I Make $50,000 As A Chief Of Staff — & I’ve Switched Careers Twice


In our seriesSalary 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.

Been in the workforce for at least eight years and interested in contributing your salary story? Submit your information here.

Previously, we talked to a human resources founder/CEO in New York City, a behavioral health consultant in Houston, TX, and a social worker in Raleigh, NC.

Age: 33
Current Location: New Orleans, LA
Current Industry & Title: Equipment Manufacturing, Chief of Staff
Starting Salary: $25,000 in 2009
Current Salary: $50,000
Number Of Years Employed: 15
Biggest Salary Jump: $21,900 (from $45,600 to $67,500 in 2015)
Biggest Salary Drop: $29,100 (from about $67,500 to about $38,400 in 2016)

Biggest Salary Negotiation Regret: "I worked in the accounting departments of various television productions for about seven years, on some major network TV shows. I was paid well, but my total lack of work/life balance sent me downhill into a depression. I wish I'd negotiated stricter parameters around my work hours — after a certain point in the day, I was no longer able to be productive."
Best Salary-Related Advice: "Start negotiating early and don't back down. I have backed down from negotiations when faced with a negative reaction, and instead of owning my worth, I let my insecurities get the best of me."

"My first job was at a NYC startup that specialized in email marketing for entertainment. I had interned for the founder of the company the previous summer (at a different startup) and was initially just happy to have a job in the midst of the 2008–2009 recession. I'd moved from Ohio to New York and gave myself a deadline of one month to find a job — and got this after three weeks.

"Primarily I helped performers who used the service to send out newsletter blasts and coordinated with the South American IT team on software issues. I was more or less an office manager–slash-gopher for everything, which was initially very fun and exciting, until the financial realities became more pressing and I realized how quickly I was going into debt."

"I was in my early 20s in New York City and quickly going into debt from not being able to manage my expenses in my first job. A friend of a friend recommended me for a job at an advertising agency, which I took without much thought because of the $7K increase — but $32K in NYC was still tough, and with my student loans and rent, I managed to rack up more credit card debt over the next few years.

"In this job, I helped manage digital marketing at a boutique ad agency that was quickly bought and sold to a much bigger agency, where I was assigned to a client that owned a number of prominent spirits brands. As a buoyant 23-year-old, I loved getting the chance to go to 11 a.m. tequila tastings in the name of brand research.

"I was settling into New York living, but when I turned 25, I hit my quarter-life crisis. I'd always wanted to work in film and TV production, so I quietly started to network with friends of friends who worked in the entertainment industry. As I networked with anyone who would talk to me, the client I worked for at the ad agency jumped ship and my entire team was laid off. Fortunately, I was only unemployed for about three weeks before I landed my first job in TV. I was hungry, excited, and still not concerned with how much money I was making, even though I should have been."

"I had spent about six months emailing, Facebook posting, Tweeting, and asking anyone I knew to connect me with anyone they knew who worked in TV. A friend connected me to the head accountant for a prominent network sitcom, who eventually became my boss after I was laid off from my ad agency job.

"I loved everything about working on this particular show. I loved going to work at a production studio every day, seeing my favorite writers and comedians in the break room, being too nervous to pee in the stall beside the star of the show — I was in heaven. It was long hours in the production office, usually from 8:30 till about 7, but I was learning so much and was high on the thrill of working for a show I believed in. It was surreal to be able to sit in on table reads and to stand quietly in the back of a soundstage and watch it all happen.

"Production accounting jobs are contracted, usually for the run of the season. I worked for this particular show on the final two seasons, and my boss was able to help me get onto another show when it ended. Ten years later, this show was still the best work environment I've ever had."

"When my first show ended, I interviewed to work on a few other shows. I'd accrued enough experience to be able to bump up to the next level of accountant (from clerk to second assistant). It just so happened that my favorite show of all time was hiring at the same time that I was looking, which felt divinely put into place.

"I was aware that other shows paid much more than this particular one for second assistants, but at this show they were of the opinion that they could get people to work there for whatever salary, so they paid under scale. But I was (again) just so happy to be there, I would have taken a pay cut.

"The luster of the job lasted for most of the first season I was there, but eventually the environment started to wear on me. I ended up regretting it deeply because it was one of the most negative places I'd ever worked. Status was extremely important, and most communication happened in whispers and in rooms behind closed doors. Nepotism was rampant, and I started to realize that these people were not 'my people.' I slipped into a quiet depression during the next season and considered moving to L.A. or changing careers again. I ended up applying for a show at another network, thinking that the new environment would be the cure that I needed."

