How I increased my salary 120%
Updated: Mar 11, 2018
It took me over three months to find a job after college, which felt like a lifetime.
I'm not sure what made me apply to one of the top insurance companies again after being rejected earlier that summer, but I'm glad I did. I was called for my first onsite interview, and I nailed it! I was prepared, poised, and passionate. I had done my research: I knew the core values of the company, I knew about the business units I was interviewing with, and I had questions at each stage.
I learned a lot at this first job: how to really use MS products, hold informative meetings (and what a wasted meeting was), make presentations, communicate with vendors, and train new employees. I was well recognized and received a promotion within 9 months, with a 3% raise. It was a start.
Encouraged by my early success, I worked hard to take ownership of projects and drive company initiatives. I wanted to learn as much as possible and say the right things to have an impact.
Unfortunately my immediate management changed, and I wasn't given the same level of respect as I had. I did my best to put aside that difficulty and kept taking initiative.
I applied to a supervisory position. After all, I had been on the team the longest, I had a firm grasp on the problems we were facing and ideas of how to solve them, and I knew how to train and develop new employees. But I was rejected.
So I made a lateral move and soon realized it was the overall company culture that wasn’t a good fit for me. I wanted to take action fast, but the company was more staid.
A New Direction
On a Sunday night I browsed jobs online and found one that seemed to be a good fit. I applied without any expectation. Everything happened so fast: on Monday I had a phone screening and was invited into the office that Wednesday. By Friday I had an offer.
Clearly my interview went well. About 5 minutes in, the hiring manager closed his book and sat back to answer questions I had prepared. We knew it would be good for both of us.
When negotiating on salary, I stated my current earnings as salary and bonus and requested an additional 5%. On hindsight this was too low. I didn't want to come across as greedy (a common women’s thing to think). The company met my price, which was about a 20% increase in base pay.
I put a lot of energy into learning the techniques of the new company, and I felt I was making a good contribution. Three months later I was given another 5% raise. Satisfied with my performance and happy to get a raise, I kept going.
The Shocking Truth
I was content, but only until I found out how much my male counterpart was making. Why was he at a higher salary level than me when I had more experience and came in at a higher level? I also thought that if I outperformed my job description, it would become clear that I was worth more and my salary would increase (wrong again).
By the next annual review I had a new manager and was given about a 7% increase (not bad by typical standards), but I felt I deserved a promotion, not just a raise. I was leading the team and handling all client management, so why was this not being noticed?
I decided to give it another year to prove myself. I worked hard to be the one in front of the client, the one with all of the answers, and the one the team goes to with questions. I succeeded. I was sure I would be recognized at my next annual review.
I went into my review prepared with notes about my accomplishments. I had also researched how much money I would get somewhere else. Disappointed, I got only half the increase I deserved. I had to argue (diplomatically) my case, citing specific examples of my contributions to back up my points. Unfortunately, my immediate supervisor was not the decision maker, nor was he prepared to fight for me. I had to do it myself.
My request for a salary adjustment was initially denied. I was told that all those accomplishments I was so proud of were not my job, they were my manager’s, and I should leave those activities to him. So I started doing strictly "my job" and watched the account falter. This was difficult for me, because I really care about doing things well, and I cared about our clients. But “letting things fall apart" was the only course of action I could see to avoid being ignored for another year.
It quickly became clear to upper management what I had been doing all along and the value I was bringing to the company. I was given the other half of my raise.
Adding It Up
Later that year I was given a new opportunity to work on the legal side of the business. It felt good that someone was acknowledging me and helping me increase my value.
At my next annual review, because of my high performance and concrete contributions to the business: another 10% raise. This was the moment I had been waiting for - my salary had increased 100% (doubled!) since I had started my career just 5 years before. I felt successful and full of worth.
The next year posed some big problems that I couldn't solve (this is another story), but my manager has been my advocate. He understands my abilities as well as my eagerness to learn, and he does what he can to keep me. My recent raise brings my total increase to 120% in 6 years.
Now I want something more - not just money and recognition from management. I want to create a community where women like me, who are capable and ambitious, can learn to strategically and successfully negotiate the positions and salaries they deserve. I have learned a lot from my negotiations, and it hasn’t been easy. There were many days I left thoroughly defeated. Yet I never settled for less than what I deserved. When I knew there was no end to frustrations ahead, I switched tactics. You can, too!