U.S. Markets closed

I Make $180,000 — & Changing Jobs Often Made Me A Master Negotiator

Ludmila Leiva

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 social media coordinator in Atlanta , a math specialist in Detroit , and a financial controller in Pittsburgh, PA.

Age: 30
Current Location: New York, NY
Current Title: Strategy Director
Starting Salary: $43,000
Current Salary: $180,000
Number Of Years Employed: 10
Biggest Salary Jump: $80,000 to $115,000 in 2015
Biggest Salary Drop: None, only a lateral move

Biggest Salary Negotiation Regret: “Not demanding an increase or more relocation when I moved for my company internationally. I underestimated the cost of moving and also underestimated what the exchange rate was going to be when I moved from the U.S. to Canada. My salary remained the same, just in Canadian dollars, and I underestimated what this 30% decrease would mean across the board when it came to student loans, car payments, and all my other expenses. In hindsight, I should have been doing all the calculations prior to accepting the offer. I was in a position to negotiate, because they were asking me to move, so I could have asked for what I wanted.”

Best Salary-Related Advice: “Find creative ways to make the offer work for you — extra paid time off (PTO), signing bonus, monthly stipends for gym memberships, or anything along these lines. Find out what the sweetener is for you and use it — what's the harm in asking? A lot of times there may be a salary cap or you have to find parity with other people in an organization. In these instances, my advice is to look for other things that matter to you. For me, it’s always PTO. If I can get another ten days of paid vacation, that could be enough to take even a lateral move. There are ways of getting around typical salary negotiations that can help you get to a mutually beneficial agreement. Get creative and say: I'll take the amount you're giving me if you can throw in X."

"Graduating in the midst of the great recession was tough. Most of my friends had help from family or decided to go back to school to beat the slow job market. I got an internship while I was still in school, and they converted me to an hourly employee.

“They initially offered me $35,000. It was my first time negotiating, but I ended up asking for $45,000. They came back with $43,00, and we settled at that amount. Looking back, though, I was working crazy hours, so I'm sure this didn't even net to minimum wage. The job was really high stress and a lot of travel, but given the job market climate, I really didn’t feel I had the freedom to move at that point. I considered myself lucky to find a job at all."

"I ended up staying at my first job for two and a half years. The economy eventually flattened out a bit, and I decided to move to a different city. I found a job I wanted at an advertising agency, but I didn’t end up getting it. Afterward, I emailed them to ask for feedback, and they told me that they were going to be hiring for another position. So reaching back out put me on their radar again.

"They ended up hiring me at the bottom rung as an associate account executive. I was offered $43,000 and I asked for $55,000, but I was so desperate to get out of my other job that I didn’t feel like I had a ton of negotiation power. When they came back to me with $46,000, I accepted. I was living with a boyfriend at the time, and I was able to swing this financially. Money seemed less important than experience at this point.

"This job helped me fulfill my dream of working at an advertising agency. When I started, I was given a lot of responsibility for some major accounts, and there was a steep learning curve. But it was a great experience and gave me the foundation I needed to move into the advertising and agency space."

“As part of my annual review process, I made a strong case for myself and was expecting to get a promotion based on the level I was operating at and the types of accounts I was leading. I thought it was going to be a no-brainer.

"I ended up getting a $4,000 raise. It mostly felt symbolic, which, looking back, was very typical of an agency, but it proved to me that I couldn’t really stay and build a career there if this was all that I was getting as an increase. When I realized how little this $4,000 change would make in my paycheck, I was pretty discouraged and started looking for opportunities outside of the advertising world to increase my income substantially.”

"Within six months after my review and starting to look for other jobs, I was contacted by a recruitment agency that specialized in recruiting for creative agencies. What really appealed to me was the fact that they were offering $15,000 more than I had been making.

"After a few interviews, they gave me a range of $60,000 to $70,000 for the position. I asked for $70,000, and they told me that since I'd never been in recruiting before, they could get me as close to that as possible and landed on a $65,000 offer. Given that the job itself seemed like easy work and was still adjacent to the field I had been working in, I realized this would be a good move. I also knew there was no way my agency would pay me this much. So I accepted.

