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The Best Career Advice From R29’s Salary Stories In 2023

Illustration by VIVIENNE SHAO.
We know you love our Salary Stories series. Money is still one of the most taboo topics of conversation in the workplace, which is a disadvantage for all of us. It’s only when we talk about salaries that we start to realise whether we’re being underpaid or even misled by upper management about the money we earn. That’s why we are committed to driving conversations around salaries, especially if you don’t feel empowered enough to talk to people about the topic in real life. And at the very least, if you are happy with your salary, it’s always nice to have a nosey into what others are taking home — and it might even make you feel inspired.
Each Salary Stories writer shares their best piece of advice, from encouraging you to always negotiate to taking risks like job hopping — often, they’ve learned the hard way. This year, Salary Stories took us from a £40,000 salary in mental health to a £133,000 salary in law. We’ve rounded up some of the best advice from the last year, all given by people who’ve done it themselves.

1. Always negotiate your salary and remember that recruiters are expecting you to

This Salary Story writer works in information services as head of research, and saw their salary jump from £49,000 to £65,000 in 2022.
Best salary advice: “If someone out there is willing to pay you more for what you are currently doing, you’re probably being underpaid. Don’t waste any time once you have that information otherwise it’s like a negative compound interest on your career.
“It sounds like a cliché but do always negotiate your salary. Once I was on the other side and recruiting people for my team, I realised how much power prospective employees have once the offer is made. As the hiring manager you’re way more willing to negotiate their salary up rather than go through the recruitment process again.”

2. Think about your salary holistically, and see the added benefits (or lack of them) as part of it — as this can inform what increases you ask for

This Salary Story writer works as a pediatric doctor in Australia after leaving her NHS role and earns £74,000.
Best salary advice: “Salary should not purely be seen as take-home pay. Some people are lucky enough to get extra benefits such as private healthcare (I don’t) or company cars. For all of us, salary includes the amount of time you are working i.e. not with your family or resting or enjoying hobbies. Time you can’t get back. So consider the financial cost of your time, your physical and mental health, the hours you work, the days off you have — not just what you see on your payslip at the end of the month.”

3. A contract role can earn you more money, and the lack of stability doesn’t have to be feared

This Salary Story writer works in project management and earns £104,000 (£400 day rate).
Best salary advice: “Don’t be afraid to take contract roles. Everyone seems to be scared about the “lack of security” but what is job security nowadays? Your permanent job could let you go at any time. At least you’ll be prepared and be well compensated if you contract.”

4. Talk to your friends about salaries in other industries — knowledge is power, and can help you figure out whether you’d like to work in another field

This Salary Story writer works in the transport sector on £47,000 and left the police force after deciding she wanted to prioritise a better work-life balance and salary.
Best salary advice: “Don’t be afraid to talk about salaries. Figure out what friends are earning and whether the grass can be greener. I was terrified to leave the police; it was always a career that I, like others, intended to remain in for my entire working life. But I knew a better work-life balance, salary and ultimately a less taxing role could be found outside the public sector.”

5. Don’t worry if you don’t meet all of the criteria for the role and apply anyway — studies have shown that men do this significantly more than women

This Salary Story writer works in higher education and is currently earning £35,333.
Best salary advice: “Don’t be put off applying to jobs with a higher salary because you don’t feel you meet all the ‘essential criteria’ for a role. You may be really undervaluing your skills! I’ve often looked at more senior roles and felt that there was no point even putting in an application because I couldn’t meet every single criterion, even though I could demonstrate I met most of them. A previous line manager told me to have more confidence in my abilities, focusing on the skills I do have and what I could offer. This mindset has helped me in interviews, too.”

6. Job hopping can land you a higher salary more quickly than waiting to be promoted

This Salary Story writer works in fitness as a brand marketing manager and  found job hopping has helped her climb the financial ladder.
Best salary advice: “Don’t be afraid to move. From my experience, meaningful pay increases come from job hopping. I doubled my salary in less than 12 months, partly due to luck, but also because I moved jobs twice.”

7. Make sure you come ready with hard evidence to back up salary negotiations

This Salary Story writer left a teaching job because of stress, and now works in education management on a higher salary of £52,000.
Best salary advice: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get — but always have a clear, evidence-based case to back your request up. It doesn’t matter if you think you deserve it; where’s the concrete evidence of the value you’ve added and difference you’ve made?”

8. Look through the contract properly before signing as it’s not just about the salary: check the notice period, hours, holiday allowance, and other details

This Salary Story writer works in tech on £50,000 and switched to a slower paced role with less stress and ended up earning more money. She has a holistic approach to assessing how good job offers are.
Best salary advice: “Look through the contract and job offer carefully, research what else is out there and negotiate with your cost of living and financial goals in mind. It isn’t always about negotiating the base salary – think about the total package including any bonus and benefits offered.”

9. Sometimes a white lie will get you out of being underpaid and below the market average, but tread with caution

This Salary Story writer dropped out of university, but it hasn’t stopped her from reaching a salary over £50,000 in the tech industry within five years.
Best salary advice: “If a company asks for your current wage, lie. If a company knows you’re being paid below market value, they’ll try to do the same.”