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Welcome to The Salary Chronicles, where we’re bringing transparency to negotiation and salaries, one story at a time. We ask women to share their experiences negotiating their salary and what their advice is for others doing the same. We share these stories anonymously so they feel comfortable speaking as openly and as freely as possible. 

This week we’re sharing the story of a woman who made a move within her company, and fought back when they wanted to decrease her salary by $20,000.

Industry/Position: Biotech, Digital Marketing Manager

Age: 33

Location: San Francisco, CA

How did you decide to negotiate your salary?

I negotiated my salary while I was changing roles at my current employer: from in-house as a digital marketing manager to a field-based sales role. I had done well in-house on the marketing team, but really wanted a position that had flexible hours, travel, and more of an entrepreneurial feel. I’d done a rotation through sales when I first started and decided that a role in sales would give me the flexibility I was craving.

In the sales new role, I would have my base salary in addition to a sales bonus instead of a corporate bonus. With this new structure, my target sales bonus (meaning the amount I would get if I hit my numbers exactly) would be higher than my previous corporate bonuses, so my HR department decided to give me an offer that took down my base salary by $20,000 a year.

Although it meant that if I hit my sales numbers I would make exactly the same as I did in my current role, I knew that in the field there wasn’t the same promotion or upward mobility as I had in-house. There would only be one further level I could climb in sales, and from speaking with others I knew salary increase was minimal. So I knew whatever offer I accepted now was pretty much locking me in for the rest of my career in sales at my company. That was all the motivation I needed to go and ask for want I wanted.

How did you decide what to say and what to ask for?

I wanted to understand what others in my situation had experienced, as well as what earning potential I was giving up over the years by leaving an in-house role. I reached out to a colleague who recently made the same transition and asked her if her base salary had been adjusted. It had been, but it was still higher than what they were offering me, so I knew I knew there was room to negotiate.

After that conversation, I built out a model that helped me calculate what I would be making in two, three, and five years down the road if I were to stay with in-house marketing, rather than the sales role I was moving to. To do this, I talked with friends in the marketing role to understand what I could expect to make over the next 5 years if I stayed in-house (what average raises and bonuses looked like). I then built out the other scenario: what my compensation would look like in the field-based sales role over the next five years.

When I compared the two, I realized that if I took the offer they had presented me for the sales role, I would be making significantly less over the next five years. While I was wanting to switch for a more flexible lifestyle, I would still be working just as much so I didn’t feel that such a large pay cut was warranted.

Using the model, I went back and calculated what base salary I needed to ask for in order to make sure a career in sales would leave me earning roughly the same amount as the marketing role I was leaving.

What was the salary they offered?

$120,000 plus $35,000 target bonus.

What did you ask for?

$135,000 plus $35,000 target bonus.

Did you have any hesitations going into the conversation?

Yes! At first I felt really uncomfortable. I had to negotiate with the person who would be my new boss and I didn’t want to give him the impression I was only interested in changing roles for the money. He had gone to bat for me during the process, since my original team hadn’t wanted the move to happen.

Part of me felt like I should just be thankful he had navigated politics in order to give me the offer and that I shouldn’t cause more work on his end. Even though I knew I should negotiate, a small part of me was irrationally nervous they might rescind the offer if I countered. But knowing that others in my same situation received higher salaries and having quantitative data to show the long-term impact of taking the lower salary gave me confidence.

I kept asking myself if all of those men I had worked with in male dominated professions would feel “sorry” for asking for what they thought they deserved. Heck no!

How did you approach the conversation? How did you structure “the ask”?

Once I had talked to enough people and built my model, I setup time with my potential new manager to share my research and the calculations supporting my counter-offer. I made sure to start the conversation by letting him know that I was truly excited and committed to the new role, and that given my intention to stay for the long-term, I wanted to ensure I was setting myself up to do exactly that. I tried to come across appreciative of his time and energy, but I also did my best to not to come across as apologetic for negotiating.

How did the other person react?

He knew I had been disappointed with the base salary and shared he was a bit surprised himself about the original offer. After listening to my reasoning he let me know he was supportive of my counter offer and would share it with HR.

Was there anything unexpected that happened during or after the conversation?

One thing I didn’t expect was finding out that unfortunately in order to get HR to listen to a counter-offer, the regional sales director (a.k.a., my future manager’s boss) would need to support it. Again, I felt the fear creeping in. I hated to think I might be seen as a “problem child” before even working with her, taking her time away from dealing with more important business issues beyond my salary.

What I reminded myself was that they expect a successful sales person to drive results and influence people! I reframed my thinking to see it as demonstrating exactly why they should pay me more.

What was the outcome?

Ultimately my regional sales director came back and said she could support $130,000, which I accepted.

What would you do differently in the future?

In the future, I would rehearse making the ask. While I came in really prepared with the model I had built, I don’t feel I articulated my reasons and logic as confidently and unapologetically as I would have liked. Having concrete talking points rehearsed would have helped me speak more confidently.

Do you have any advice for someone in the same situation?

Remember that negotiating is expected in almost all situations! If you plan to be at a company for the long-term, your initial salary really sets the stage for how your compensation will look the entire time you are employed there. Be sure to take the time to understand how important it is to have an initial salary that you feel comfortable with.

And know that our male counterparts negotiate all the time — and do it successfully.

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