Salary Story: How I Went From Toxic Jobs To Making $70k

Salary Story: How I Went From Toxic Jobs To Making $70k

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: 28
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
Current industry and job title: Corporate marketing, marketing communication specialist

Current salary: $70,000/year
Number of years employed since school or university: 7
Starting salary:

Biggest salary jump: From $48,000 to $70,000 in August 2022.

Biggest salary drop: I’ve never experienced a significant salary drop.

Biggest negotiation regret: Not leaving my job sooner. It was clear that the only way I was going to advance career-wise or salary-wise was leaving, and I stuck around because I felt like I had an obligation.

Best salary advice: The worst thing they can say is no. You have to ask!

My first job was as an administrative assistant at a branch of the state government in 2017, and I made $29,000 per year. I was fresh out of college — I studied public relations — was living with my parents, and needed income. It was a terrible job with an insanely low paycheck and I only stayed for a few months.

I worked in the reprographics department (printing) and there just wasn’t anything to do. My main role each day was to send out state maps to anyone who requested them, which was often schools. That task took maybe an hour per day if I really stretched it out, and other than that I responded to maybe three emails and waited for someone to come into the office. My supervisor sat directly behind me and could see my computer screen so I felt constantly monitored. She was also very unfriendly and did not like being asked questions. I felt very isolated as we were the only people in our office and saw only each other. The job barely paid the bills and was just demoralizing after a while.

I knew I needed to make more money and get out of government work, so I took a job with a large manufacturer that also offered some travel overseas. I took the job and stayed for just over 14 months.

The manufacturer was based in China, so I spent the month of September at their headquarters there learning the manufacturing processes they used. My main job once I was in the States was really to make life comfortable for the Chinese workers that came over to help set up the factory. I was in charge of finding apartments, getting them cell phones, coding their credit card expenses, purchasing their groceries, and other errands. I also set up a website for the US branch of the manufacturer, helped to hire an HR manager, implemented a drug testing and background check system for new employees, helped with hiring events and career fairs, implemented an inventory system for office supplies, and was in charge of anything that came up in the office.

While I was promoted, no one was hired to backfill my position so I quickly became the person in charge of all administrative tasks for a 200+ person office. My new job included all duties of my previous job, plus I was helping coordinate daily international shipments, often of hundreds of thousands of units of inventory. I helped document everything we received, unload it into the warehouse, and keep things organized.
Once leadership at the company changed, it became very clear that as a woman in this multi-cultural company, I would not be able to progress much farther. I began looking around for other jobs.
I was told that I would be walking into an existing client list and the person I was replacing easily hit commission every month. Instead, I discovered the owners actively worked to ensure commission was not hit by any salespeople by manipulating orders, creating arbitrary rules, et cetera. I went on a business trip my boss insisted I go on and when I submitted receipts for reimbursements, she would only reimburse for the menu price of meals — she would not reimburse for taxes or tip. I realized it was a toxic environment and needed to get out after about six months.
I started doing scheduling for service calls and soon became both an assistant to the cofounders and in charge of social media management. As the months passed, I had more and more responsibilities, and after about a year I got a raise — after asking three times — to $48,000.

Asking for a raise was nerve-wracking and spirit-crushing. I approached the conversation differently each time, but I truly believe it was a cultural divide. My supervisors had never worked in America before and could not understand that I was unhappy with the amount of work I was doing and the low salary. Honestly, looking back, I’m not sure of anything else I could have done differently. It was truly just a cultural misalignment.

After over two years at a small business handling the entirety of the marketing and communications strategy and execution, I gathered a five page document with metrics I had positively influenced, value I had created, similar jobs and their salaries, and asked for a raise to $60,000. After receiving incredibly positive feedback on my presentation from two C-suite executives, I expected the raise. A month went by when my supervisor and cofounder of the company (who had asked not to be involved previously) called me into her office where I again presented my case. After even more positive feedback, I was told the best they could do was $50,000. A month earlier, my male coworker who had been at the company less time than I had and had less education and experience and already made far more money than me, was offered a $15,000 raise and walked out of his 10 minute meeting with $20,000. I realized it was time for me to jump ship. After months of searching, I landed my current job: Fully remote, incredible benefits, lots of PTO, and a starting salary of $70,000 with bonus opportunity up to 10% of my annual salary. It was hard to land this job, but I am so happy I’m here.

Since my manager recently left the company and they have no plans to fill her role, I have taken on 100% of her responsibilities and duties while still doing my job before. I am meeting with my supervisor in a couple of weeks and will be asking for a job title change to marketing manager as well as a salary increase to $90,000. Maybe even $100,000. Wish me luck!

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