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! 😉 ).
It’s 2020. I’m about to graduate college and begin working full time at my first salaried job. I knew it was time for me to ask the important question - What will my salary be? To me, however, there was a more important question.
Is my salary negotiable?
I’ve felt strongly about pay equality from a young age. The more I read about and saw the pay inequalities in my world, the more passionate I became about closing that gap. I also knew how important it was to negotiate, stand up for myself, and fight for what I was worth. Unfortunately, that’s almost always easier said than done.
In college, I studied computer science. I saw my peers getting incredible internships and working on projects so complicated that I could hardly comprehend them. Meanwhile, I worked part-time as a secretary, making only $10 an hour and surviving with the help of my parents. My attempts to break into the world of tech were generally not even reaching the interview stage.
My first opportunity came in the form of a software engineering internship through a consulting company. I was overjoyed to be offered the job but was quickly discouraged when I learned that the pay was $14 an hour for a job I would have to drive 30 minutes each way for. Despite attempting to negotiate the pay, they held firm that this was their limit.
I want to acknowledge that for some, $14 an hour may have been more than enough. However, I felt strongly that my time and knowledge were worth more, and considering I was now making $12 an hour at my simple secretary job, I did not feel that this opportunity was worth it. Although I had no other prospects at that time, I declined the offer and spent the next few months wondering if I truly made the right choice.
My next opportunity practically fell in my lap. I was approached during my college’s career fair by the president of a company who was looking for students to work on the software support team of an office management system. I interviewed and was offered the job, where I would make $22 an hour. They also promised that I would be hired full-time after I graduated. I happily accepted! Little did I know what I would be in for.
I joined this company in March of 2020 - the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The company of less than 30 people was completely blindsided and unprepared for work from home. I was provided little to no training or support and was left to simply figure everything out on my own after starting a mere week before. However, they provided flexibility with my class schedule, and combined with what I was being paid, I chose to stick it out. At the end of the year, they sent my offer letter to become a salaried employee. My first salaried job!
By this time, I had completed my computer science degree, alongside minors in math and astrophysics. I knew I needed to stick up for my worth, and negotiate my salary. However, I was not properly prepared, and my first attempt did not go as planned. I was offered $55,000 - take it or leave it. I decided that this was a reasonable salary for this fairly easy technical support position and accepted the offer. I planned to stick around to get some experience, and then move on elsewhere to a software development position.
What I was not expecting, however, was an offer to be promoted internally to a software development position. This came just 8 months after I began working as a salaried employee. I was hesitant for numerous reasons to accept the position, especially since it had been declined by several of my coworkers.
The salary they offered me was a major cause for hesitation. At just $64,000 a year, this salary was far below the national average for Java software developers. At this point, I decided I would not accept the promotion without an increased offer. I was ready to stand up for my worth, and so I set up a meeting with the president of the company. I prepared my notes and did my research on the average salary in my area. I knew it would be difficult because the president was a no-nonsense, unyielding presence who did not like changing his mind.
As I expected, the negotiation was very difficult. I stuck to the arguments that I had laid out prior to the meeting - I had the knowledge, skills, and potential to do well in the position and as such, I deserved to be paid more. I was familiar with the software after being there for almost 2 years, and their salary was well below the national average. He argued that they did not know if I was good at writing code or not because I had no experience, and that since they were not a large company they could not pay more. The lowest blow, however, was when he made it clear that I was the last choice for the position because my coworkers had declined the offer. Looking back, I wish I had either called him out for this comment or spoken with my new manager about it. It was extremely disheartening, especially considering I was to be the first and only woman to join their software development team.
Even after these harsh comments, he eventually relented and raised the offer to $67,000 a year. I was still hesitant to accept, but since I did not have any other job prospects at the time and was not mentally in a place to job search, I decided to accept the promotion for the experience if nothing else.
Although I enjoyed the work I was doing - I was finally able to put my degree to use - I knew I needed to move on. The disrespect I had endured combined with the lack of support I had felt during my time there was more than enough motivation. Additionally, I learned that the increased salary I had fought so hard for was given freely to my male coworker who had been promoted at the same time as me. After about 6 months in the position, I began job searching. This time, I was determined not to accept any disrespectfulness - relating to the salary or otherwise.
I polished my resume, my LinkedIn, and my coding interview skills. I was constantly reading tips to improve my LinkedIn and making changes to my resume. I found that there is a lot to learn from unconventional places - for example, I learned so many helpful resume and salary negotiation tips from different creators on TikTok and Instagram. I began applying for jobs, making sure to keep my standards high and doing the research on each company’s values. I also applied to jobs even when I did not meet all or even most of their requirements - it has been shown that men apply to jobs despite having less than half of the qualifications, while women apply only to jobs they meet most or all of the requirements on. I was rewarded for my confidence in the best way.
I received a small handful of callbacks, but one callback regarding a software engineering position stood out massively to me. When the recruiter asked what salary I was interested in, I turned the tables and asked what they had budgeted for this position. To my surprise and delight, the recruiter told me it was between $90,000 to $110,000. This was well above what I had been hoping for - I was looking for a job that paid between $80,000 - $90,000.
My experience with this recruiter was certainly one-of-a-kind – although I do hope for it to become a more common experience for others. I was contacted between every interview to receive an update on the feedback I had received from interviewers and discuss what the next steps were. I was so impressed with their process and nervously hoped for the best. I was extremely stressed before each interview and spent countless hours preparing, but without fail, each interviewer was friendly, helpful, and so genuine that I couldn’t help but relax and simply let my knowledge and skills shine through.
My final interview is what really sold me on this company. It was an informal meeting with the manager of the team I would work on, where I could ask questions about the company, position, and team I would be working with. Everything I was told made me so excited for the position - their approach to onboarding, training, and managing as well as the company’s culture all sounded almost too good to be true.
After this, I once again spoke with the recruiter. They went over the feedback from my interviewers once again and let me know that they would soon be discussing whether I would receive an offer or not. At this point, he once again asked what salary I was interested in based off the range we had previously discussed. I knew that this was the moment - I had done great in every interview, was confident in my skills, and was ready to stand up for myself. I asked for $110,000, making sure to cite my great feedback and highlight my strengths one last time. This time, there was no pushback, no rude comments. The recruiter said he would let them know and that was it. Which made it all the more surprising when he came back with an offer of $120,000! He had taken it upon himself to tell the hiring manager that I had another offer and was looking for $120,000, and they had happily accepted this and wanted me in the position.
I am incredibly happy in this new position, finally earning the respect and salary that I had so wished for previously. I am happy to report that the company culture is just as wonderful as I had been promised.
I learned a lot about myself in the 2 years after I graduated college, and I plan to stick up for myself in the future in the same way I’ve learned to do in these past years. I know now that I don’t have to accept disrespect or low pay. I’ve learned how to improve my resume to get it noticed, how to market myself on LinkedIn, and how to prepare for technical interviews. I’ve come to realize how important it is to be confident in myself and stand up for myself no matter what. Most of all, I’ve reaffirmed my belief that I should always negotiate my salary.
Shortly after writing this, I was impacted by the tech layoffs that have affected so many companies. However, this gave me the opportunity to look for a job I would truly love, because the job I wrote about was not working out well for my personal situation. Now, I am at a job I really love with people that are amazingly talented and so supportive. I did have to take a small pay cut, but, remembering the importance of my own words, I made sure to negotiate! Thanks for reading about my journey!