I Make $138,000 In Finance & Don't Regret Pursuing A More Secure Job Path

In our series My 6-Figure Paycheck, women making more than $100,000 open up about how they got there and what exactly they do. We take a closer look at what it feels like to be a woman making six-figures — when only 5% of American women make that much, according to the U.S. Census with the hope it will give women insight into how to better navigate their own career and salary trajectories.
Today, we chat with a financial compliance officer from New York City. Previously, we spoke to a marketing manager from Seattle, a marriage and family therapist from the South Bay Area, CA, and a senior product designer from San Francisco.
Job: Compliance Officer, Financial Services
Age: 34
Location: New York, NY
Degree: B.A. in international relations, Juris Doctor
First Salary: $35,000
Current Salary: Base $138,000, with 16% performance bonus target. I received a $30,000 bonus for my performance in 2017.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"I never had (and still don’t have) a set answer to this question. I wanted to be a chef, study business (and do who knows what), or be a diplomat. In college I declared a major in international relations at the last minute and also studied languages and economics. All I know is that I always like seeing the big picture and solving puzzles. These are the common threads of all my post-college jobs."
What did you study in college?
"I have a B.A. in international relations. I went to law school after working for a couple of years after college."
Did you have to take out student loans?
"I took out loans for law school. I did this in a rather thoughtless way, so I wound up with almost $250,000 in student loans and accumulated interest and credit card debt by the time I started paying them back. (Due to a crappy economy and poor job prospects, I deferred my loans for one year after finishing law school. For context, I made $45,000/year at my first post-law-school job.) I no longer have credit card debt, and I plan to pay the loans off within four years from now. The loan payoff date will be about 11 years from when I received my degree."
Have you been working at this company since you graduated from college?
"I have not been working at this job since I graduated from college. Before law school, I worked as a paralegal. Since law school I have had various compliance roles in financial services, at three different companies. I was promoted twice at my prior company and once (so far) at my current company."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"I help the financial analysts 'stay between the lines' of financial regulations as they do their jobs."
Did you negotiate your salary?
"Since college, I’ve switched full-time jobs several times (not including law-school internships). I only negotiated for my last two roles. I previously did not negotiate due to lack of confidence, and because I received bad advice from a family member. Lesson learned — NEVER skip negotiating out of fear the company will revoke the job offer! The more you negotiate, the easier it gets. I usually do research based on salary comparison websites and then round up. I’ve found these websites provide lowball salary estimates for my industry and location."
Is your current job your “passion”? If not, what is?
"None of my jobs have ever been my 'passion,' but they presented challenges and puzzles that interested me and that I enjoyed solving. There is also a lot of money to be made in finance in NYC, even in a job like compliance. My goal right now is to make as much money as possible so I can finish paying off my debt, build substantial savings, and quit corporate life. I suppose you could say that this goal is my passion."
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"I would have listened less to my family and more to my gut. Both sides of my family are extremely risk-adverse, so I was always pushed into taking a desk job or doing anything that seemed 'secure.' (Though I would argue that no desk job is secure these days...) In college, I was attracted to career trajectories that did not have so much perceived security (moving abroad, working in international development). I don’t regret not doing those things, as I really like my life now. However, I do constantly remind myself that taking risks and pushing limits is good and gets me what I want out of life."
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"Aside from the previous answer, I would also tell myself not to take every single decision and career move so seriously and literally. The important things in life often are not tangible or able to be described on a résumé. These important things will also frequently not happen at work or have anything to do with your career. Work is not life. Lastly, don’t work hard, work smart. Figure out how to make your boss and their boss look good based on the work you do. Ask them how you can help them meet their goals, and then commit to finishing all of your assigned projects early. Happy management = $$$. $$$ = freedom to live the life you want."
Are you a woman under 35 with a six-figure salary ($100,000+) and want to tell your story?Submit it here.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series