How A 32-Year-Old Woman In Media Learned Not To Disclose Her Salary

In our series My Salary Story , women with years of 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 women more insight into how to advocate for themselves — and maybe take a few risks along the way.

We’re joining forces with The Salary Project at Career Contessa for the next few months to reflect an even wider range of experiences. Interested in contributing your salary story? Email us here.

Previously, we talked to a 32-year-old communications director in Indianapolis who is seeking more financial validation of her work. Today, we connected with a 32-year old woman in media who learned the downside of disclosing a previous salary.

Age: 32
Current Location: NYC
Current Industry: Media
Starting Salary: $24,000
Current Salary: $146,300
Number of Years Employed: 12
Biggest Salary Jump: $31,000
Biggest Salary Drop: “I have never taken a job where I’ve had to make less money.”
Biggest Salary Negotiation Regret: “Telling a recruiter how much I made at my previous job. Now that’s illegal to ask in New York, I’ll never tell again.”
Best Salary-Related Advice: “Always negotiate, even if you don’t get much more. Do a thorough job search so you have plenty of offers to tell your suitors about. It makes you much more desirable if company X knows that company Y wants you badly. Always know your worth.”

“This was my first, non-internship job out of college, and it was around spring 2009 — when everyone was losing their jobs in New York. I didn’t realize during my internships how hard it would be over the next three years to get good money and good work at good companies, but I went forward anyway because I really wanted to work in media.

“The job was at a radio station in the Midwest and I would wake up at 4 a.m., start the day on air, and then spent the rest of my day as a reporter. I basically had two jobs and sometimes I’d stay until midnight. There were benefits but the hours were insane and I was treated like shit on an emotional level — being yelled at and stuff like that.

“The first salary offer they made was $20,000. I was 23 and had a mentor at the time who told me I had to negotiate. I was like, I don’t know how to do that… but their offer sounded horrible; I needed more money just to live. It was a naïve way to go about it but I did the math on my expenses for that year and thought: What do I need to have X amount of groceries, buy gas for travel, and move? I told them all I needed was $4,000 more to make it work. They did reimburse my travel and gave me $1,000 to relocate. I didn’t live paycheck to paycheck but I did live on credit cards — I think I walked away $6,000 in debt.

“I was paid $24,000/year and if you break down the number of hours I worked, I was making under the poverty level. Once, I did the math and figured out I made less than a McDonald’s manager in the same town. I also wasn’t paid overtime. I was out there hustling in a small town but it was the best time for my career because I could make mistakes and no one was paying me enough to punish me for them. I did it for a year and a half and then got out.”

“This felt like a huge jump to me at the time. I applied for a job and was called back for an interview. They flew me out and said, ‘This is a grant-funded position. The money is set in stone for the next two years and this is how much we’ve allocated for this position. Do you want it or not?’ So, I said yes.

“It was still the recession and there were lots of opportunities in the nonprofit media world because there was a Works Progress Administration effort of sorts: The government was handing out a lot of grants to stimulate the economy at the time, and one of the grants that come through helped pay for my salary.

“The benefits were better and because it was a higher-profile job, the money didn’t feel as bad. It was also a lot easier to live on this salary because it I was in a college town in the Midwest.”

“I spent two years with my previous employer and then left to go to grad school for two years. I took out loans to pay for school and picked up a few jobs here and there — mostly one-off day gigs, like driving to record a piece of audio. Sometimes, I had to miss class to make money, and I missed out on a lot of important classes because I’d have to drive to jobs all over the region.

“The money I made fluctuated but it was pretty good for a freelancer, depending on what I was doing. With loans and living a student’s life, I had enough money to save up.”

“A lot happened during my two years out of the industry. I think the recession had fully extinguished itself on an economic level, and when I moved to the East Coast after grad school, everything had changed. Digital media had awoken while I was in grad school. Facebook wasn’t really a major player when I started school but by the time I was out, a lot of companies had become powerhouses there.

“I moved to a New York and got a job freelancing for a very small company in the New York City area. I worked on a weekly basis, with no benefits. They paid in cash and I filed my own taxes, so I had to be disciplined enough to save a portion of my income each year and apply it toward my taxes the next year. I owed money every year until I stopped freelancing at various companies in 2016.”

“Getting this job is when I really started to earn money for the first time in my life. I had great benefits and was making great pay; it was a huge bump from where I had come from. I felt like this job would make my career, so I accepted the salary with no complaints.”

“I didn’t negotiate at all because I was so happy to find a job at such an amazing place. My boss was amazing and looked out for me a lot; he gave me a raise out of nowhere, without me asking for one.

“I was bumped up to $69,000 after I had been there for about a year.”

“I moved to a startup and at the time, it was legal in New York for employers to ask, point blank, ‘What do you make?’ It was my experience to not lie and be honest, so when that happened to me during the offer stage, I was caught off guard. I also thought the best of the situation — that if I told [the hiring manager] my salary, she’d give me a better offer. Because why would I want to work for a new place at the same salary?

