I Got My Degree In Russian Culture & Now Make $175,000 In Cybersecurity Sales

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 regional sales manager from Denver, CO. Previously, we spoke to a marketing manager from Seattle, a physician's assistant from Yakima, WA, and a recruiter from San Francisco.
Job: Regional Sales Manager/Cybersecurity
Age: 32
Location: Denver, CO
Degree: Bachelor of Arts
First Salary: $40,000 ($27,000 base + $13,000 commission)
Current Salary: $175,000 ($100,000 base + $75,000 commission)
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"I once proclaimed I wanted to be a squirrel when I grew up, but quickly realized this was not an option. My parents say my main response to this question was 'I want to be in charge.' While I'm not in charge of a team, I did pick an entrepreneurial career where I am in charge of my book of business and what I do each day."
What did you study in college?
"In college I got a Bachelor of Arts in Russian language and culture. I loved my department adviser and the program and was often asked what I planned to do with this degree. Besides making jokes about being a spy, I liked to remind people that statistically most of us don't work in the field we major in — why not follow what you love. I considered pursuing an MBA. My dad, whose advice hasn't led me wrong, suggested waiting until I hit a wall where I absolutely need that degree to advance. So far I have not encountered any roadblocks where an MBA would give me a return on investment."
Did you have to take out student loans?
"I am very grateful to have parents who funded my education. This lack of student debt was a great step up for my personal finances as I launched into adulthood."
Have you been working at this company since you graduated from college?
"No, but sales is the only career I have pursued. In college I sold Mary Kay cosmetics and realized the reward for compensation based on your results, versus receiving guaranteed hourly pay, was very high. I'd encourage women to consider sales as a career path — sometimes images of manipulative used-car salesmen types push people away. However, successful saleswomen I know seem to have an easier time building trust and relationships with customers.
"I have worked for a few software companies and have advanced my salary each time I have moved jobs. Each job has built on the last by allowing me to sell to bigger companies or in a more high-tech aspect of software. Selling multiyear software engagements is not something you pressure people into — it takes time to build a deep understanding of what customers need to accomplish and tailor a program to meet their individual needs."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"I help companies evaluate options to give their customers a safer digital experience. In sales I can't overemphasize how important it is to promote a service you believe in, and are confident will be delivered in a way that helps your customers."
Did you negotiate your salary?
"Yes, I have negotiated my last several salaries, but I was not as savvy straight out of college. In my mid-20s I made a big move and tripled my base salary from $30,000 to $90,000 when a company that was recruiting me pushed me to move fast. I asked for a signing bonus to make up for a large commission check I would be leaving behind by quitting immediately (about $15,000) and was given an extra $10,000/year salary increase instead — a better outcome in the long run.
"With other job transitions, I have successfully used the phrase 'I'd like to retain my market value, which I've worked very hard to establish.' My base-pay increases have come from moving jobs, though in sales you can expect to increase your commission income annually as you establish yourself with clients and work on longterm opportunities. Every year I have grown my income by at least $12,000."
Is your current job your “passion”? If not, what is?
"There are parts of my job I am passionate about and parts that are boring. I look back on each week and ask myself if I was able to do what I enjoy most and do best that week.
"I can't imagine I'd be passionate about every facet of any job, and also look for my passions outside of work — things like playing music, reading books, spending time with my husband and friends, and travel. Feeling successful at work and being able to enjoy all of the different parts of my life makes me happier than a job I never want to break away from."
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"My overall trajectory pursuing a career in sales has been rewarding and lucrative, and at times frustrating and riddled with disappointment. The highs and lows balance out, and I've learned to deal with rejection and disappointment in healthier ways, and stick with a job even when it's challenging. I highly recommend yoga!
"There was one time I jumped into a new role too quickly, only to learn on my first day that their software was not as advanced as I was told. Taking a critical point of view when evaluating new opportunities can be difficult when you are hearing lots of flattering feedback. During interviews everyone is selling themselves to each other. I would have done well to shy away from a company that pushed me to move quickly through a process rather than give me time to carefully consider my options, and I ended up leaving after just six months."
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"Think two steps ahead of where you are and pick your next steps strategically. What kind of roles/industries would you like to be a part of? Where can you stand out?
"Don't just look for mentors, look for champions. Women are great at asking for and getting help in terms of guidance, but who is talking about you when you are not in the room? If someone compliments you, don't be shy about asking them to share that feedback with your boss (or your boss's boss) next time they are in a meeting together. You are your own PR agent!"
Are you a woman under 35 with a six-figure salary ($100,000+) and want to tell your story? Submit it here.

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