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 women more insight into how to advocate for themselves — and maybe take a few risks along the way.
Been in the workforce for at least eight years and interested in contributing your salary story? Submit your information here.
Previously, we talked to a math specialist in Detroit , a financial controller in Pittsburgh, PA , and a head of content in Los Angeles, CA.
Age: 35 Current Location: Atlanta, GA Current Industry & Title: Hospitality Industry; Social Media Coordinator Starting Salary: $18,00 in 2007 Current Salary: $41,600 Number Of Years Employed: 12 Biggest Salary Jump: $18,720 to $29,000 in 2012 Biggest Salary Drop: $50,000 to $42,000 in 2017
Biggest Salary Negotiation Regret: “When I jumped up from sales associate to manager, I wish I had negotiated a higher salary. I was an internal hire, and they were hiring people who were my age out of internships and giving them $10,000 or more than I was making as an internal hire. I wish I had been able to negotiate more and ask for what I was worth. But I didn’t do the research at the time. Looking back now, I was so excited to have the opportunity that I didn’t really think about my value to the company versus what they were giving me.”
Best Salary-Related Advice: “Do your research and make sure you know what the industry standard is. Compare that standard to your experience level and the size of your company. As women, it’s so important to be very knowledgeable about what other people are making. If you want to ask for more money, have examples and actual data that illustrates why you deserve it. Keep track of the impact you have on your company, whether it’s a successful social media campaign or something else, so that when you go to ask for money, you have concrete evidence of why you deserve what you’re asking for.”
“I had been working at this restaurant before I graduated from college, after my friend got me the job. During that time, I was also doing an internship at a lifestyle magazine.
“After I graduated, I continued working at this restaurant, since it was income I could count on. I graduated from school during a very tough time, economy-wise, and when I went to look for a job in journalism, it was incredibly hard to find anything. So I was glad to have this job.”
“I applied for this job after seeing a posting on Craigslist for a brand ambassador position. The application process was straightforward, and I was offered the position and accepted. It was a flat, non-negotiable rate of $15 an hour, and my job was to go around the city and give out free samples of the company’s product. We would also go into restaurants and find potential leads for the sales team to sell the brand in stores.
“The job was less than full-time, but I usually worked between 30 and 35 hours a week. But one great thing about this company was that I still got benefits and a 401(K) plan that I could participate in.
“This was my first gig in a marketing-related field, and I loved it. It was a great fit for my personality and my creativity. Doing this work and connecting with people was really great for me. I didn’t have any mentors in my life to help me figure out what I was doing at the time, but I knew I really liked marketing, and so I was happy to get to travel to other cities and go to events and get free products. And I learned a lot in this job, and it helped me align to what I wanted to do later in life.”
“The company I was a brand ambassador for restructured their entire brand campaign program and ended up dissolving the program I was a part of. So I lost my job.
“After this happened, I went back to serving at a restaurant. It was stable, and I knew it was something that could get me through this transition. Still, even back then, this amount was not exactly enough to live on. Luckily, I could eat at work, which helped me a lot.
“I knew I wanted to get a job that would give me medical care, since at this point I had aged out of my parents’ healthcare plan. My mom told me to make a list of the top ten companies that I could see myself working for, so I started there.”
“After I made a list of companies, I went online and applied to all ten. A department store was the first to contact me, and since I had grown up in a retail environment (my dad was a retail manager), it was something I was comfortable with.
“When I got offered the job, I was a little stressed because $9 an hour wasn’t a lot. It was actually less than I had been previously making as a server. I talked to my parents about it, and they told me that if I could live on a budget for a while, this could be an opportunity for growth in a way that serving wasn’t. So I ended up accepting the job.
“In this position, I had to work over 40 hours a week in order to make at least $500 a week so I could pay all of my bills and afford my portion of rent. I didn’t get paid overtime in this role, but I picked up shifts so that I could make enough money to get by.”
“After six months, I proposed to the store manager a specialist position, which didn’t exist at the time, but I wanted to take on more of a leadership role in merchandising. I had done really well in sales, but instead of creating this new role for me, my manager suggested that I apply for a manager role that was open.
“I had to write a letter explaining why I wanted the job and how I would contribute to the company in the role. I then had to interview with the district vice president, an HR representative, a store manager, and another manager whom I’d be working alongside while in the position. It was kind of an intense process, but my manager who had suggested I apply supported me throughout the process. Even though I had no management experience at all, I ended up being offered the job. I accepted.
“Looking back, I wish I had negotiated higher pay, because even though I technically got a $10,000 increase from my previous role, they were hiring externally at a much higher rate for the same type of role. But I didn’t know that until it was too late because I hadn’t done my research. This was a big life lesson for me.