"This job change secured my independence and financial freedom, as I had just broken up with my boyfriend and needed to start fresh. After a couple of months, I ended up getting my good friend a job at the company as well, so it was a lot of fun. The company had a lot of perks, including unlimited PTO and beach houses we could enter lotteries to use for free. People clocked in at 9 a.m. and out right at 5 p.m. So lifestyle-wise, things were great. But after a while, it became clear that the work was easy and not challenging, so I knew after a while that it wasn’t going to be a long-term position for me."

“Less than a year after I joined the company, the annual review process came around. I had hit all of my numbers, so it was almost an automated system where I was able to move up to the next tier. I got moved up to a $70,000 base salary.”

"I needed to move back to my hometown, San Francisco, but the company would only offer relocation and no increase in salary, which proved to be sincerely hindering in such an expensive city. I moved to a new consulting role with the sister company of my company. I ended up being paid $5,000 for relocation, but it was a lateral move.

"The new role afforded me the opportunity to leave work at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., and I was able to go on long runs and have very low stress. But the people I was working with weren’t excited about the work they were doing, and it was affecting my drive and ambition. So I started looking for other jobs."

“Eventually, I didn’t feel like there was a fit with my office culture, and I started to look at going back into the agency world. This proved to be more difficult than I thought, because a lot of people were looking at my résumé, saying they didn’t know how to place me because I had been gone for over a year.

"I was in a weird position, because I didn’t want to make less than what I was already making, but because I was up against a lot of people that had stronger advertising backgrounds, it was a challenge. At one point, a traditional branding agency was intrigued by my digital experience. Because a lot of the candidates were from brand and design backgrounds, my résumé stood out.

"When I got in for an interview, I sold myself as the digital subject-matter expert for the agency and someone who could help them understand how to build a website or do augmented reality or even QR codes. Because I framed myself this way, I was able to command the higher salary and negotiate with them.

"I ended up telling them that I wouldn’t leave my job for lower than $80,000, and they said they had to think about it. There were a couple of days when I was worried they wouldn’t be able to meet my needs, but they ended up coming back to me and offering me the job for $80,000. I started two weeks later. This job gave me a slight increase in salary, but the job was more aligned to my career goals and more creatively stimulating, so I felt it was a great move.

“I stayed at the agency for two years. I had two review cycles, and they gave me small bonuses and no salary increases. Because I didn’t have brand-design experience, there were some parts of my job I honestly wasn’t really good at. There were no project managers, so these tasks fell on the account managers, and this wasn’t a skill set I really had. I was good at the strategic and client-facing parts of my job, but not the project-management side. They told me that if I was able to improve on these things, we could talk about promotions and increased compensation, which made sense. But after two years of being passed over for an account director, and without a clear path to upward mobility, I decided it was time to look for something new."

“Because I had been on two huge accounts, I was able to leverage my experience while looking for other jobs. A recruiter reached out to me and noticed some of the brands I had on my LinkedIn, and I went in for an interview with a digital agency that worked exclusively on projects with one of the brands I had experience with.

“I didn’t really want to leave my prior job, so I negotiated hard for this role. I threw out a $110,000 to $120,000 range to see what would happen, and they didn’t bat an eye and offered me $110,000. I realized I was really undervaluing myself if I was working at $80,000 before. This really changed my perspective, and I realized that I deserved more. The director title also better reflected the work that I was doing, and it felt like I was ready for the next step. At the time I was negotiating with another company, and even though I was ready to take the position, I let them know I was negotiating another offer, and they ended up revising the offer to $115,000. I accepted.

“After about two months, one of the leaders called me a name behind my back, and that was the start of some shady behavior at the company. Later on, I wasn’t invited to an event that all the other directors were invited to. I asked why this was the case and was told that it was because I was single and he thought it would be awkward for me to go. There was a lot of sexism at this company, and a very high threshold when it came to inappropriate behavior.

"On top of this, the company ended up being poorly run, and there had been a couple of times where bonuses we were offered never got paid out. There were a lot of things happening that I didn’t feel comfortable with, and after about a year, I left the company without having another job lined up. It was one of the scariest things I’d ever done, but I had to get out. We did not part on good terms.”

