I Started In Mattress Sales & Now Make $100K As A Senior Marketing Manager


In our series Salary 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 an electrician apprentice in Boston, a sales research manager in New York City, and a social media coordinator in Atlanta.

Age: 36

Current Location: Chicago

Current Industry & Title: Software, Senior Marketing Manager

Starting Salary: $32,000 in 2007

Current Salary: $100,000 base

Number Of Years Employed: 15

Biggest Salary Jump: $20,000 (from $60,000 to $80,000) in 2017

Biggest Salary Drop: None

Biggest Salary Negotiation Regret: "I took a new position that had the same salary as I already made but had a better title and shorter commute. Turned out that organization had a really unhealthy culture, so I only lasted a few months. But I made sure that my next position was a good fit for my personality AND offered a chance to move up in pay."

Best Salary-Related Advice: "The first step in looking for any job should be to decide what you'd like to make and what concessions you're willing to accept. That way, you're not blinded by a 'cool' job or desperate for any salary. This helps to keep things in perspective. No job offer is going to be a perfect fit...but if you know that you're willing to travel a bit more to make a higher bonus, or give up a couple thousand dollars a year for student-loan assistance, then you aren't as likely to jump at the first offer you get. On another note: Do NOT max out student loans so you have extra money to live on. Pay interest on loans while you're still in school. And for the love of all that is holy, stop eating out so much."

"From 2004 to 2007, I worked in mattress sales, and my salary was $32k base with LOTS of commission. My best year was about $60k, and it took me a long time to make this much money again. But I knew I didn't want to be in sales and/or retail. I was fascinated by why people made the buying decisions they did and wanted to parlay that interest into marketing, so I quit my job and went to grad school."

"When I moved back to the college town that I grew up in to go to grad school, I took a job at the company my dad owned. I was a marketing manager and made $32k/year. I consider this to be my first 'real' job, because it was the first job I had in marketing. I had no idea what I was doing, but through the classes I was taking to get my M.S. in communication and my on-the-job experience, I was able to fake it until I made it. I put in my notice when I finished my M.S. in 2009 and moved to Indianapolis (about an hour and a half away). I always look back at that time and think about how much better I could have done if I knew what I know now. I still do freelance work for this company sometimes when they have a complicated project. (My dad is retired now and has sold the company.)"

"I found a job at an educational publishing company in Indianapolis through a general online job search. My parents were both college professors, so my mom facilitated an introduction to the sales rep she worked with at this publisher. He submitted my résumé through the employee portal on blind faith, and I honestly think that's what got me the initial interview. (I didn't even meet him in person until I started going to company-wide meetings two years into my job there. The first thing he said was 'Thanks for the referral bonus!' Obviously, some wine had been had!)

"In this position, my boss forced me out of my comfort zone and insisted that I learn a lot of different skills that I felt like I would never master, things like HTML/CSS, general design skills, SEO, email automation logic — basically everything that wound up being pivotal skills in digital marketing. I hated my boss for it at the time, but she really instilled a can-do/jack-of-all-trades mentality in me that makes me successful today. This job was also global in nature, so a lot of the international travel I've done was on the job."

"I got a promotion the next year. But there's not a lot of money in publishing, and even less when you're a marketing manager without an MBA. I knew that I would never be able to earn enough to pay my student loans back without getting an MBA and changing industries. My company had a partnership with a for-profit executive business school, so I started the process of getting my MBA at this time. (I would later finish my MBA with a focus on international business and marketing in 2014.)

"In this job, I got small cost-of-living and performance-based raises every year, which brought me up to $43k by 2013. But that year, my company was going through a major transformation due to the fact that e-books were becoming the preferred textbook option, and e-books are much less expensive than physical textbooks. My department merged with a similar department based in NJ. The director of my department and I were both deemed redundant and given generous severance packages."

"When I was trying to figure out how to focus my job search after I was deemed redundant, I knew two things: I wanted to stay in marketing, and I wanted to live in Chicago. I had a good friend who lived in Chicago and was going through a pretty hairy breakup at the time, so he offered to turn his dining room into a bedroom for me if I paid him $600/month. I didn't want to make the move without a job, so I pretty much committed to the first offer I got.

