When I started my corporate career almost six years ago, my longterm goal was to have “director” in my title within five years.
I knew it was a lofty goal, and I wasn’t sure I’d make it. But sometimes, especially as women, we need to shoot for the stars. Little did I know that along this crazy ride I call my career path, I would also increase my salary by 125%. Here’s my story, and a few bits of advice I picked up along the way that I hope can help you shoot for the stars, too.
In my past lives, I was a hairdresser, a waitress, a legal clerk, and a retail salesperson. When I finally settled back into office life, around 13 years ago, I was ready for a steady paycheck. What I discovered was that I also loved innovating, ideating, and creating, no matter how tedious the industry or task. At the time, I was working at a law firm in New Jersey, and while I was busy creating documents and answering phones, I realized that I wanted something more.
A number of years into being a file clerk, the legal secretary for a named partner and a few other attorneys left the firm, and I saw an opportunity to embrace my time there and move ahead with what I thought could finally be a solid career. I got the promotion, and after some time getting acclimated, I sought out tasks to better the overall workings of the office, like: improving the telecommunication systems; developing new filing systems; and improving the vendors used for outings. Seeking out opportunities to add new skills to my resume was the first step in realizing how to ask for the things I think I deserve. It doesn’t always work, but you never know unless you try.
After five years at the firm, I had what I felt was a solid resume. I decided to seek out assisting positions in the city, with the understanding that corporate assisting, specifically in New York City, was generally more lucrative. Through networking, I discovered an opportunity at a major cosmetics company in the e-commerce division for the Vice President. This seemed like the perfect fusion of my skills, interests, and diverse work background. I interviewed and got the job. This is where things really changed for me.
As an assistant, I saw more opportunity to work with systems, in filing cabinets and on computers. I got to know every database and every piece of software possible, and after eight months, I was promoted to associate. I stayed for a year, and then found an opportunity at a publisher to become an online manager. By this time I knew I wanted to manage people, and while the opportunity was in another industry, I took a leap of faith and embraced the new title and new level of responsibility.
It was at the publisher that I hit my stride. My direct manager left about six months into my time there, and I took on many of her responsibilities. I threw myself into learning digital analytics so I could work from a data-based approach. I asked my new manager to take classes. I introduced myself to as many people as possible and got to know what they did. I learned as much as I could as quickly as I could, and tried to make myself indispensable. Then, when I saw an opportunity, I asked for a promotion and made it clear that I needed room to grow and I wanted to do it with this particular company. I got that promotion, and kept going, honing my skills and asking to take on direct reports. I took on more responsibility, leading meetings with senior management and pitching new ideas for driving revenue. Then, when the time was right, I asked for another promotion, and I got that one, too, going from manager, to senior manager, and eventually to assistant director with three direct reports.
I recently gave notice to my current employer. I’ve decided to take on a new role, closer to home, that is a title change back to manager, but is also a substantial increase in pay. It is bittersweet for me, because I had my daughter while working there, I’ve made incredible friends, and I’ve learned so much on a professional level, and also about myself.
In this time of reminiscing, I've identified a number of things that I did which I believe were critical to seeing such a substantial increase in salary, as well as a change in title:
If you don’t ask, you never know.
This is one of those pieces of advice that you give your friends, but can’t take yourself, right? WRONG. This is the big one. Ask for what you want. Tell people your goals. Talk to your employer/manager/spouse/business partner: whoever will listen. It’s the same way I get money back on price adjustments at stores, or reductions in my cell phone bill. Make a phone call, have a meeting, and make yourself heard. What’s the worst thing that happens? They say no. This goes hand-in-hand with my second point.
Get used to rejection.
I have been rejected, A LOT. I’ve gone on more interviews than I can count. Funny enough, I’m also a really sensitive person, but when it’s business, I have to put on my game face and get things done. Eventually something will work out, but you’ll likely have to wade through some serious BS to get there, so batten down the hatches and try your best to develop a very thick skin.
It always amazes me when I see someone just not doing their job. I understand that not everyone does what they’re supposed to do all the time, but ultimately, it’s accountability that has built trust with management and direct reports. I answer emails in a timely fashion. I pick up the phone or walk to someone's desk if I need an answer to something or have a question. I get work done, on time, in as thorough a manner as possible. This goes along with being indispensable. The fewer excuses anyone has to make, the better their chances are of getting to the top.
Know when to cut your losses.
I think this is particularly hard for women. Generally speaking, the dedication I see from women in the workforce is admirable. But when it comes down to it, a job is a job, and as much as you may like your boss or your company, if you need to increase your salary and you think you can do it elsewhere, weigh your options (work-life balance, benefits, etc…) and then make the leap. I tend to stick to the two years per company rule, but if you’re not getting what you need where you are, you likely can and will somewhere else.
Do comparative analysis/industry research.
Any time I’m providing salary requirements, I do a thorough comparative analysis of other comparable companies and positions, to see what is reasonable. Various sites have made this easier in more recent years, but I think this is helpful in almost every scenario. I google prices when I’m in a store to see if I can get something cheaper elsewhere. Why not do the same for consulting opportunities and salary requirements? At the end of the day, no matter what position you hold, it is your job to ask for what you deserve, and I believe in doing so, from a basis of knowledge.
Learn and do what no one else can/will do.
Hands down, the number one thing I always mention in any job interview, is that I want a position in which I can continue to learn and grow. Should that opportunity not be handed to me, I reach out and take it. I learn names, responsibilities, divisions, systems, software, coding languages, whatever I can get my hands on. I take on meetings that no one else wants to manage. I have a drive to become more, and that helps me power through the tough times.
In my six years of corporate experience, I've increased my salary by 125% by making a list of goals, and accomplishing them one by one. I checked everything off as I went along, and made sure I asked for what I thought I deserved at each milestone. Let me tell you, it was hard work. There were times when I doubted my path, but keeping my eye on the end goal helped me to move through it, and breaking each goal down into scalable moments that I could manage helped me to keep moving forward.
At the end of the day, be fearless. Work hard, seize opportunity, and make moves when necessary. I can promise that when you get to where you want to be, it will have been well worth it.
Katie Klein is a blogger, former magazine editor, and ecommerce director. She’s passionate about supporting working moms (because she is one!) and navigating unusual career trajectories (because she’s had one!). She also loves funky shoes, flea market finds, and female empowerment. You can find her at her blog overlyambitious.com.