Category Archives: Career

Without a Raise, How my Salary Increased from $20k to $90k in 5 years.

Some people get annual raises of 3% to keep up with inflation, or more if they’re lucky, and less if it’s in the middle of a recession in a company that can’t afford to offer raises.

I’ve never gotten a raise. Since graduating from college in 2005, I started out making $18 an hour at a non-profit and am now making $90k a year. This was not through raises. In fact, my income trajectory is due to learning to pick myself back up when I lost my job, re-brand myself as something more valuable, and attack the job market with as much belief as disbelief in myself, which allowed me to take a lot of risks as I wandered my career path to where I am today.

Had I remained at my first job for longer than 6 months, I might have received annual raises and be making somewhere north of $25 per hour today. I’d have five years of Admin Assistant at a non-profit on my resume, which, if I were to leave to another position, would move me into yet another admin role, or a very low-level assistant position in another department.

Instead, I got laid off. Well, in that case I was fired. I was in the depths of one of my worst depressions that year (yea, got to love being bipolar) and my boss didn’t exactly understand why depression made it hard for me to drag myself out of bed and get to work on time. So that job ended, and within a week I managed to land my first full-time position as an editorial assistant at an international magazine making $35,000 a year. At the time, I was extremely excited to be making more than $20k.

I stayed in that position for a year and it went well enough, though the career path was not quite right and when the opportunity to jump ship came I jumped. This was the only time I was actively recruited, and thus my salary went up from $35k to $50k. This was a huge jump. Again, had I stayed at my employer where I was working as an editorial assistant, I’d be lucky if I were making $50k today. Instead, I left. And I stayed at my next position for three months, at which time I discovered I was (and still am) a terrible reporter (too socially anxious to be a good reporter and ADHD to pay attention to all the facts) so I left that role, again depressed, thinking I had thrown away all chances I had of a career, and moped around for a few months.

But then another opportunity came up. I found a part time job writing copy for a local startup at a rate of something like $35/hour. My contract there expired monthly, and I managed to re-negotiate a higher hourly rate each time. It got to the point when both my boss and I were tired of negotiating, and he offered me a full time job. I pushed the salary up a bit in our final negotiation to $65k, which I was offered. At the time I felt like I was rich.

Two years later, I’m laid off again. This time because the product I was working on was being shut down. I go for a month without a job and again fall into a deep depression — oh woe is me — oh woe — oh what am I going to do?

I land two jobs in those two months — one full time contract at a large, international tech company where I’m able to negotiate a $65/hour payrate (! — I inquired how much the role paid — $30-$60/hr, told them I wanted $70 an hour, totally thinking I was going to throw away the job by asking for so much, and they came back with $65) and another hourly role at a startup on the side at $40/hr. After a two month hiatus from the work world, I had the most profitable 6 months of my life. But that too had to come to an end.

The contract role at the big tech company was not extended because the product I was working on was being shut down (story of my life) — but I was ok with that. The startup I had been working for over the length of the contract was doing well enough to hire me on full time. And while I could have pursued a full time role in the large company where I had the contract (I had a few leads that might have turned into something) instead I decided to jump to the startup, assuming I’d have a stable salary and health insurance, vs the contract setup.

Mission accomplished. I secured a role with not only a $90k salary, but also a title that (assuming I am successful in this role) sets me up for higher-paid positions to follow. I doubt I’ll get a raise in this job either, but I also assume that within the next 3 years I’ll move on to a new position, and ideally break six figures, because now that I’ve found an industry and role I’m good at, I am sculpting myself into a valuable prospective hire.

Those first few years were really rough, and I’ll undoubtedly have a ton of rough times ahead, but at the very least I am confident that the harder you fall, the more room there is to leap higher than you’ve ever leaped before.

A Note to Job Applicants

This month I’ve been put in charge of hiring for a few positions at my company, and I’ve learned a lot about the hiring process in the meantime. That is, there are a lot of people who are “paper smart” that don’t know the first thing about how to apply for a job.