“When I first started, I felt lost. I didn’t know what I was doing, and it was a bit scary. I was in the role for about a year before I realized that I didn’t really want to follow that path. It’s always kind of disappointing when you get an opportunity that’s secure and stable, but you realize it’s possibly a dead end. I knew that I loved working for this company, but I didn’t like the department I was in, and I also didn’t mesh well with the person I co-managed with. He was a man and was about 30 years older than me. He would often throw me under the bus when things went wrong, and it was frustrating.”
“I didn’t feel like I was advancing or learning as a department manager, especially because of my co-manager, so I decided to make a lateral move to a makeup counter manager role in the same department store.
“I reached out to the cosmetic department manager about wanting the role. She was a good friend of mine and had supported me in the past. She mentioned the position was open, and I expressed interest. I felt there were more opportunities for growth, and the money was better as there was commission. I applied for the role and got it.
“On paper, this move kind of looked like a demotion, since I went from being a manager of an entire department to just a counter manager in the makeup department, but the money was much better, since I made the same amount plus commission. On top of this, I was very into makeup and felt the position would open up more opportunities for me down the road. Besides, it’s always been important to me to put what makes me happy first as opposed to how much money I’m making.”
“After about a year, I realized that working in a department store wasn’t for me. Especially because during the holidays, it was extremely difficult for me to see my friends and family. I saw that a local tanning salon, which was also a spa and beauty company, was hiring for a general manager position. The role was still health and beauty, and included learning about a number of different beauty treatments. So I applied and was hired on a trial basis so they could get to know me and my skills.
“After that month of preliminary trial basis, I was offered $29,000 a year, and I didn’t feel the need to negotiate because my commission was much better than in my last position, and I also got great bonuses, usually between $300 and $1,500 each month. To be honest, at the time I didn’t have a lot of confidence when it came to negotiating, because I was still pretty new in my management career. I didn’t want to ruin my chances of getting this job, so I didn’t try to push back.
“Once I got settled, the job was great. I was really passionate about skin care and ended up learning everything I could learn about the industry and products. I was also successful when it came to my sales goals. On top of this, I got the opportunity to do corporate trainings, and this job ended up making me feel a lot more confident in my management career.”
“I had been killing it in sales and training a bunch of people, so I asked for a raise. Before doing so, I talked to our district manager, whom I was close with, and we came up with the number $37,000 for a goal salary. She said she felt confident that she could get the owner to pay me this, and I felt comfortable with this amount as well, since it was a substantial increase.
“After a conversation with the owner, I ended up being given the raise, but on the condition that my hours would increase to 50 instead of 40 a week. I accepted because I was okay with this, since I had already been working over 40 hours anyway, and if adding a few more hours meant an $8,000 increase, I was fine with that. I maintained the same commission and bonus structure as before.
“At first I was happy, but this increase actually ended up changing my relationship to this job. Eventually, I stopped feeling super passionate about the work. I would talk to people about what I did, and when I said I managed a tanning salon and spa, I didn’t really get the reaction I wanted. I felt like they pictured a high school girl sitting behind a counter. So I started considering a career change and thinking about what would make me feel confident.”
“While in my last job, I attended classes at a yoga studio. One day, I found out they were looking for a studio manager. I approached the owner and told her that I wasn’t a yoga teacher, and she said that she actually preferred someone who wasn’t. So I applied for the job and got an interview.
“The interview went really well and wasn’t really as intense as some of my other job interviews. I was offered the job at $35,000 a year, which was technically a decrease from my previous job because I wouldn’t be making commission. But the owner told me that if we hit our goals, we would receive a $1,500 bonus at the end of the year. The salary plus bonus was comparable enough for me. I was really into yoga at the time, so I thought this job would be an opportunity for me to grow not just professionally but as a person. I accepted without negotiating and gave my two weeks’ notice at my last job.
“There was management but also sales involved in this position, since I was selling studio memberships. But it turned out to be very competitive, and I was basically competing against my own staff. I started to feel resentful, because I would walk away from sales and give them to my staff so they would feel more empowered and learn.
“Whenever I asked my boss to change things, she said she would ‘take care of me.’ I quickly learned that this is never good enough and to get things in writing, because nothing ever changed. She was very manipulative and would try to placate us and distract from the bigger issues. Working at this studio taught me about toxic yoga, as well as what yoga really is — and isn’t.
“I eventually decided to leave, because I developed a lot of anxiety around how to deal with this person and stand up for myself, while also managing a team that was unhappy and underpaid. It turns out we were not paid our bonuses or commissions we were promised, even though we met our sales goals. This job was a huge learning lesson.”
“After my experience at the yoga studio, I was wondering whether I should go back to grad school or get some other certificate, or maybe even become a teacher. I was at a crossroads, but the one thing I knew was that I really needed to make money.
