The Best Career Advice From R29’s Salary Stories In 2021

Illustrated by Other Maria.
Throughout 2021 we've been collecting and publishing your Salary Stories. Within these inspiring tales – of success, promotion, quitting, moving on – we've unearthed some quite frankly brilliant advice from real women who've lived it. From bagging a pay rise to bouncing back from a disappointing negotiation, this is what R29 readers learned along the way (or wish they had known first time around).
We've distilled some of the best nuggets of wisdom from our candid and forthright Salary Story writers in the hope that this advice will drive insight into how we can advocate for ourselves — and maybe take a few risks along the way.

1. Ask for more money. What's the worst that could happen?

This Salary Story writer skipped uni and now makes £75,000 at 27 years old, working as a senior software engineer in London.
Best salary advice? "After you’ve been offered a role, always ask for more than what they’re offering… I know it’s a cliché but honestly, the worst they can say is no. In my second job I tried to do this but as they had fixed pay scales they couldn’t accommodate any more, which was fine.
In my current role, I was interviewing at other places at the same time (and now know this place wanted me). So I said I’d be happy to cancel my other interviews if they would round my salary up to £60k from the £55k they offered me. I got an email back a couple of hours later that they were happy to do this, so accepted it on the spot!"

2. Beware of the overly pushy recruiter

This 37-year-old social strategist from Surrey wrote about everything from imposter syndrome to discovering her own value in a moving Salary Story that saw her switch companies 12 times in what's shaping up to be a whirlwind career.
Best salary advice? "Bear in mind if you’re using a recruiter that they can be great at having the awkward conversations with a prospective employer about feedback and salary but don’t let them convince you to accept an offer you’re not comfortable with. Recruiters will tell you they’re only thinking of you and looking out for your best interests but at the end of the day, they get paid by the employer, not the employee. You’re a commission to them and they want to get the sale through as quickly as possible."

3. Negotiating? Go in with cold, hard facts

By embracing change, this Salary Story writer jumped £80,000 in her 20s and improved her mental health in tandem.
Best salary advice? "Do your research. If you want to negotiate a pay rise at work then go armed with the facts. Employers do not want to hear about your personal finances and the reasons why you need a pay rise – you should think about the role you are performing, what you have delivered and what you will deliver in the future. Make sure that you look at the external market and have some solid research on what the market is paying for your level of experience and role. It is costly for a business to replace you and if you are a good performer, reviewing your salary works out much better for your company in the medium to long run than having to replace you. It also puts it on their radar that you are wanting to be paid more, meaning if they can’t commit to anything immediately, they will want to do something when they have the opportunity to review."

4. Understand deal-clinching language

The same contributor had this to say on getting to grips with negotiation vocab:

Best salary advice? "I have been told that women use different language when trying to negotiate their salary, so if you are paid below the market and want to get a bigger jump without disclosing your current salary, when asked you should say 'My salary expectations for the role are XYZ' rather than 'I would like XYZ' or 'I am currently on XYZ'."

5. Does fortune favour the freelancer?

Going freelance paid off for this 31-year-old PR manager from Herefordshire, who earns £90,000.
Best salary advice? "If you don't mind a bit of risk, consider becoming a freelancer. Yes, the risk is increased – there's no paid sick leave or holiday pay – but your day rate is higher to compensate for that and you have the added benefit of freedom to work for whoever you want. As a freelancer I'm my own boss, so I give myself a lot of promotions! I also only work for and with people whose values genuinely align with my own."

6. Don't neglect the package

This Birmingham-based senior programme manager works in the telecoms industry and earns £93,500 at the age of 32.
Best salary advice? "The benefit package matters, always look at the bigger picture. I changed jobs six weeks into a company as I was offered a higher paying role where I'd also get a much better maternity package. This was a £15,000 difference purely on maternity pay. Not to mention the better pension package (5% personal contribution, 10% company)."

7. Benchmarking is beneficial

This year, more than one of our Salary Stories writers talked about the value of market research when partaking in salary negotiations. "You can't rely on your employer to benchmark your salary and make sure they're paying you a fair market rate. You have to do it yourself," writes an analyst in Cheshire earning £45,000. Meanwhile a senior content strategist earning £85,000 had this to say.
Best salary advice? "It's so easy to see lots of job ads offering a certain salary band and assume that's the going rate. Glassdoor is an amazing tool for looking up what real people in real jobs earn. Also: ask around. Salary and money are obviously still big taboos (and I wouldn't advise talking pay if your employment contract prohibits it) but the more we open up about what we earn, the more equipped we all are when talking to our bosses about remuneration. One other piece of advice is: if you don't ask, you don't get. If you're offered a job at a specific salary, ALWAYS ask for more. The chances are they are trying to slice a little out of the budget by paying you a few grand less. The worst they can say is no and then you can still take the job if you want it."

8. A higher salary doesn't necessarily mean a more fulfilled life

This diarist was a high salaried city lawyer. However, during the pandemic she discovered law was not her passion and found the courage to pursue her dream role. She recently accepted a senior account manager role selling beauty products.
Best salary advice? "Follow your values, not the number on your payslip. Like many, when I graduated university I was swept up in the notion that I should take the highest paid job I could get and did not spend enough time thinking about whether it was really right for me. In hindsight, I didn't enjoy my summer internships but ignored the red flags because I was focused on a number. Well, let me tell you, these City firms work you to the bone for that number! Fast-forward six months into my training contract and I was suffering from anxiety and depression – no salary is worth your mental health."
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.
Been in the workforce for at least five years and interested in contributing your salary story? Submit your information here. Published stories receive £100.