Firstly, when writing a cover letter, instead of listing out your accomplishments (unless they are actually applicable to the role you are applying to), explain how you can help my company. Few people even mention why they want to work for my company specifically in their cover letters — generic cover letters that discuss the industry very vaguely are not impressive, even if you have an impressive GPA from a top school.

Secondly, if you schedule an interview, do not pick up the phone informally, and sound like you are on drugs and/or half asleep. Be enthusiastic and please remember that you scheduled an interview at that time.

Finally, if you really want a job, it’s ok to follow up — these days postings on Craigslist for employees generate hundreds of applications, and most of them are garbage. It’s difficult to scan them all appropriately, and sometimes good applicants get missed. I was very impressed yesterday when I received a phone call from an applicant who I had not responded to yet, and it so happens he was one of the few applicants for the internship who had written a very good cover letter and who I had intended to reach out to — this has moved him even higher up the pile.

Not every company who is hiring will want you to do these things, but from my perspective the few people that have done all three stick out from the pack, and are much more likely to receive a job offer. It’s a little bit of education I’ll use for my own purposes next time I’m out seeking a job!

The Big Deal About Small Talk

Shortly after landing on the other side of a college diploma, I realized the vital ingredient in success had little to do with a piece of paper and much more to do with how you could hold your pop culture stats on your tongue and liquor in your belly at the same time. They don’t teach you that in school.

These days, I often find myself at conferences with high-powered execs in business suits, with their slicked back hair and hearty laughs, holding martinis and conversing with each other about the latest (insert popular sports team name here) game or even something nerdier yet still detail-oriented. I’ve come to the conclusion that my biggest obstacle in the way of success is my inability to engage in what they call “small talk.” And yes, it’s a big deal. A really big deal.

If I’m spending time with someone who enjoys talking, I fall back on what I learned as a journalist — look interested and keep asking questions. But when it comes to talking to people — whether it be professionals or in a social setting, I can’t think of anything to say. I go through the same boring questionnaire about where they grew up, where I grew up, and yes, central New Jersey does exist, and no, everyone does not look like Snookie and The Situation there. Then I run into a wall.

In social situations, especially if alcohol is involved, I often find myself cracking a joke or twenty at the expense of myself. People seem to like my self deprecating humor, I like to think of it as charming, but it has no place in a professional networking environment. So — I have nothing to say, only questions to ask. I don’t think I’m all that interesting.

Being in marketing means making those connections by engaging in small talk, by gaining trust, respect. And if there were a college degree in networking I would never have passed. I am such an introvert, with social anxiety to boot. This is why I wonder if I can ever succeed in this industry — even if I were able to get on top of things the whole introversion piece of the puzzle will hold me back. I’m forever awkward. And even when the best connections are available to be made, I manage to misplace them in the unspoken chaos of insecurity.

jumping off the career plank

I often write about how I have a great job, yet I still feel like I haven’t found the position where my talent can best contribute to a company or cause. I can get by in marketing… I’m decent at telling a story about a product, understanding how people might want to use it. But I’m by no means a brilliant marketer. In this career, I can only go so far, and it really shows everyday at work.

Every year, every month, every day, I come back to wanting to be on the product side of tech divide. I highly value my experience in marketing and know it will help me in the long run, but I honestly do not want to spend the rest of my career as a marketer.

While I’m dedicated to my marketing role at my current company, at some point things will need to change. I’m 27 now, and I’m dedicated to this role until I’m 30 or 31. At which point, I need to figure out what’s next. And that time will be here before I can count 1. to. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. Continue reading

Startup Stock Options: Taxes and Risk

One of the supposed benefits of working at a startup is the equity you’re offered as part of your compensation package. Given that more often than not this equity is in place of a 401k and a portion of your salary, in theory it may offer great reward in the long run.

However, what I didn’t realize about stock options (ISOs and NSOs) years ago is that in order to actually receive the stock, you still have to pay for it. Options just mean that you are able to buy the stock at a strike price, which is “low” but may very well still be higher than what the stock ends up being worth. Continue reading

Personality Types: What’s INTP Got to Do With It?

