I Went 7 Years Without A Promotion — & It Taught Me How To Negotiate

Ludmila Leiva

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 a marketing manager in Jersey City, an art director in New York, and an illustrator in Austin.

Age: 31
Current Location: Long Island, NY
Current Industry & Title: Consumer Goods Manufacturing, Senior Product Specialist
Starting Salary: $30,000
Current Salary: $71,000
Number Of Years Employed: 8
Biggest Salary Jump: From $30,000 to $45,000 in 2011
Biggest Salary Drop: None

Biggest Salary Negotiation Regret: "I regret not having been as clear with myself about what I wanted from the negotiation, aside from a certain dollar amount. Earlier in my career, my direct adviser was undergoing a transition, and so I knew a compensation conversation was coming. I saw this opportunity as one of the few I might have to get a bump in salary. But I didn’t really think about, or touch on, what other priorities existed for me.

"In retrospect, I realize that compensation is much more than just a dollar amount — it’s vacation time, when you’re working, how you’re working. My employer was willing to play ball, and had I considered ahead of time, I would have addressed the conversation more holistically and come in with a wider array of things I wanted to get out of the negotiation, such as additional benefits. Instead, I intimidated myself out of talking about the full list of options that I could have addressed."

Best Salary-Related Advice: "Just bite your lip and negotiate — employers don’t think emotionally about this process, and neither should you. Your work is a product that has the potential to bring value to an organization; you should get comfortable with the idea that you can (and should!) leverage this value.

"It took me a long time to realize this, which I think was because I wanted to view my contributions as a singular thing that I could offer, whereas in reality, I fit into a bigger equation. Your value to a company should be something you reflect on, knowing it can also depend on timing and the direction your company is headed at the time. No matter what, it’s good to go in with a clear sense of what you want and make sure that’s in line with what they can offer."

"I was studying cello in grad school and didn’t feel excited about it, so I ended up leaving after one semester. My plan was to search Craigslist and see if I could get some interviews lined up while I was in New York City for a trip.

"I found this job on Craigslist and told them that I was new to the area and willing to work, and they took me on after one interview. We hadn’t talked about money, but the owner called me and asked me my salary expectations.

"I remember this conversation vividly: I picked a salary number out of a hat because the job seemed like a good one, post-college. I didn’t consider what I thought I should be making to afford to live in Williamsburg at the time. The low amount I gave was probably why I got the job, and it was not enough. For a little while, I was able to make it work, and it was a good way to get my feet wet, but the money was not sustainable."

"After eight months, I started exploring other opportunities. I had a friend from college who, at the time, was in a role at a company that made strings for musical instruments, and it was opening an orchestral strings branch. I thought it sounded really cool — though, like many women, I didn’t know how qualified I was. I didn’t want to apply since I didn’t feel 100% qualified, but I figured it was an industry I was passionate about. Thankfully, my friend was able to help guide me.

"The application process took about two full months, which was a surprise for me at the time. But eventually I was offered the job. I was initially offered $40,000. I thanked them for the offer and told them I would love to consider it and get back to them.

"I knew my friend was making $45,000, and this salary transparency helped me so much, as it gave me context for my value. I also took time to consider how long my reverse-commute would be from NYC to Long Island (including the fact that I would have to pay for cab fare), and that helped me realize I needed to ask for more. I called them back the next day and told them that I’d be willing to accept the offer for $45,000. They agreed.

"The role I accepted was 'product specialist,' which was a new role that no one had done before. Basically, our department doubled when I arrived. I was on hand to help with a lot of things that my boss was unable to complete. One of the things I’ve always loved about this company is that they’re very scrappy and flexible, so I was able to learn so much about so many different areas. This is still one of my favorite things about product management. Especially as a musician making products for other musicians, I connected very personally to the work."

"A little over a year later, I had my first performance review. I knew I had done a good job, and my review was very positive.

"Standard raises at my company were 3-4% and I received 4%. But I later found out that my friend, who had a comparable title, got an 8% raise in her first year, which was confusing to me. She had a master’s degree, and her boss said they had lowballed her because they wanted to get her on board, and since he couldn’t get her the salary he wanted for her at the beginning, he wanted to make up for it.

"I was very grateful that she was open with me, and I still felt good about getting a raise on the higher end of what was considered normal. The thing was, I never really understood the correlation between the raise amount and performance. I didn’t know what number I should be hoping for, pushing for, or asking for and instead just took what I was given."

"I had a second review this year, because my first one was late. My manager, who was not very communicative despite the fact that we were a two-person team, was very positive about my quality of work.

"One of my ongoing frustrations was that I wasn’t receiving the kind of direction and communication I would have liked. The two of us sometimes struggled to understand each other, so my sense of my performance was kind of an unknown until these reviews. My understanding of what I needed to do to succeed was nebulous, since I never got the feedback in the moment."

"I had my annual performance review, and again I was told that I was doing a great job. By this time, my friend was having a very different review experience than me. Her manager would block off time to review things, and they would have long, in-depth discussions. He took the time to point out tactical things that she could do to improve throughout the year, and he also solicited feedback from her on how they worked together.

