In our series Salary Stories , women with long-term career experience open up about the most intimate details of their jobs: compensation. It’s an honest look at how real people navigate the complicated world of negotiating, raises, promotions and job loss, with the hope it will give young people more insight into how to advocate for themselves — and maybe take a few risks along the way.
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Age: 36 Location: Silicon Valley, California Current industry and job title: Research Nonprofit, director of development Current salary: $200,000 Number of years employed since school or university: 14
Starting salary: $29,000 Biggest salary jump: $74,000 to $137,000 in 2019 from a job change Biggest salary drop: $137,000 to $0 in 2020, when I was laid off during COVID
Biggest negotiation regret: When I was 23 and didn’t negotiate the offer for my second job out of college. I wish I hadn’t taken the first offer since my gut was telling me something was off with the company. I would have spent more time vetting the company, and pushing back harder on the dollar amount, and other benefits. I only found out later on that many of my peers already felt comfortable negotiating. Some were in positions that were considered more junior than mine, but were making more because they had negotiated. My parents are immigrants and I once asked them why they didn’t tell me to negotiate — it’s because they never had, even up until they retired.
Best salary advice: If you’re feeling nervous about asking for more money for yourself, imagine you’re doing it for a friend or someone you care about as you’re doing the negotiation. It’s always easier to negotiate for others than yourself.
This was a basic, entry-level corporate job. I answered phones for executives at a big media company, delivered items, helped with budgets, and was basically a glorified minion. It was a short-term contract role. A lot of my classmates were struggling to find work as new grads and I was hungry to learn everything.
I found another job after the contract position ended, but it paid even less and I didn’t have the cajones to negotiate for more. It ended up being a terrible place to work, demanding and chaotic. Not a good fit.
I went back to the media company, I worked at in my first job, to work in the development department. It was more exciting and creative since I could sit in on more of the action when launching new projects versus just admin work.
Unfortunately, my manager and I were both laid off later that year. It was a very stressful time for me since I didn’t have the option to stay with parents. I relied on unemployment to pay the bills while I job hunted, and I was living in Los Angeles at the time. I volunteered a lot and took on random Craigslist one-hour gigs, like hair modeling, that would pay $20-$50 here and there. But I didn’t want to jeopardize my unemployment or have to manage complicated taxes, so I focused mostly on my job search.
After a long stretch of unemployment I landed at another media company, except this situation was worse since I felt the boss was abusive to the point where I would sometimes cry on my drive to work. He offered $40,000 and I negotiated $2,000 more to $42,000. My responsibilities included marketing pitch deck prep and strategy, operations from the marketing team, managing the budget, and tracking the impact of various marketing campaigns.
I was relieved to be laid off from this job even though my finances were very tight. It was a contract position and the term of the contract ended. Both the employer and I both agreed that this was not working and not renewing was the best call. My mental health was a wreck from the toxic work dynamic.
I decided to switch industries and started working for a university in southern California instead. Long hours and hard work, but it was rewarding and my boss was really great about investing in my growth. I’m forever grateful to her as this was probably the role where I really started to gain some real career traction. I didn’t negotiate at all on the pay since I just needed a steady paycheck at that point.
This was my first big promotion. I wish I had asked for more knowing that there were others doing similar work making at least $10,000 or $20,000 more.
Same role but with a raise since I was taking on more responsibilities. I knew other people who were doing similar work had been making more and was starting to feel resentful. I didn’t ask for this raise. The head of the department did a salary benchmarking exercise and felt like I was getting paid so much less than my peers across the board, and increased it. This is the only time I’ve ever experienced this and I think it is so important for leaders to honor and appreciate employees. I keep this in mind often since I manage a large team now and want to make sure I’m being thoughtful about advocating for them without them needing to ask.
I decided to switch jobs but stay in the same industry. I negotiated for a higher title and slightly more pay. This was around the time I was heavily thinking about my future financial goals for buying a place and strategizing how I could make more money. I concluded that I probably would need to change industries.
After over a year of searching and interviewing, I secured an offer from a start-up and negotiated the salary, equity, etc. I had attended several negotiated classes and put them to use in this salary negotiation, which was hugely rewarding.
One of many impacted by mass layoffs when COVID first hit and my whole team was let go. It was really disappointing given how much work I had done to get the job.
I started interviewing right away and got an offer from the nonprofit organization I’m part of now, with a sizable bump in pay. It was my only offer and I decided to go for it, but also glad I still negotiated higher than the original offer.
Performance increase and inflation bump at my organization. I didn’t negotiate for these raises since the organization actually went through its own layoffs the year before.
Promoted to lead a team of development professionals at the same organization. Negotiating 1-2% higher than the original promotion bump.
I’m still figuring out what my next career move will be as now I’m more turning to thinking about my personal goals with my partner of saving for a condo and starting a family. I’m grateful for the salary I make now but in Silicon Valley, it doesn’t go as far you think if you want to stay in this area and tackle both goals. We also just paid off our honeymoon and wedding. For now, I’m just focused on the job I have. $250,000 would be the next jump.
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