Apparently a bunch of top personal finance bloggers over at Yakezie had a blog carnival of sorts discussing their Jungian personality types.

Since I’m a Myers Briggs addict, I figured it was as good a time as any to retake the test and see what my results would be. I tend to swing back and forth between INTP and INFP depending on my bipolar phase… hypomanic and I’m INTP, depressed and I’m INFP.

So, today I tested INTP.
I think that’s accurate, at least for now.

Introverted: 67%
Intuitive: 38%
Thinking: 12%
Perceiving: 56%

INTPs are known as “The Architects”

Bolded are the pieces of the description that really speak to me… and also, in a large part, explain much of my frustration in the various career paths I’ve pursued thus far…

Architects need not be thought of as only interested in drawing blueprints for buildings or roads or bridges. They are the master designers of all kinds of theoretical systems, including school curricula, corporate strategies, and new technologies. For Architects, the world exists primarily to be analyzed, understood, explained – and re-designed.

Continue reading

Faking Passion vs. Finding Passion

It’s 1pm on Wednesday, I’m wide awake, full from a nice lunch with co-workers, and my brain is stuck at writer’s block. While I’ll never pose that I’m the most talented writer in the universe, if I have passion for the topic I’m writing about, I can at least revel in getting a lot of copy out. Without that passion, I stare at my screen for hours on end, and don’t know what to say.

Everyone has that thing that drives them, that defines their passion. Mine has always been honesty. I love telling stories, but I love telling true stories. Marketing is not exactly about lying, but your job revolves around how good you are at making tiny successes seem like major accomplishments, and to find an interesting and relevant story around the day-to-day business in order to generate excitement, leads and ultimately sales.

If there’s anything I learned from being a theatre major, it’s how to put myself into another character’s mind, to improvise, to always accept what’s thrown your way and go with it — yet when it comes to marketing writing, I always find myself a wall. I guess when I’m not personally excited about something, I fail at faking it. I’d always rather be involved in improving things than promoting things that are good, but have room for growth and fixes.

The problem is that I have an amazing opportunity for a long and profitable career in marketing, and I don’t even need to go to grad school or get an MBA to accomplish this. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’ve been lucky enough to fall into one opportunity after the next that has generated a solid resume (finally.) I certainly won’t be offered every job I apply to — far from it — but I’ve moved beyond “entry level” and now have 5+ years of experience with some impressive companies, and a lot of (true) stories to tell about those experiences.

Even though I won’t be CMO overnight I know if I could just get myself excited about this career path, I have a shot at really making a name for myself in this business. But I’m not sure this is the path I want to take for the rest of my life. My heart is in product, in building something people use, iterating, creating, and honesty. Marketing covers some of that, but not in the way I see myself looking back and feeling like I’ve used my true passion the right way over the years… if there is a right way.

If money had nothing to do with it, would I be on this marketing trajectory? I’m not so sure. Would I be happier in design or something related to that? Probably, but who knows. In the end it’s a job, and regardless of what your job is, sometimes it’s hard to be passionate about what you’re doing to make a living. And sometimes its better to keep your passion separate from your career, so you don’t kill it.

What do you think?

Tables Turned: Hiring Interns and Reviewing Resumes

Five years ago, I was applying to every last internship and job position that remotely sounded like something I could be good at… PR, marketing, journalism, copywriting, anything writing… and in response I heard a bunch of crickets. Luckily amongst those crickets came a loud noise, then an interview, and then a job, and more jobs. But my time applying to internships while in college, and applying to my first job post graduation was really painful, and required unyielding tenacity. It seemed no one wanted to hire a theatre major from a large private college, go figure.

Today, I find myself reviewing the cover letters of intern applicants, and I feel for them. I see all those kids writing their optimistic cover letters all wide eyed and bushy tailed. It’s terribly difficult to not ignore the applications from mid-tier schools, when you have applicants from the likes of Stanford, Berkeley and Harvard interested in your job. Also, it doesn’t help matters when your boss tells you to hire someone from Stanford, Berkeley or Harvard (or the equivalent.)

