Salary Story: I Started Out Teaching First Grade & Now Make $130k In The Aerospace Industry

Salary Story: I Started Out Teaching First Grade & Now Make $130k In The Aerospace Industry

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: 30
Location: Denver, CO
Current industry and job title: Aerospace, Community Relations Manager
Current salary: $130,000
Number of years employed since school or university: 9

Starting salary: $27,000
Biggest salary jump: From $50,000 to $75,000 when I left nonprofits.

Biggest salary drop: From $27,000 to $10,000. I left my first job, moved home, and worked part time in retail for eight months.

Biggest negotiation regret: When I left nonprofits, I took a job at a large financial services firm. In the final interview, an executive told me I would be a high-risk, high-reward hire because I had never worked in corporate. So when I got the job offer, I felt so lucky to have been hired, I took the job on the spot.

Best salary advice: Research your industry, know your value, and almost always ask for more. If a company rescinds an offer just because you asked, that is a terrible place to be. If and when you become a manager, advocate for your team and do not low ball offers to the best of your ability. We have to fight for each other!

I graduated with a liberal arts degree and through my university experience I decided I wanted to work with youth and help future generations, and ended up getting a job as a first grade teacher. I applied to many jobs, but this one allowed me to relocate and start fresh. I was working 60-70 hours a week almost right away and got burnt out after a year.

The pay was incredibly low and the hours were long. I had to be there from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. at school, and then hours preparing lessons and grading after work and on the weekends. There was no quality of life nor training and support to be an effective and compassionate teacher.

In 2015, I left my job in teaching because of mental health concerns. I worked in retail for eight months and lived with my parents.

I worked at a local clothing boutique at the cash register making minimum wage. I chose a retail job because I needed income, and I wanted to transition my career from teaching but I wasn’t sure where to go next. I was working around 30 hours each week and was able to spend a lot of time with friends, so from a burnout perspective this transition time really helped. Moving in with my parents made it possible for me to save money and make thoughtful decisions that have led to more opportunity over the years. I was fortunate that my parents were respectful of my adulthood, and living with them gave me quality time with them that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

In early 2016, I moved out and got a job at a nonprofit supporting programming and events making $38,000 as a Volunteer Services Coordinator.

I found my role with a nonprofit helping unhoused people find permanent housing and jobs, health care, education, and other resources. I connected individuals and corporations with volunteer opportunities (serving meals, hosting activities for clients/their families, providing after school activities for students).

I became a teacher because I wanted to help people, but I quickly realized that I didn’t enjoy teaching and that from a quality of life and income perspective, it didn’t match my goals (we do not pay teachers enough — they are true heroes!). I was ready for a full time job and independence and while looking for a career change, I was attracted to the nonprofit industry because I could contribute to a larger mission and qualified for a variety of jobs (direct service, administrative, development, etc).

I took on increased responsibilities in the development department and had a manager who advocated for my growth.

I went directly to the vice president (my manager’s manager) and asked for a salary increase and title change to which she obliged. I really needed the money because the cost of living in my city was high, and I knew I had the ability to take on more work. I didn’t negotiate because I felt grateful that they were supportive of my ask. I think back, and I’m sure I could have benefitted from negotiating, but this was definitely the most supportive workplace I have ever had, and I appreciate that.

With the promotion, I had budget oversight and stepped in to help the corporate relations team. The whole team was small, and I felt like my management cared about me as an individual and supported me in developing relationships and networking knowing I had goals to advance.

I got a new job as Donor Relations Coordinator for a large fundraising organization. I made this move to continue to build my network in the social impact space. The duties were more administrative than my previous role but I did get a salary increase to $50,000.

I was interested in transitioning into a for profit role, and I decided to move to a larger fundraising institution for new experience and hopefully more visibility with corporate partners. I wrote grants for private and corporate foundations and handled the administrative tasks for the larger team. 

To support my desire to move into a for profit industry, I took a certificate course in corporate citizenship to better understand corporate philanthropy. I was then able to make the switch with my experience in nonprofit development and the formal certificate. 

I moved from the nonprofit space into the corporate space leading social impact programs as corporate social responsibility manager. I completed a certification program earlier that year and was excited to make this move. The main reason why I did not negotiate is because during my final interview, the interviewer told me I was a “high risk, high reward” candidate because I didn’t have as much experience as other people in the running. When they offered me the job, I felt so lucky to be picked that I accepted on the spot. I was immediately resentful when I found out how much my peers were making and tried to ask for a raise. I also asked for a raise when I took on expanded responsibilities, but was denied.

This was a large investment firm and I led their corporate philanthropy program (investments in nonprofits and employee giving/volunteerism). Colorado passed pay transparency laws, so I was able to see what salaries were available for comparable jobs within my industry and the salaries my company was posting for similarly leveled jobs. I put together a proposal with comparable jobs and salaries and a way to increase my scope to justify a raise even though I truly felt that my compensation was too low as it was. They told me I had a lot of potential but leadership wasn’t ready to expand the department or invest more in the work. I asked around about other tactics, but everyone at the company told me it was a lost cause. I was discouraged by the no and the feedback from colleagues. I felt like my workload steadily increased without acknowledgement or any kind of recognition. I know this is unfortunately the name of the game in a lot of ways where you have to do the job for a certain period of time before they’ll acknowledge that you should be promoted. I started feeling burnt out from working long hours, the consequences of the COVID pandemic and lack of appreciation so I decided to leave. 

Looking back, I think I made the right choice and don’t wish I did anything differently. The first few months of my next job, I did have some regrets about leaving because I had a hard time assimilating to the new company’s culture, but I now know that move helped me from a salary and career satisfaction perspective. 

I moved to the start up space as a communications manager making $100,000. I received a raise to $107,000 about ten months in on a promotion track. The company went through layoffs and my role changed. I was not a big fan of the company culture, but the role shift pushed me to look elsewhere.

As a communications manager, I handled all internal and employee communications, crisis communications, select external and social communications, and executive communications. I learned from my previous role where I didn’t negotiate, so for this job, I told them the exact number I wanted and said I wouldn’t accept anything lower and they honored that. After learning more about the salary bands and documenting my accomplishments, I asked for a 10% raise and ended up with 6%. The layoffs were in line with many of the big tech layoffs, and while I didn’t lose my job, I was being asked to do more with less resources (budget cut, vendors cut etc).

In 2022, I moved to my current role starting at $124,000 and leading a community relations team. I recently received a raise to $130,000 as part of pay and performance reviews.

I currently lead a team managing philanthropy and employee programs for a manufacturing company. I formally manage multiple people, and I sincerely enjoy that aspect of my job. I primarily work with internal stakeholder groups to strategically align our work to our business and oversee the budget, portfolio, and projects of my team. I have a fantastic manager who advocates for my growth and development as well as those on my team. I strongly believe in giving credit where it is due and bringing others up alongside me as opposed to trying keep them down. I practice this by providing formal leadership opportunities for my team members, inviting them to present results to our leadership team, and advocating for them when we are making decisions about recognition and compensation.

I want to stay with my current company and grow my team. I am hopeful that I can expand my role over the next two years and get to $150,000-$160,000. I believe I have a long trajectory with this company, and my longer term goal is to reach a director level in the next five to eight years making $250,000+.

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