At first we started out real cool
Taking me places I ain’t never been
But now, you’re getting comfortable
Ain’t doing those things you did no more
You’re slowly making me pay for things
Your money should be handling
…Oh my bad, that’s Destiny Child’s work, not mine. (Fantastic song, though.)
Why is that people are so uncomfortable talking about money? At my last job, I had a group of coworkers who became very good friends. We were extremely open about discussing promotions, salary, and negotiating strategies with each other. Those conversations were eye-opening. I’m talking about Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In kind of attention-grabbing. It is in everyone’s best interest to know what the people around you are making—everyone but the company you work for. Of course, some people just have that gusto, and can negotiate an extra 5 or 10 thousand that maybe you didn’t, even if you have identical work experience. It’s not so much about the number as it is how much you’re worth to your company, and to yourself.
What actions did I take, armed with the knowledge of what people around me were making? I initiated promotion discussions with my manager(s). The important thing here was that at this point, I actually felt that I deserved a promotion. I had specific work examples, both internal and external, which showed I was performing well above my current role. Of course, going from analyst to senior analyst rarely changes what you actually do at most companies, especially on my team, where I already performed as a lead analyst. The biggest difference came down to compensation. When you’re starting out in your career, significant salary growth is going to come from promotions, not your yearly salary increase. If you’re like me, you probably have a “target compensation” that you’d like to hit by age X. My old goal was to reach 6 figures by age 30, but now I want to reach the same goal by age 28. A quick breakdown of my experience with negotiating and what that has netted me:
First job offer: $48K in Philly. A month before graduation, I only had a single job offer, which I got because a close friend’s father knew the CEO of the company. I was in the process of negotiating (I probably would’ve been offered 50) when I was accepted into graduate school. Yes, please.
Second job offer: $60K in DC. This was also shortly before graduation, coincidentally enough, and my only job offer. One of my professors shared the posting, and I got the job via networking and heavily focusing on my analytical background during interview. This was a non-negotiable offer, but I was stoked nonetheless, as my goal for grad school was to get anything higher than 50. I took the job and started two weeks later.
First-year annual increase: 2.2%, now $61K. I had only worked a half-year at this point, and my manager said that I was on the higher range of increases, because I picked up on the work very quickly. I was extremely pleased, but months later learned that the same words were repeated almost word-for-word to the other analysts, regardless of increase. It was also around this time that I learned that people who had been recruited in the fall (via college interview, unlike myself) had received a much better benefits package than I. Company stock skyrocketed; I did not celebrate.
Second-year annual increase: 3%, now $63K. A few months prior, I began promotion conversations with my manager. First, it was asking what things I still needed to pick up/take the lead on/generally do in order to qualify for promotion. After several months of vague “keep it up, you’re doing great, keep doing what you’re doing”, I started to push a little harder. The company made a large acquisition; everyone was put on a promotion/hiring freeze.
Start of 2016: I seriously began thinking about leaving my job. I enjoyed the work and loved my coworkers, but the workload was getting a little too intense and my promotion was still nowhere in sight, even though I was one of the highest performing analysts on the team (humble bragging out of the frustration of dealing with so much shit during those months, but still true).
Spring 2016: 10% promotion came though! Now at $69K. In the month leading up to the promotion, I actually began intensely applying for other jobs for the purposes of negotiating power, and also just to look out for a better job. At this point, work had taken up my entire social life and I just wasn’t having it anymore.
Spring 2016: Negotiated with 3 job offers, ranging from $72K to $85K. Company counters with $77K. This was the most empowering, terrifying, and stressful week that I’ve had since I can remember. The outcome? I left. The job (and salary) that I took ended up being lower than my counteroffer, but I’m much happier now. I’ve changed industries, I’m doing work that is more interesting, and I’m living in a brand new city that is super exciting. The only thing I actually miss about my old job is the feeling of knowing everything. Starting over in something totally new has been quite a learning curve, but my work-life balance has been better the past few months than in the past 2 years (giving me time and energy to start this blog!).
What did I learn from all of it? There’s always something else you can bring to the table. At a job, you have managers who are supposed to advocate for you to upper management for job growth. Not all managers are the same, and even the most well-meaning ones can meet resistance from above when it comes to helping you grow. You have the most interest in your own growth (obviously), and you are the only person you can rely on to follow-through. Salary growth is extremely important, but not at all costs. So get an account on Glassdoor, start researching, and educate yourself. It’ll only do you good.
And my personal ode to money? I don’t want to bore you with anything long-form, so I present a haiku instead:
Salary, so tough
Grow faster so I’ll be rich
But wait, not more work
(I’m a creative genius, I know. Try not to groan too much.)