While intern applicants from top-tier schools are not necessarily better than those from other schools, one thing that’s likely true is that anyone who has worked hard enough to get into a top school is someone who will be reliable and hard working. Intelligence can be defined in many different ways, but when hiring — even after a few interviews — it’s still a crapshoot. You have better odds to pick a winner if you pick someone who knows how to go out of their way to be, well, perfect.

At the same time, I’m trying to keep an open mind (by prying my mind open and, if needed, prying my boss’s mind open) and reading all of the applicants from any school (except the “University of Phoenix.” I’m not hiring anyone who spent money on a for-profit online degree, I have to draw the line somewhere.

In any case, it feels all twisted and strange being in the hiring seat now, just five years after I was one of those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed  young hopefuls, sending out my 300th cover letter and resume, and waiting, patiently, for the phone to ring.

Dilemma: Grad School vs. Work

Some say a graduate degree (in the right subject) can improve your future potential earnings. But I wonder if taking 2-3 years out of my career right now would actually equal more money in the long term.

Assuming I’d be missing out on an earning potential of $100k per year (let’s call that $60k after tax) and I go to school for 2 years. That’s -$120k plus -$50k per year on school and other costs So In the course of two years I’d be out $220k, give or take.

Let’s say I manage to save half of the money I earn, or $30k a year, $60k total. In 30 years at 5% annual compound interest rate, by the time I’m 60 I’d have $259,316 just from that $60k. Ok, that’s not too impressive — in theory I could make a lot more with a grad degree such as an MBA, which is one potential route.) But I’d also be $100k in debt. Ok, so how does that really add up…

Sans Grad School,
Investing $30k per year for next 30 years:
$2,222,481 by age 57

With Grad School,
assuming -$30k savings lost per year in school
plus $100k in student loans
Income increase to $150k / year, $90k after tax
Savings start 2 years later @ 29
Can save $50k / year after loan repayments
3,066,135.60, by age 57 – 259,316 in lost investment earnings

BUT — it’s really hard to say if that’s actually true. That’s assuming a lot of other variables that are unknown. Namely, it’s quite possible for my income to go up WITHOUT a graduate degree, and for my income to go down WITH one. Over the long run I believe a graduate degree would make my yearly income a bit more predictable (but not by much) and give me opportunities to pursue better paying jobs, but that doesn’t mean I will want to take them. But the two years I am in school may be two years I could have spent at a startup that ends up having a successful exit, and thus the grad school would never be able to equal the fiscal value of those lost years (not to mention the experience may be professionally just as valuable, at least in getting a job, as the degree.)

So the truth is the choice of grad school shouldn’t be about money. Clearly if I get a graduate degree and use it to find a better paying job over the long term it could mean a larger retirement nestegg. But it’s not a certain to say the least, and right now the experience and opportunities outside of graduate study are.

Fortune Mag Asks “Are Unpaid Jobs the New Normal?”

It may not be legal, but for the millions of Americans unemployed today, working for “free” in hopes of paid work in the future may be better than sitting at home and waiting for the phone to ring. The whole concept of minimum wage doesn’t apply when a college graduate is worth a job that deserves to be paid higher than minimum wage but, instead, isn’t paying a penny.

Kelly Fallis, who has used 50 unpaid workers at her small company, probably shouldn’t be admitting to her illegal slave labor practices in Fortune magazine

“People who work for free are far hungrier than anybody who has a salary, so they’re going to outperform, they’re going to try to please, they’re going to be creative,” says Kelly Fallis, chief executive of Remote Stylist, a Toronto and New York-based startup that provides Web-based interior design services. “From a cost savings perspective, to get something off the ground, it’s huge. Especially if you’re a small business.”

The fact of the matter is there lies a fine line between “internship” and “taking advantage of someone,” and some days I’m not convinced that line exists. I’ve long questioned the concept of the “unpaid internship” in college, as not only is the work unpaid, but it requires college credit that you actually have to pay for (seems twisted, doesn’t it?) But this isn’t an article about college internships, it’s about adults who have graduated and can’t find work accepting unpaid “work” to keep themselves busy. Continue reading