Salary Stories: I Was Afraid Of Asking For An Outlandish Number & I Still Kick Myself For It

Illustrated by Janet Sung.
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 five years and interested in contributing your salary story? Submit your information here. Published stories will receive £100.
Age: 32
Location: Birmingham, United Kingdom
Current industry and job title: In-house legal, corporate counsel
Current salary: £74,000
Number of years employed since school or university: Eight
Starting salary: £25,000 in 2013
Biggest salary jump: £27,000 to £43,000 in 2015
Biggest salary drop: None. My salary has not reduced since I started working.
Biggest negotiation regret? When I transitioned from working in private practice (i.e. in a law firm) to an in-house counsel role, my jumping-off point for salary negotiations was my current salary. Typically, in-house roles do not pay as much as private practice roles (although this in itself depends on what level of your career you are at and what specific specialism and geographic area you practise in) so I was really focused on not taking a salary cut at that point. I thought that achieving the same or a slightly higher salary would be the best I could hope for, especially since the move was prompted by other factors than remuneration. What I should have done is carried out my own benchmarking. I've since learned that there are really reliable benchmarking resources available for lawyers, and even though with the benefit of those resources I see that my current salary is good for my career level (so I think ultimately I ended up at roughly the right number), I can't believe looking back that I didn't try harder to measure my worth against the industry norm. It's important not to be blindsided by your own reasons for wanting a change of role; bear in mind that you are offering something to your future employer too and you should approach that negotiation as the commercial transaction it is, and arm yourself with the intel available to you. After my interview, my current boss said, "How much do I have to offer you?" I kick myself every day for not starting higher than I did but I was afraid of asking for something too outlandish and I really wanted the job. Knowledge would really have been power in that situation.
Best salary advice: I know the prevailing view of recruitment professionals can be negative – and I've come across my fair share who contribute to that – but I really do recommend finding a quality recruiter you trust. In my experience, you can intuit quite quickly whether a recruiter is good quality by (a) the roles they have on their books at any given time and (b) probing a bit into who else they have placed in new roles and how recently, and more widely who their industry contacts are. They do tend to have great intel into remuneration data for your level and role, especially the less obvious aspects of remuneration such as car allowances and life insurance (which can be harder to assess independently since we don't often think about it). The recruiter will also advocate on your behalf and can be a good channel for raising slightly more awkward questions – mine was able to find out information about my new employer's maternity policy without needing to specify that I was behind the question.

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