"I moved to a different network and TV show. This ended up being a big salary jump, but somehow, after taxes, it was less than I'd hoped.

"Initially, I was much happier in the new environment. My pay increase was substantial enough that I was able to move from the smallest room in my four-bedroom Greenpoint apartment into the second smallest — a big step up! Ultimately, I was starting to learn that most TV production environments were not as joy-filled as my first show and that it was common to have brashly negative work environments. Although I made some amazing friends here who I am so grateful for, the pay raise on my weekly paycheck was not worth being in yet another toxic environment. It was around this time that I started to realize that maybe working in film and TV was not for me."

"A friend of a friend told me that she was moving to New Orleans to work for a small production company. She was glowing, and after so many years of working in environments that were poorly suited for me...I was, quite frankly, jealous. Cut to several months later — my show was wrapping up its final season, and I was desperate for a major life change.

"I shot her an email and heard back almost immediately that her production company was looking for someone with my exact qualifications. I accepted the rate of $20 an hour without negotiating. It was a giant pay and benefits cut. But I was desperate to get out of New York and find myself again, and New Orleans felt like the right decision in my gut.

"So I went. I was able to make my own hours, and the flexibility of this new gig gave me space and time that I needed to find my center again. I knew I needed to figure out the next step, and I also knew that my time working in entertainment needed to come to an end.

"I got to know New Orleans, and I found myself drawn to teachers. Similar to when I wanted to work in TV, I started to network with teachers around the city to learn about their experience. The need for educators is so high here that many schools don't require a certificate to begin teaching, but you are able to earn it while working full-time. I took another crazy leap of faith and career and enrolled in an early-childhood certification program and accepted a job as a lower-school teacher."

"This was my biggest job change to date. I wanted to do something that made me feel like I was contributing to the world. I loved the kids that I worked with, more than anything. What I was not counting on was the extreme amount of violence that happened daily in the classroom. I worked with some of the youngest kids, and there were chairs, desks, and fists thrown regularly, not to mention the poverty, trauma, and lack of support in the classroom for teachers to help the students.

"I knew I would have to leave this particular school when an admin told a group of students who had been hit by a chair thrown by another student that they were not allowed to go see the nurse for their bruises. I knew that my conscience would not allow me to stay there or stay silent. I reported the incident to HR and started interviewing at other schools. I was offered two other teaching positions, but the offers came in at another significant pay cut. I was 32 and knew that I couldn't go back to making $25,000 a year without benefits. It was not the right path for me, and as any teacher will tell you, the salary does not at all match the workload and stress level of teaching.

"In retrospect, I am carrying a lot of guilt around coming to and leaving the profession so quickly. Teaching is such an important job, and the way teachers are quickly filtered in and out of many schools here is only hurting the city and its students."

"Finally, after years of looking for a career path that suited me, I landed back in an accounting job for a small local business. I was offered this intro salary because of my career change — since I had been out of the business world for a year, my boss considered this a fair salary. I was so relieved to be getting a job after months of searching that I took it without negotiating — something that I now regret.

"Nonetheless, I was shocked at how much I fit into the culture of the New Orleans business world, and also shocked at how good I was at it. I have no family here or ties to the city, but I know in my heart that no place has ever felt as much like home as New Orleans does. I love the people, the culture, and maybe most of all, City Park, where I get to take my dog on long walks.

"I have found that in my career, when jobs come to me without a lot of struggle, they usually end up being 'meant to be.' I couldn't have imagined that I'd end up working in manufacturing in New Orleans, but somehow it makes sense. I love the quirks of working within a small team, and although it's challenging, I've learned and grown tremendously in my time here."

"I started in accounting and eventually said yes to enough other responsibilities that I was able to negotiate a title change and pay raise. Although I still manage the day-to-day work of accounting, I learned that I was actually very good at managing people. So now I also support the CEO with anything from sales to hiring, event planning, managerial strategy, and conflict mediation — to name a few aspects of my role. In a nutshell, I handle high-priority items so the CEO does not have to, in order to free up his bandwidth.

"It's a small company, and I feel grateful that I'm able to advocate for my team and help build a company that I believe in. I've been learning more about leadership, and after completing my MBA this fall, I feel more on the right path than ever before. It's definitely been an upward trajectory, and I firmly believe things are getting better all the time. This is the first job in a long time that I've felt was uniquely suited to my skill set — and I love it."

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