How A Communications Director's Salary Changed Over A Decade

Illustrations by Abbie Winters
In our series My Salary Story, women with years of 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.
We're joining forces with The Salary Project at Career Contessa for the next few months to reflect an even wider range of experiences. Interested in contributing your salary story? Email us here.
Previously, we talked to a 30-year-old biotech professional who regretted using a job offer to negotiate her current salary. Today, we talk to with a 32-year-old woman in communications who is toying with the idea of moving into the private sector.
Age: 32
Current Location: Indianapolis, IN
Current Industry & Title: Financial Services, Communications Director
Starting Salary: $10/hour
Current Salary: $85,800
Number of Years Employed: 10 years out of college, but I've had a job since I was 16.
Biggest Salary Jump: $14,872 in 2010
Biggest Salary Drop: When I became unemployed December 2008
Biggest Salary Negotiation Regret? "Not gaining the confidence to negotiate my salary offers, even when I thought the offers were fair."
Best Salary-Related Advice: "Research what your peers make and create a good relationship with HR — they can help you navigate work politics and key you in to salary data that can help you negotiate promotions. Be confident in your value and what only YOU can offer an organization. Your personal financial needs or challenges have no bearing on what you should make. It’s all about your talent and how you can contribute to your organization."
1 of 15
"Welp — graduating from college in the thick of the Great Recession was fun. I went to a small private school in the Midwest and finished with over $80,000; moved to a new state to be with my fiancé; and had a very small professional network to start with. It took me three months to find an internship at a PR firm, where I started working in August 2008.

"The position gave me the chance to work on several major accounts in sports, pharmaceuticals, government, healthcare, and more. I learned a lot but it wasn't a great fit long-term, and they weren't any entry-level positions open while I was there. I finished my internship after Christmas and was out of a job."
2 of 15
"After my internship, I continued searching for a job. While I was unemployed — from December 2008 to March 2009 my fiancé supported me and I contributed by doing more at home, as he worked nearly 12-hour days. I also used this time to network and volunteer with my professional organization by helping to plan monthly educational luncheons. This helped me build my network and stay in the game as I tried to find a place in my new city.

"I had a little money saved from my internship income and about $1,000 from cashed-out savings bonds that had fully matured. I felt pretty low during this time and even hid when I bought some awesome shoes ... for $6."
3 of 15
"I wallowed in self-pity trying to land a 'big-girl job' and was finally able to find something that would allow me to earn an income, get benefits (my parents kicked me off their coverage right after I graduated from college), and work normal hours.

"I was being really picky because I didn't want to work in the evening; if I had, I'd never see my fiancé! So, I started my full-time job as a bank teller in March 2009. I was not in a great place and was pretty cranky about the whole thing: I made next to nothing and it was frustrating to see customers come in with paychecks two, three, and four times as large as mine. I felt a lot of why not me? I'd done everything 'right' in college — got decent grades, was involved in extracurricular activities, found great internships — so my status in life was not what I expected.

"The job also required a lot of responsibility. I easily touched over $50,000 a day and ran the ATM, which took in $150,000 plus, weekly. I still maintain that bank tellers are underpaid for the responsibility and confidentiality required. Looking back, I was fortunate to have this job because I learned a lot about people, their emotions, and how to work through difficult conversations. Meanwhile, I made sure to keep networking in my desired field, was active in my professional group, and continued my volunteer board position."
4 of 15
"I got a 2% pay increase during my review in 2010 for the 2009 calendar year. I also occasionally earned tiny referral bonuses when people opened a checking account, etc. ($2 for new checking account, $5 for a savings account, and about $8 for a credit card.) All referrals went to the bankers, who also earned a commission for making the sale."
5 of 15
"I finally got my big-girl job! In April 2010, I landed a great full-time job at an engineering firm, working alongside engineers and clients to run public outreach activities. My internship experience in 2008 helped me land the job because some of the work I did there was related to the work in my new job.

"The position was hourly and I picked up 1.5x on anything after 40 hours. I was really motivated to meet my billable goals and was usually 95% billable. This job allowed me to meet many of the people who have opened doors for my career since."
6 of 15
"I earned a 2% raise during my first review cycle in 2011 (for 2010's performance). It would have been more but I hadn’t been there a full year, so it was reduced to make up for the partial year.

"In 2011, we lost our primary position on a big contract I worked on. No one told me that I wouldn't have enough work, otherwise, I certainly would have worked hard to get new business that I could be involved in. However, one of our clients offered me a position I couldn’t refuse, so I left.

"I cried when I turned in my resignation. Everyone had been great and I was very grateful to them for the opportunity — especially since it had taken me almost two years to get a job in my field."
7 of 15
"In September 2011, I went from being a contractor at my firm to a full-time employee for a previous client. It was an easy transition and I was offered $45,000; I asked for $50,000. My boss said she admired that I asked for more but could only go up $500. I had to move to a different county for the job, which was a big decision for my husband and me, but it was worth it in the end. I had great benefits, an attractive retirement plan, and lots of vacation days and holidays.

"The job did require a fair amount of evening work and I wasn't getting overtime anymore. Less contract help was being hired, so more of the burden was on me. I wouldn't get home until almost 9 p.m. and I always had event materials in my car. I started to burn out but I never talked to my boss about it. I should have, but what option was there?

