I'm A Director Of Product Management & It Took 9 Years To Land My Dream Career

Illustrated by Lily Fulop
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.
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Age: 36
Current Location: Oakland, CA
Current Industry & Title: Director of Product Management, Fintech
Starting Salary: $28,000
Current Salary: $170,000 base
Number Of Years Employed: 15
Biggest Salary Jump: $30,000 (from $58,000 to $88,000) in 2011
Biggest Salary Drop: None
Biggest Salary Negotiation Regret: "I wish that I had negotiated a better salary when I received a promotion in 2009. I received a modest salary increase but lost the ability to make overtime, which left me at a significant salary deficit moving forward. I've always regretted not lobbying for a bigger salary increase to offset the loss of overtime."
Best Salary-Related Advice: "Don't be afraid to demand promotions earlier on in your career, and be prepared to walk. Don't stay in an unfulfilling job just because you have a steady paycheck. If you don't take risks to get what you deserve, you're depriving yourself of a brighter future."
1 of 10
"This was a job I took straight out of college in my hometown. It was with a small software-development company I had interned at while in college. I knew at the time that I wanted to move to the East Coast and was very transparent with the company. They brought me on, knowing it was short-term, and I was compensated accordingly.

"I had been a project-management intern (my major in college was computer science) so that I could start to get experience on how to handle large projects across a team, where part of the workforce was based in a different city (my office was in the Midwest, but most of our engineering staff was based in Oregon). When I came back to the company after graduation, I was brought on to work directly with engineers and write queries and use cases that would test their work. Though challenging, I understood immediately that quality assurance was not where I wanted to spend my career. I didn't get a chance to do much project management, but felt okay about that because both my company and I knew I wouldn't be there for very long."
2 of 10
"Early in 2005, I took the leap and moved to the East Coast. After searching for a job for a few months, I landed a position at a private bank. It wasn't work that allowed me to use my computer science degree, but it seemed vaguely interesting and they boasted about the opportunity for career advancement. I negotiated my salary up $1K from their initial offer — it seemed I was the first to ever even ask for a higher salary.

"The position was a stereotypical entry-level job — a lot of manual work and long hours. I worked in the operations department, processing notifications from international banks reporting on the same corporate event (like a stock split). Mostly my job meant I reviewed the same announcement from different sources and researched any discrepancies across those sources. What ended up input in my company's system was supposed to be the gold standard — meaning our clients could trust that what we were telling them about upcoming corporate events was accurate. The environment among the department (which was full of young people fresh out of college) was that you worked hard and partied hard. I didn't mind working hard, but pressure to party with everyone after hours and late into the night was not my scene."
3 of 10
"This was a promotion I received at the same private bank. I had worked hard and was one of the most efficient workers. But I felt I really had to fight for the promotion. I saw other colleagues get promotions ahead of me because they partied more with management. My salary increase with the promotion was probably around $6K (I had received a raise, along with everyone else at the company, in the interim year).

"My responsibilities did increase with this change in position, but not drastically — I was expected to do more work more efficiently and train up the newer folks and monitor their work. While it wasn't a management position, this is the role where I started to mentor more recent hires."
4 of 10
"This was another promotion at the same private bank. This was another salary I felt I really had to fight for. The culture at this bank was incredibly cliquey. And while I'm the sort of person who tends to get along with everyone, as a gay (and at the time closeted) woman who was a minority and not from the area, it really felt like I didn't fit in. I think I got the promotion because I got a lot of work done, and it would have been inconvenient to replace me. My salary increase with the promotion was around $5K. But this promotion meant I was no longer eligible for overtime, which was a step backward for me in terms of financial stability."
5 of 10
"After truly growing to hate my job and being passed over for a huge opportunity abroad working directly with a client that loved me, I resigned from the private bank and went on a soul-searching journey to try and decide where I wanted my career to go next. The answer ended up being product management, preferably at a tech company so that I could use my computer science background, creativity, and client-service experience. I began hunting for any job that seemed like it would give me an opportunity to be in product.

"Through a recruiter, I ended up landing an operations job at a fintech startup on the West Coast, with the understanding that I would be able to migrate to product after a few years. It was a brand new role being created for the head of their operations team, who happened to be looking for someone with both a computer science and an operations background. For them I was a little like finding a unicorn, which is how I was able to stipulate that I wanted to move into product were I to take the position. We verbally agreed that if I spent a few years focused on this new role, I could then transition onto the product team.

"I was able to leverage a bit over the cost-of-living increase, on top of the highest salary I had made at my previous company (base salary + overtime). I negotiated hard because I could tell the company really wanted me, and it paid off. This transition was the best decision I've ever made."
6 of 10
"At the startup, I started consistently receiving raises each year of at least 5%, as well as a target bonus of 10% of my base salary. This was the first step in what ended up being a longer-than-anticipated journey to getting myself fully shifted onto the product team. For better or worse, my boss on the operations team really valued my work and my contributions. As a result, they were less willing to let me flip a switch and fully transition onto another team in one go. We came up with a compromise that let me split my time 50/50 between operations and product. For a time, it mostly felt like doing two full-time jobs at once. It was frustrating for me, though I did understand the perspective of my operations boss. However, I fought for a title change, at the very least as a goodwill gesture that my career was moving in the direction we'd all (the head of operations, the head of product, and myself) agreed on. Getting a change in title to something that included the word 'product' was a victory for me."
7 of 10
"This title change, while minor in appearance, was a big deal for me. After I'd been working on two different teams for two years, the operations department finally completed succession planning for me with a couple new hires who had the ability to cover my old responsibilities and go above and beyond what I'd been able to handle as one person.

"The change was the culmination of my efforts to truly become a full-time member of the product team. It was the start of a journey in product that has allowed me to challenge myself and continue to grow year after year."
8 of 10
"After some time proving my worth, I was given an area of our platform to product manage and had a dev team I worked directly with. I pushed to be given the title of product manager and received some pushback from upper management that I wasn't checking all the boxes on the typical PM job requirements listed for my company. The truth is none of the PMs at our company were doing every last requirement we have listed on our site, and it felt like I was being denied the promotion on a technicality. I fumed for a few weeks and decided I couldn't compare myself to the other product managers and instead just needed to compare myself to the job-requirement list. I took six months to clearly document my value and accomplishments, and was finally granted the promotion mid-year."
9 of 10
"Since it had been a couple years since my last promotion, I approached my manager to ask to be advanced to the next level (my intent was to ask to be promoted to a senior product manager, one level above where I was). I felt justified in asking because my annual reviews always stated I was exceeding expectations, and because I was doing the same work as all the other product managers at our company, who all have a title of director. To my surprise, my boss took the point and worked with our CEO and HR VP to get me a double promotion in one go, bringing me straight up to a director title. This was unprecedented at our company and led to my biggest base-salary increase to date, of $20K. It had a huge, beneficial impact to my finances and my feeling of security about my future."
10 of 10
"I received an excellent review from my manager for the 2018 year, and because of my double promotion the prior year and being in a higher compensation tier, I received about a 10% raise. Receiving strong performance reviews at this point is launching me to far larger yearly raises than I ever could have dreamed of when I started my first long-term job at $33K/year."

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