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 like this one, too! 😉 ).
When I first started working fourteen years ago, I was so excited about having a job. I enjoyed learning new things and the sense of purpose that a job gave, so I put my whole heart and most of my free time into it, even though the pay was very little.
Growing up in Eastern Europe, you’re sure to get the advice of sticking to your job and keeping your head down in gratitude without questioning anything at least a couple of times in your life. And so I did. Starting out, I didn’t think much of the meaning of a job, or about the path I needed to take to get somewhere. I had no financial milestones. I was still in university and just wanted to get a head start in working, rather than wait to finish my studies.
Learn, learn, and then learn some more
I was working part-time as a salesperson in a web agency that was just getting started, making only commissions from the sales I was closing (which was very little). After a month, I started getting about EUR150 in fixed monthly income, on top of the commissions, as my responsibilities expanded to office management tasks, accounting, SEO, and others.
I ended up spending four years in this agency, watching and contributing to its tremendous growth, and at the same time getting my Bachelor's and Master’s degrees. During my final year there, I was making around EUR6,200 yearly, and my tasks were reduced solely to a small portion of pay-per-click advertising and web hosting tech support.
The pay was little, but my costs of living were pretty low while being a student and living in the university dorm.
Eventually, the agency decided to discontinue the pay-per-click service since the bulk of the revenue was in web design. The tech support for hosting maintenance was delegated to a third-party company, so I was given the choice of moving on with the new tech support company or look for another job. Of the two, I chose the latter, as I liked the advertising side more.
So, I found myself unemployed and looking for a job in digital advertising, which wasn’t so popular back then so the supply was pretty scarce. On top of this, my living expenses increased since I rented an apartment after finishing my studies.
After six months and the end of my savings, I finally landed a job in a big media agency, to handle part of the digital advertising for very large brands, which I was going to keep for three years.
They asked me what salary I wanted and I said the same salary I had at the previous job, even though this meant a pretty ascetic lifestyle. I was desperate to get the job.
As I was lacking confidence in my advertising knowledge, I was afraid to ask for more (I also had no idea what the market rate was for this role). I wanted to prove myself first.
I found myself like an ant in a giant’s realm, in a market where television was calling the shots, and the digital portion of the total advertising budget was minimal.
So, I started thinking about this job more like a launch pad, somewhere where I could learn everything there was to learn and then move on to something bigger.
About two years into it and MANY long, extra hours, I got a 40% raise and a EUR250 bonus. I was happy about it, but I was still struggling financially – not being able to afford a proper vacation, for example. I also found out soon after that my new colleague, working the same job, was making 30% more.
To me, this was a betrayal. In my naivety, I thought that once I proved myself to be a fast learner, committed, and efficient, fair pay would come naturally.
On top of that, the bonus I had been promised wasn’t being paid. I had to ask for it every month, and each time I would be assured that it would be paid right away – I got it after 8 months.
I considered that I had learned pretty much all there was to learn there, after over two years of hard work on advertising with world-renowned brands. In a market largely dominated by television, there was only so much growth, getting just bits and pieces of the total advertising budgets, and I definitely did not want to leave digital and move on to television.
Leave when all the possibilities have exhausted, but plan it carefully
I was still lacking a well-defined financial milestone, but I had an increasing desire for moving abroad.
So I decided on Spain and started looking for job opportunities there. On the side, I was trying to get some freelance jobs on Elance (now Upwork) for extra income. It turned out I could combine these two: after a few months, I got a job on Elance with a US-based digital advertising agency. It was project-based at first, which turned into full-time after some months and as I wrapped up my office job in the media agency.
I am still with this agency today – close to 8 years into it.
This new role was fully remote and it brought a huge change in my compensation (actually tripled it!). So, I moved to Spain in 2015.
The cost of living in a large Spanish city was also higher, but I was living decently.
I immersed myself in work yet again and found that a remote job meant that I was working even more. I had trouble managing my time and liked what I was doing, so the time that I used to spend commuting and chatting around the office was now spent working.
This was fine for the first 3 years or so, as I really enjoyed what I was working on, but eventually, I became exhausted and had almost no personal life at all. I have thus started putting a higher value on free time, so I decided to ask for a change in schedule, coming up with clear arguments for it.
Propose a clear action plan
I suggested waiving the annual 10-15% increase I was about to get, and instead proposed adding an extra hour of work from Monday to Thursday, but getting Fridays off. So, overall, I reduced the weekly hours from 40 to 36. The deal was accepted and, on top of it, I got the raise as well, which was great.
Getting Fridays off has been one of the best decisions of my life.
Two years later, in 2020, I decided to go one step further in my ask and got a 6-month sabbatical.
Once this ended, I went back in the spring of 2021 to even fewer hours: 24 per week maintaining Fridays off, but proportionally less money, as I moved to an hourly-based rate. This was fine, as I continued to value time off more than money.
I also moved to a relatively different role, taking on more challenging situations, bigger clients, being the internal go-to person for any kind of performance evaluation, troubleshooting or any problem solving, working on part of the sales side as well as evaluating accounts of qualified leads, spearheading the implementation of new services, training others into them, and more.
I continued to get the 10% annual increase, so my hourly rate has increased by 10% as of early 2022.
Know your value
Throughout 2022, as I performed very well under increased responsibility, I started putting a lot of thought and research into what would be a fair hourly rate for the years of experience that I have.
I believe anyone’s pay should be directly proportional to the value one brings to the company one works for (regardless of location and cost of living, especially when talking about remote roles). And my value can be mathematically proven, at least partially (considering results in performance like my almost 100% rate of closing qualified leads via evaluations, etc). These calculations, along with the info in the Elpha Salary Database, brought me to a 58% increase from what my rate was.
So, I decided to ask for a thorough performance review, to further discuss my compensation.
A few days after having this conversation, I was granted the 58% increase I asked for while maintaining my current schedule of 24 hours per week Monday through Thursday.
The main lesson I have from all these years in the workforce is that going the extra mile in your job gets you a thousand miles further when it comes to achieving your personal goals, be that financial ones or a better work-life balance, or both.
Truly involving yourself, caring a lot about what you do, and going above and beyond responsibilities can make you an indispensable employee with a lot more certainty.
That said, one should always ask for what they are entitled to get, and never wait for it to come naturally.