“What ended up happening is that they gave me higher title, which I had asked for, and then offered me only $1,000 more. I thought, Oh. I see what you’re doing: You’re telling me I won’t get much more money – essentially like 50 cents more a day — but you’ll give me a higher title because you think that’s what I really want.

“The title helped me later because I could get a higher salary at that level at my next job, but it really cost me at this job. They lowballed me and I lowballed myself up only $1,000 away from my previous salary.

“I don’t wish that I had lied and said something higher. I just wish I had said something like, ‘You know, I’m looking to advance my skills and apply everything I already know to this position. What I would consider to be fair compensation for this position really has nothing to do with what I’m being paid now at X media organization because I’m doing something different. Coming here, I’d be doing so much more, so what I have in mind is a salary between $75,000 and $80,000.’

‘I think I’d say that now because I’m savvier and understand the laws in the city, but in the end, I wasn’t there for very long. It was a really unhealthy workplace and I quit before a year was up.”

“I quit my previous job with nothing else lined up and applied for a job at a newer, bigger media company. I had always wanted to work at this place and the benefits were insane. There was tons of food, tons of everything. I was probably being given about $10,000 extra each year just from perks.

“The negotiation process was really interesting. It was clear they wanted to hire me: I applied for the job; they called me; they brought me in for several interviews. But they didn’t want to pay me that much. Initially, I was asked to come on in a more junior position at $68,000. I hadn’t worked in a position like that in years, so I said no. They also asked me my salary and even though I didn’t state the number, I think they could figure it out. I said that I had to be at the title I wanted for $70,000 or I wouldn’t do it.

“I also think the hiring recruiter played with my head. He said, ‘You know, you haven’t stayed too long at any job… We’d really be taking a chance on you, so we can’t offer you much.’ He kept playing hardball — asking me to send him my résumé like three times — until finally, I was like, ‘Fine, sure.’

“I learned later that’s actually a recruiting tactic — basically unsettling you and making you feel like you’re not worth more until you’re willing to take any offer you can get. I also found out later that the person who became my manager was kind of notorious for lowballing women.”

“After about six months, I was promoted to a much higher management level that came with a $31,000 raise. It was a workplace where everyone made things up as they went along and there was no day-to-day instruction. So, as I’ve done throughout my career, I did what needed to be done and hoped someone would notice me for it. They did, and I was promoted to be the manager of our team, which was a new one.

“I found out later that I wasn’t being paid within the range for my title, which would have been as much as $30,000 higher. Still, I was happy because overnight, I finally broke $100,000.”

“I was contacted by a company asking if I wanted to come work for them. (I think they had heard of me or they knew someone who knew me, and they knew they wanted to hire me.) They pay well because it’s a big company, and they offered $120,000 with a $10,000 signing bonus. I won’t get the signing bonus next year but I will get a potential 10%-15% bonus based on team performance.

“I didn’t negotiate this offer. I had left other jobs at this point and was more focused on being in a healthy place. This job offered less money than other places did, but I know I made the right decision.”

“I teach once a week. This was my first time teaching this class so I built it from scratch, and I think it took a lot more time than it will take next semester.

“I worked about eight hours every Sunday prepping for class, which lasts three hours. I negotiated up to $8,500 for next semester and now that all my course materials are set, all I’ll have to do is walk in.”

Today’s Salary Story submission came from a woman who learned that disclosing your previous salary can sometimes hurt you in negotiations. We’ve discussed how to answer potentially discriminatory questions like that at R29, and also asked Jane Scudder, a certified leadership and personal development coach, and Career Contessa mentor for additional tips.

“This is a tricky subject. Even if it becomes outright illegal in all states, that doesn’t mean there won’t be pressure to answer on the spot. I advise clients to answer honestly and strategically — do not lie.

“Lead with your all-in compensation. For instance, if you make $75,000 base, typically see a $10,000 annual bonus, and have been given stock or reserved options valuing $5,000, you might say, ‘I’m currently at a total compensation package of $90,000 with $75,000 base, about $10,000 in bonus, and the rest in reserved stock.’

“This can be powerful because of the psychological concept of ‘anchoring.’ Anchoring is a cognitive bias that describes the tendency of the human brain to rely heavily on the first piece of information given when making decisions. This becomes the ‘anchor.’ In this example, you’re anchoring your listener to $90,000 — not $75,000.

“The theory goes that when the person you’re speaking with considers the info you’ve given to make a decision (in this case an offer, fingers crossed) their mind will anchor back to $90,000 versus $75,000. It’s a subtlety of negotiation but one that shouldn’t be ignored.

“Doing this also opens the door for you to work off this range when asking for what you want. You might say something like: ‘What I’m looking for is a 15%-20% increase in base and then bonus and stock options to follow suit.’ [If you have successfully anchored], you would be left with a $90,000 base and another $10,000 in stock and more.”

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