"The job was at a company based in New Jersey that offered a seasonal financial service. At the time, I was excited about the extra money and the possibility of traveling within my territory (Western Great Lakes) and to the East Coast for monthly meetings. I quickly found out that the traveling in rural Wisconsin was not very glamorous, and the extra $15k didn't really go that much further than what I was making before. I did get to go to the East Coast for a week-long meeting once a month, so I went to NYC one weekend a month to visit friends from college. Because of the seasonal nature of the business I was working in, my entire department was cut right after the peak business season. In retrospect, I should've seen that coming. My confidence took a major hit, and I was not great at interviewing. I ended up unemployed for several months after my team got the boot in early 2014. But I did freelance work during the lull, which led me to my next full-time position."

"I took a job at an industrial auction house. It was completely out of my wheelhouse, and I learned a lot. I had the opportunity to really flex my jack-of-all-trades background here, because I was managing the entire process of marketing projects/campaigns from start to finish. I planned campaigns, bought all outside media, and negotiated rates. I also designed all creative, wrote all copy, set components up in automation systems, and kept an eye on analytics to make adjustments throughout the campaigns. At the time I didn't realize it, but this job was grooming me for a job in strategy."

"A competitor of the auction house that I worked for scalped me because I was doing really well! It was a job that involved overseeing the marketing strategy for the entire West Coast business unit (Denver and everything west — and including Latin America). Little did I know, my career had led me to this point by letting me get my hands dirty with all the areas of marketing that make up an overall strategy. I also had the cultural awareness and (basic) language skills to make me a good candidate for the international aspect of this role. On top of that, the fact that I worked at an auction house previously made me a perfect candidate for this job."

"At the beginning of 2018, I received a $5k raise. My home office was in the suburbs, and I hated fighting Chicago traffic patterns when there was an entire city full of perfectly good public transit. Also, the fact that my job was on the West Coast and I was unwilling to move made it necessary for me to do A LOT of travel. My dog had just been diagnosed with cancer, and I didn't want to be on the road when he needed me. Ultimately, I ended up putting in my notice when I received a job offer from a startup in the city."

"A headhunter I had worked with in the past came to me with an opportunity to lead the marketing efforts at a startup in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago, one mile from my apartment! It was in the software industry — a field I had no experience in — but he knew that I had a can-do mentality and thought that I would be perfect for the role. I attempted to negotiate on salary but was told that they couldn't afford to pay me more than what I was currently making. They promised the potential for profit sharing in January 2019 and knew I was looking to quit traveling and work closer to home.

"I took the job, but moved on from this position five months into my tenure there. It was a really unhealthy work environment with a lot of unachievable expectations. I had never worked at a company this dysfunctional before. It was very much a 'yes' culture. People would agree on a strategy, and as soon as upper management said anything less than supportive about the agreed-upon plan, former supporters would do a complete 180 on their previous stance. My direct supervisor was a member of upper management and didn't consider ideas that weren't his. He had little to no marketing experience and thought my job was to make his ideas work — even if they had no chance of success. He set unattainable benchmarks with shareholders in order to achieve funding, and that made me uncomfortable. So I took the months of November and December off to have sinus surgery, travel, enjoy the holidays, and interview for my next position.

"I found my next position through LinkedIn. I was looking for a broader, more strategic role. I was on vacation in the Bahamas and actually submitted my résumé from a lounge chair on the beach — gotta love technology!"

"I'm six weeks into my new position, and I love it! The work environment has the perks of a large company with the laid-back feel of a startup. It's located downtown, so I'm able to take the CTA to and from work, and my work travel will end up being way less often than in previous positions. It's also in the software industry, where the earning potential is higher than industries I've worked in in the past. I'm taking it as a lesson learned that you should only leave a position when you're completely sure that the new one is a good fit. I really wish that this position would have been the one that I left my position as the business unit marketing manager for, but what can you do?"

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