"I started talking to companies in California, Canada, and elsewhere. All of the companies I was talking with seemed like great leads, so I felt like I was in a good place. For one of the positions, the company was in Canada, and I ended up getting offered the job. I had told the recruiter $115,000 and, honestly, I'm not sure if she heard me wrong when I gave my salary requirements, but the offer came in at $150,000, which was much higher than what I was expecting.

“I accepted and later learned that the organization also ensures parity between males and females in the same role, so I'm assuming that also played a factor.

"I was supposed to start in Oakland and then go to Canada. But because of the exchange rate, I realized that I was going to be getting paid $150,000 in Canadian dollars, which was only around $112,500 U.S. dollars. Still, this job was great and the agency was engaging and challenging. I loved all of it and it was awesome."

“The company gave out discretionary raises and bonuses based on the financial state of the company, but we had layoffs both years and so our bonuses were minimal, or there were no bonuses at all. Even so, I ended up getting a $5,000 raise, even though I was only there for two months."

"I was given another $5,000 raise. We were still going through layoffs, and I didn't get a bonus. At this point, I had been in Canada for almost two years, and my work visa was about to expire. The legal team approached me and told me they wanted to sponsor me to stay as a permanent resident. Although the job was awesome, I just knew that Toronto wasn’t my forever home.

"Rather than putting them through the process of permanent residency, I told them I was interested in a position at the office in New York. Amidst these discussions, our entire leadership team quit, and my transfer kind of fell through the cracks. Right before my visa was about to expire, I still didn’t have a clear path, so I left and started to look at other companies in New York.”

“I applied to a ton of jobs and even changed my LinkedIn to New York, but because I wasn’t there yet, it was hard for me to get my finger on the pulse of the market. I finally landed an interview at an agency, and the person who was going to be my direct boss basically started courting me. He took me out to a couple of dinners and shared these big plans he had for me. I told him I was making $160,000 and that he had to beat that. He came back with an offer for $165,000. I asked for relocation assistance, but he wasn’t able to get me anything, so I accepted the offer anyway and moved to New York. In my experience, this city is definitely a job seeker's market.

"I knew from my first day there that I was not going to be at the company long. Still, I wanted to make it work and try. I told myself I would keep an open mind and assess the situation, but my boss didn’t follow through with nurturing me or growing me or putting me in positions to succeed. He was in Los Angeles most of the time and going through his own personal issues, so I felt pretty unsupported. After about three months, I started looking for something else. I had spent two years at most of my jobs before, so I didn’t feel like I had to put in a full year, and I didn’t want to waste anymore of my time."

"I ended up getting a lot of traction looking for jobs — it was crazy. I was going on interviews almost every day and getting hit up by recruiters all the time. I ended up having two final-round interviews for companies in New York and in London. I could tell they wanted my digital and product skill sets to add to their roster at the agency, and I ended up getting on the negotiating table for both of them.

"I knew I wanted to be at the New York company more than the London-based job, but was still weighing the situation. I was working with a recruiter, which was great because she was also negotiating on my behalf. I was able to give her all the details of the offer from the company that was based in London, which had given me a more generous offer, especially in terms of PTO. I basically told her that the company had to match everything in order for me to consider. They did, and I accepted.

"I am very happy at this company so far. I’ve learned along the way that, though salary is important, finding the right boss and environment that will challenge and excite you is a really valid thing to consider when you’re making your choices. Having multiple offers on the table is a really great advantage, because you can weigh out each of the options and figure out which of the cons are more palatable (because there will always be cons).

"Overall, there are benefits and drawbacks to jumping around as much as I did. The benefits are that you learn a lot and are never in a position where you feel like you know everything. For my personality, that’s really great, since I like facing new challenges. Still, looking back, I wish I had chosen companies that allowed me to do those things within the same company instead of having to move around all the time.

"This said, there are many ways of getting to the same place, and I know a lot of people who have stayed in the same place for 6 to 8 years and are at comparable places as me, salary-wise. So I don’t know — I think you ultimately have to do what feels right for you as a person and make the best decision you can with the information you have. Always look back and learn from your mistakes, but don’t regret anything."

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

A Week In Florida On A Joint $106,699 Income

How To Get A Summer Internship In 8 (Pretty) Easy Steps

How To Answer The WORST Interview Question