"While I was at the organization, there was a freeze on pay increases so the compensation outlook was bleak. I would get frustrated when I calculated my true hourly rate, accounting for all of the evening work and work I took home."
8 of 15
"I was able to land a manager position in June 2013 at another organization with a nice salary bump. The offer was fair, so I didn't counter, but I should have and now I know better. It never hurts to ask.

"My boss was great and I enjoyed the work. The subject matter was complex and it leveraged the complexity of my last job."
9 of 15
"While I was still at my fifth job, I got a 4% raise to $57,200 in 2014 for work I completed in 2013. I also earned a $700 bonus in 2014 for my work on a big project. Later, my boss left and the organization was less enjoyable. I was frustrated and started looking for any and every job. I wanted out.

"I started to get really bold and wrote very assertive pain letters to companies I thought might need me. I ended up getting a few interviews for positions out of my league, which was really validating. This go around, I said screw it, and was sure to be 100% authentic in interviews, wearing what I wanted (a dress instead of a suit) and my makeup how I like it. I was tired of making myself fit the mold of a job description. Luckily, I found a great fit at my next place."
10 of 15
"In July 2015, I took on another managerial role at new organization — my current job — where I had three direct reports. I didn't ask for more money because on the application questionnaire, I said I wanted $62,000 and they gave it to me. Knowing what I know now, I should have asked for more, but I didn't want to come off as greedy.

"Soon after joining the organization, I took on two additional staff members. I also started an internship program, which was really gratifying. I enjoyed being able to provide a meaningful internship for students. My boss has given me a lot of creative freedom and flexibility. I've taken on bigger responsibilities and have had several project successes, one of which earned me a $500 bonus in 2016."
11 of 15
"In the summer of 2016, I became pregnant with my first child and shared the news with my team. During my annual review for 2015, I earned a merit increase of 4%, bringing my salary $64,480 in 2016."
12 of 15
"At my 2016 annual review, I also proposed a promotion to a director role with a hefty pay bump — I asked for $85,000. I'd researched similar positions, benchmarks, etc. so my request was solid. It took four months to finalize the promotion, although my salary request wasn't matched.

"I got a raise to $78,500 in December 2016 and was almost six months pregnant at the time. It may sound silly but I felt like that was a big win, being pregnant and getting a promotion. I was proud of myself and my organization for not hesitating to go for it."
13 of 15
"I returned from maternity leave just in time to spend the three months crushing my goals, and got a 3% raise to $80,855 in September 2017. My team had great success on a project and I earned a $1,000 bonus in 2018 for my work; my team members earned several bonuses as well. I was so proud."
14 of 15
"I then proposed a pay adjustment to my boss. My current salary wasn't what I'd proposed almost two years ago, and I believed I had shown my value. I presented all the new data and requested a 20% increase, and he said he'd work on it for me. Then, a few weeks later, the organization changed some of its salary bands, including mine. My salary moved up around 6% to $85,800. I appreciate this, for sure, but it still didn't align with my request for a true-up of my salary based on what I do for the organization.

"I'll probably have to wait until my formal review to bring this up again, but I’m not optimistic. I hate to sound greedy, but all the financial asks I'm making are based on my salary, what I contribute to retirement, my work-sponsored retirement contributions, the cost of childcare, and not to mention, all the money in student loans I still owe. And, shocker: I want to get paid fairly for what I do!

"I work in the public sector, which I know comes with a lower salary, but I also wonder if I’m cheating myself by not being open to something else. We exceed all our benchmarks and have higher service levels and engagement than our peers — at a smaller cost. We've also launched a ton of new initiatives which have been very successful.

"I feel like I have 'it' and am worth a great salary in the mysterious private sector, but I'm unsure about that path. I love my job and appreciate the flexibility as well as the benefits, which have been crucial for my family, but I'm dying for outside validation of my value."
15 of 15
Today's Salary Story submission came from a woman who learned that human resources can sometimes help in salary decision. We asked Alyson Garrido, a career coach and Career Contessa mentor, for tips on starting that conversation.

Establish Trust: "Like any relationship, it's important to establish trust and regular contact with your HR rep from the beginning, not just when you're asking for something. Regular meetings with your HR contact are not about going behind your boss' back but understanding your role within the company as a whole and discussing your career progression with more than one person.

"Keep it professional at all times and be mindful that the information you share with HR should be aligned with information you'd share with your boss. They will likely talk with each another about your career progression and that's what you want — to create multiple advocates who are looking to help you advance."

Keep the Focus on You: "Your HR contact is probably unable to share the salary of a specific individual, so ask about salary bands. I recently had a client who was promoted very quickly and didn't have a good idea of what salary she should be asking for in her next role. Since she had an open relationship with her HR rep, she was able to ask about the salary band and where she fell within that band. Her rep was honest about where she fell, along with the opportunities for increases at regular intervals.

"If you're concerned that you're making significantly less than a colleague with the same experience, consider sharing with the HR team that you'd expect your salary to be comparable to theirs rather than asking outright what they make. You wouldn't appreciate HR sharing your salary information without your consent, so don't ask about something you wouldn't want shared about you."

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