“I ended up taking a job as a server at a pizza restaurant while I figured things out. This wasn’t my ultimate end goal, but I knew it would mean I would be able to get by financially. It was a super busy place, and I was making great money, about $1,000 a week. After working there for about eight months, I decided I needed to find another job, because I didn’t want to keep being a server at my age. Though I loved being in the restaurant industry, I wanted to be able to have a successful career. I was feeling down on myself, and I wanted to do something else. So I started looking at other opportunities.”
“I left after getting an opportunity to open a new restaurant. I had savings from my previous job, so I decided to take the leap.
“I felt this was a good opportunity, because I was working alongside corporate and getting face time with people in higher-up roles in the business. On top of this, I was able to make friends and build connections. Helping to open up a new bar gave me new management skills and confidence; I felt like I was growing my knowledge, since I got to create new cocktail lists and put mixologist on my résumé.”
“After a few months at the new restaurant, I saw a LinkedIn post for a manager at a stretching studio. I wasn’t super set on switching things up, but I did want to see what this studio was about. I was also interested in going back to a set salary position, because it’s more consistent. I was making good money in the restaurant industry, but it wasn’t always stable. One week could be great, and the next sucks. Because of this, you have to be super diligent about budgeting.
“I went in for an interview, and I really liked the people and the concept, and they ended up hiring me on. They initially offered me $38,000, and I asked for $42,000. The manager said yes and didn’t even try to negotiate back. This taught me that people tend to give a low offer and expect you to counter with what you think you’re worth.
“Unfortunately, the studio didn’t have their logistics set up properly, so I ended up getting laid off along with several others after just two months. Since it wasn’t my fault that things didn’t work out, I ended up getting severance for another two months. I thought this was generous, especially since I hadn’t invested that much into the company, and I got a job recommendation.”
“I was unemployed and living on severance, and then got married in June. My husband could pretty much support us, but I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on him and wanted to contribute to my family, so I went and applied at a few restaurants, one of which I used to be a regular at when I worked at the tanning salon.
“I filled out an application and went in for an interview and ended up getting hired as a server. One great thing about this company was that employees were able to get medical insurance and a 401(k) plan after a year at the company, which was something I had been wanting.
“A month in, a bartender got sick and I ended up having to cover her shift. Because of this, I was able to transition to bartending right away, which I liked much more. Soon, I realized that the marketing department at the restaurant wasn’t doing a very good job. I let them know that I had a degree in public relations and had done marketing and social media work in the past, and started finding ways to contribute by creating and finding user-generated content to send to the marketing person to use.
“One day I was bartending, and the owners had a meeting at the bar to plan a cocktail list. I was trying to meddle, but also wanted to be as close to the meeting as possible. I ended up telling the area director that I was a content creator and showed him my portfolio. I told them I’d be happy to take pictures and create content for the restaurant to post.
“A few weeks later, we had a big anniversary party for the restaurant, and it was a total bust. The marketing person ended up getting fired, because she didn’t do anything to promote the event. I hoped this would be a chance for me to do more marketing work for the restaurant.”
“A week later, I was approached to take on marketing work on a part-time basis, in addition to bartending. They told me that the role fell between $15 to $20 an hour, so I negotiated $18 an hour. In other words, I ended up getting an extra few hundred dollars a week to start managing the restaurant’s marketing department.
“As the owners realized how successful my marketing campaigns were, they changed my schedule so that I would have more time for meetings and content creation. The whole time, they worked with me to tailor my schedule and move shifts around. I realized they were basically transitioning me out of my bartending role, although they were reluctant to do it right away, since the past person in a full-time role hadn’t performed.
“Regardless, I was so happy that I had taken the initial risk and put myself out there. This made me realize I have nothing to lose from expressing what I want. If you never say what you want, people can’t help you.”
“After a while, I realized that I loved the marketing and content creation role and wanted to do it full-time. So I put a list together of all the things that the company could count on me for on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. I felt that the reason this role hadn’t been successful was that it required someone who was self-motivated, like me.
“I put my proposal together, and once they read it they said they wanted longevity with me, and I said that I wanted that, too. I did some research on industry standard for this type of role and negotiated up to $20 an hour from $18, which they said was the most they could do. I probably could have pushed for more, but I felt that I could work with $20.
“I now manage social media accounts for three different brands and six restaurants full-time. The best thing about this transition was that I see now that everything has been leading up to this. I always kept going back to the restaurant industry because it’s where I felt comfortable, but I also always loved marketing. I’ve finally found a way to combine the two together and am now doing what I love to do in an industry that I love.
“I think within the next two or three months, I’ll be in a salary position in this role. I still work one day a week on the bar, because I told my managers I’d miss my regulars too much if I didn’t. I’m in a really good place now and am happy. I definitely see myself staying in the hospitality management industry for years to come.”
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