"In my case, I felt the review experience was sort of a boilerplate ‘This is how you’re doing, don't think about it too much.’ It felt almost like an inconvenience on my manager’s part.

"I quickly learned that you can have vastly different work experiences based purely on who is managing you. Of course, the onus isn’t only on them, but there is a possibility that your manager and someone else’s could be completely different, even if you are in essence doing a lot of the same work."

"I had my annual performance review, and again I was told that I was doing a great job and received a 6% raise. At this point, there was no official position between mine and my manager’s level, so I started feeling unsure if there was any room for me to grow.

"Because I had originated the role, it didn’t feel like anyone had considered what the career trajectory would be. There was no obvious path that my hard work was leading me down.

"After three or four years, I had gotten a little more seasoned and knew enough to start asking more questions and having conversations with people around me, including people in leadership positions. I began to ask questions about the long-term goals for my position. I’m glad I had the courage to challenge my manager and make it clear that if I couldn’t grow here, I would have to grow elsewhere."

"After a solid year, I received an 8% raise. My manager spent a lot of time out of the office (she’s a musician and often went on tour), and much of our team’s responsibility fell on me. My boss didn’t ever actually thank me, but I did get my biggest raise yet.

"I felt really mixed about the review and the raise. It was tough. I remember having a discussion with my friend, who was also feeling frustrated about his role. The topic of our raises came up, and he said I should be happy with what I got, but I expressed my frustration with having the same job title for so long. It was starting to feel like I wasn’t going anywhere. It was kind of a dark moment. I wondered: If I embodied all of these desirable qualities my company wanted in an employee, why wasn’t I seeing any growth?"

"As with all of my previous annual performance reviews, I received nothing but glowing feedback. But by this point, I had started to voice the desire to understand my position’s trajectory within the company. This included getting my team’s leadership in a room and telling them, explicitly, that I want a more senior role and was not willing to wait indefinitely for it. (This was terrifying.)

"By the time my review happened, nothing had really changed, other than the fact that they unveiled a new tiered structure which broke my position into three different levels. A few months before my review, two of my colleagues were promoted. My manager didn’t communicate with me about the options I had, and my understanding of where I was going was still extremely unclear. It was a difficult time."

"Shortly before this review, I was moved to work under my manager’s boss. This move shifted things a lot, and things started to get better almost immediately.

"I was given a 5% raise, and he made it clear to me that I was eligible to become a senior specialist 'when the role is created.' He told me what I needed to do to get a promotion and was very specific about the timeline. He was frequently in the office, in a way that my previous manager was not, so it changed my ability to access the information and feedback I had been needing."

"My team worked well together, but my boss eventually decided to leave the company for personal reasons. But he made it known that the promotion I had been unofficially 'promised' was one of the things he wanted to tie up before he left. So, after kicking a lot of ass with my team, I was finally promoted.

"I did not have to apply, but within a week he officially offered me the new role and showed me the salary. Because I kind of knew this conversation was coming, I’d talked with another colleague who had previously been offered the same promotion. It was helpful and gave me context to know how much they’d offered her, but I still had to think a lot about what I wanted for a salary figure.

"He initially offered me $68,000, and I asked if the offer was negotiable. I’d heard that the salary that I was offered was the same salary my male colleague was making in my previous, more junior role. I felt that I could be open, so in the same conversation, I shared that I would love to explore negotiating. I also cited this colleague’s salary as a reason why.

"It was clear to me that the negotiations would not be between me and my boss, but between us and the company. He was very much my advocate in this negotiation and was able to help me speak with our HR department. I told him that since there weren't a lot of ladder rungs at our company that gave me the opportunity to negotiate, I wanted to take this as seriously as I could.

"Eventually, he took the situation to HR, and he came back with a second number. It wasn’t what I was hoping for, and I think my body language said so. So I asked to speak with him and our director of HR to get more clarity on how these decisions were being made.

"Eventually, I told them I was hoping to hit $75,000, and they said they would see what they could do. In the end, they told me they were able to do $71,000. My boss gave me the agency to keep pushing, but told me that this was probably as far as I could get. In the end, I knew this negotiation had gone pretty far already — three rounds — so I accepted. But I’m not psyched and wish that I’d considered other deal sweeteners such as additional benefits while at the table. Still, I’m proud of myself for pushing and am grateful for my director’s guidance.

"Looking back, I wish I had removed my emotions from the game a bit earlier, so that I could see these potential moves, promotions, and title changes as strategic moves. I do think that I didn’t necessarily have to feel so emotional, and I could have had just as much movement without being as angry. This isn’t to say that my frustration wasn’t justified, but I now understand just how much bureaucracy, pandering, and wrangling goes into each of these decisions. Now that I’m on the other side, I get that a lot of the time your manager and company want to make things better for you, but sometimes there is a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes that may or may not be visible to you. Divorcing the emotions from the process can sometimes make the process a bit easier."

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