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

Illustrated by HOLLY FARNDELL.
The gender pay gap is alive and well in 2023, with women making just 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man — and the gaps are even wider for women of color and women with disabilities. Here at Refinery29, we — and our readers — know that one of the best ways to tackle our money issues is to talk about them openly, honestly, and without shame.
This year, Refinery29’s Salary Stories gave us all the tea. From interview advice to industry insights to, of course, salary secrets, no career topic was left unturned. Salary transparency is more important now than ever, with inflation sucking our paychecks dry and the cost of living crisis cutting down how far our money can actually go.
Our Salary Stories submissions ran the gamut from a former teacher making $130,000 in the aerospace industry to a fashion buyer who took a pay cut to follow her dreams. Below, we’ve put together the very best salary advice from this year to inspire, educate, and yes, entertain you.

1. Ask all the questions

This Salary Story writer, who works as a librarian at a public library, learned the hard way not to take the first offer, and knows that the power of negotiating — and leveling up — comes with being diligent.
Best salary advice: “Don’t hesitate to ask questions about information you are not sure of. If I could have a redo, I would have sought advice from colleagues who are in full-time positions and asked how they negotiated their salary before accepting.”

2. Share your knowledge with your coworkers

Working in logistics, this Salary Story writer learned that there’s power in numbers, and salary transparency can be an integral part of success.
Best Salary Advice: “If it matters to you, consult with others about their salaries, promotions, et cetera. Old-school mentality makes it seem like a taboo topic but it doesn’t need to be. It wasn’t until I was a few years into my career that a coworker willingly shared their salary, and it helped me gauge my salary target. From then on, I realized I would be leaving money on the table if I didn’t speak up.”

3. Don’t let where you live determine your worth

This Salary Story writer has lived in many parts of the US working as an analyst in the health industry, and didn’t let that stop her from asking for the money that she’s worth.
Best salary advice: “Don’t undersell yourself because you live in a lower cost of living area. While you may not need a higher salary to pay the bills in many southern states, do your due diligence to make sure that the total compensation offered is comparable to what others in your city are making. Don’t accept $45,000 a year if you deserve more!”

4. Always, always negotiate — even if you think you shouldn’t

After feeling intense burnout from the pandemic, this Salary Story writer quit her job and took five months off of work to complete a long distance hike. She came back to the workforce refreshed and ready for more.
Best salary advice: “The best advice that I have received and never actually manage to follow is to negotiate. The world of starting bonuses is quite new to me, and I didn’t realize that was a potential avenue for negotiation. Even if a company has hit the top of their salary range, there is still typically some wiggle room in terms of starting bonuses. As an additional side item, my dad always told me to include benefits when a new company asks for your current salary. So if you make, say, $60,000, but get a $2,000 commuting benefit, a 10% 401k match, and all healthcare costs are paid, you should say your current salary is more like $70,000+.”

5. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes

After getting laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic, this Salary Story writer got right back on her feet and landed a position at a nonprofit, where she still currently works.
Best salary advice: “If you’re feeling nervous about asking for more money for yourself, imagine you’re doing it for a friend or someone you care about as you’re doing the negotiation. It’s always easier to negotiate for others than yourself.”

6. Don’t be afraid to look to outside resources to guide you…

Working in education, this Salary Story writer has mastered the art of the negotiation and now makes $146,000.
Best salary advice: “The book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most was a hugely helpful book for me when it comes to negotiation. Salary negotiations are difficult conversations, and this book does a really good job of understanding how to grow more comfortable in uncomfortable conversations. I think it’s a particularly useful tool for people who identify as women who have been conditioned to be more deferential!
“Another bit of advice: Stay true to yourself. Knowing your worth is obviously important, but the ways you approach salary conversations need to be true to your own values. I express myself best in writing, so I always ask for time during a negotiation so I can articulate my thoughts in a values-aligned way — usually in writing first, and then followed by a phone call or other face-to-face point of connection.”

7. … but avoid the pseudo experts on TikTok

As someone who has negotiated their pay for almost every one of their jobs, this Salary Story writer is an expert at asking for what she wants — and getting her information from credible places.
Best salary advice: “Don’t rely on TikTok advice from unqualified ‘financial coaches’ or ‘hustlers’ who tell you to negotiate aggressively, but don’t tell you how. Instead, use online tools for researching what the market rate is for roles of a similar job title to yours — such as, Glassdoor, and others — and look up what current salary/benefits packages are like for jobs with the same title, responsibilities, and company size as yours. Take that information to the table with you when you approach a salary conversation. Go in ready to advocate for yourself, and go in smart.”

8. Don’t be afraid of lateral moves in your industry

This Salary Story writer took a pay cut to follow her dreams, and now makes $130,000 as a buyer in Los Angeles.
Best salary advice: “The best way to jump salaries is to jump companies. Also, if a company is not able to get to your desired salary during the negotiation process, you can negotiate your sign on bonus to cover the difference in the desired salary for your first two years. For example, my target was $135,000, but [my current company] got me to $125,000, so I was able to negotiate a $20,000 sign-on bonus so that for the first two years I am able to get, in a way, the salary I wanted. After two years, you can reevaluate.”

9. Don’t wait around for a raise

It’s true — you don’t get what you don’t ask for, and this Salary Story writer who left behind a career in nonprofits knows it.
Best salary advice: “You don’t have to wait for your annual review to ask for a raise. I’ve received two increases mid year in my career because I made a strong case for why I deserved an adjustment. The worst that can happen is they say no and you have a good conversation about why and what it would take for you to get where you want to be.”

10. Keep your cards close

In this Salary Story, the writer — a recruiter, no less — details the importance of playing coy when it comes to saying a number.
Best salary advice: “As a recruiter, I highly recommend keeping your cards close. When a recruiter asks you how much you’re looking for, ask how much the pay band is for the role. This way you won’t potentially really undershoot your goal. I also recommend always negotiating: When you receive an offer, when you get an annual pay increase, or when you get a promotion. Last but not least negotiate everything, not just pay. Ask for a sign-on bonus, stock (if applicable), relocation bonus, more time off, et cetera. There’s a good chance you’ll get something out of your negotiations and the worst outcome is that you get your original package. At least you’ll know you’ve tried your best!”

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