, supported my decision to take on part-time responsibilities for our business intelligence platform-related business.

In retrospect, being in smaller companies where at least one female role model was present became a consistent and important theme across all of my career opportunities.

Towards the end of my tenure at the first firm I was burnt out, to say the least. Aspiring to work with clientele beyond the SMB sector and wanting to do “meaningful” work, I started browsing for new opportunities.

After a potential opportunity with Amazon fell through after the final round of interviews, I was feeling dejected. Yet by a stroke of luck, one of my friends through work connected me with a recruiter that had reached out to him for an Engagement Management position at a software consulting company. While I hadn’t heard of the firm, I was curious about working in a technology focused company and leveraged my project management and BI platform experience to secure the opportunity.

Luckily, the recruiter had actually misquoted my friend the salary expectations for the role and I latched onto that to bump my pay up to $67,500. Funnily enough, I later found out that the CEO was initially shocked by the number as the role at the time was more similar to a project coordinator role. This was an expectation I helped overturn during my time there, as my natural curiosity drove me to dig deep and become more technically aware of the intricacies of the projects being managed. The role later evolved to become more technically focused and later hires were all expected to have a certain level of understanding of the technology in order to successfully manage the implementations.

My first manager left shortly after I joined, and I quickly found a mentor in a female practice manager who joined several months later. While we worked in partnership for over a year or so, her leading a team of consultants and I managing engagements of said consultants, I leveraged the opportunity to explore my interest in honing my understanding of the workings behind the business tech stack we worked with. I eventually joined her team as a consultant myself and grew into a Solutions Architect within her service management practice in the span of 5 years since joining the firm.

By the time I left, I had just nearly doubled my base salary to $120,000 and was working remotely while traveling around various cities (before it became the new norm).

While remote working, I visited London and found myself wanting to stay. However, west coast U.S. working hours in the UK were much less alluring, so I started exploring opportunities on LinkedIn while maintaining my late-night working hours. A recruiter from a search tech company (my current company) then reached out for a Solutions Engineering role and, while the role was not a good fit for my skill set, we decided to stay in touch if other opportunities were to arise. Roughly six months later I joined the company as a senior customer success manager in January of 2020.

The role took my salary down about 30% (and I didn’t consider the impact UK taxes would have on my take home salary) but I was ready for a change and wanted to explore what it’d be like in a product company.

The change was magical in the beginning. It was exciting having a fixed office to go to after two years of remote working in different locations and onboarding took me and a few other coworkers to our amazing office in Paris where I met my boss (another inspirational female role model) and the rest of my team. A year later, I decided to move back-office to an operations role for my customer success team and am now on a low six-figure salary in the UK.

Looking back, I’ve definitely been fortunate. I never really needed to negotiate salaries, with the exception of when I switched jobs, as my companies were all relatively supportive of merit-based increases. I always worked in smaller companies, though the companies I moved to steadily increased in size, which meant that there were always opportunities to take on different responsibilities and explore new ways of doing work. These two factors combined with having strong successful females to look up to were really what brought me here today.

If I had some parting words of wisdom, I’d say to:

  1. Nurture your network and never burn bridges
  2. You never know who will bring you opportunities and how far down these opportunities may arise
  3. Leverage company changes to achieve a goal
  4. Whether it’s for salary increases or other personal goals, company jumps are always a good stepping stone to achieve these

All in all, definitely approach any new possibilities with an open mind, and don’t be afraid to explore new avenues of work even in your existing roles!

Love everything about this article, Simone. Particularly being able to find representation in amazing female managers.
Thank you Wami! Yes, having female managers/role models to look up to is so important. Now when I'm looking at new career opportunities it's increasingly important to find places where there is female representation across all levels of the organisation.