How To Double Your Salary In The Post-Recession Hiring Boom
J.T. O'Donnell | Dec 14, 2014 | via LinkedIn Pulse
FYI - This is the post I promised readers last week in follow up to my article, "The Crazy Standoff - Applicants V.S. Employers," where I explain the upcoming hiring boom and how the tables are turning in the favor of professionals. This is the single LONGEST post I've ever written on LinkedIn. I'm asking you to stick with me. I know it's a lot to read, but I'm trying to give you as much context as possible!
I graduated college in 1990. A recession was in full swing.
These are some of the things I was told in those first several years post-college:
- Your generation (Gen X) will be the first to make less than your parents.
- Your degree doesn't mean squat. How dare you expect higher wages just because you went to college?!
- Find a job, any job. Then, stay there for at least five years so you can earn respect.
- As long as you make more in salary than your age, you're doing okay.
It made me mad and I didn't listen to it.
I switched jobs frequently early on in my career - which went against all traditional career advice. My parents were "old school," and didn't approve of my career moves. When I announced I was making a job change after less than two years in my first real job, they said, "You're ruining your career!" I felt a ton of pressure to be successful. After all, I had a college degree and was told, "You can be anything you want to be." However, there were no good entry-level jobs AND I had no direction on how to figure out who I was as a professional and where my skills might add value. It was depressing and scary. (Hey recent college grads, sound familiar?)
Early on, I found myself in some bad fits.
The early jobs I managed to land usually turned out to be bad fits. When it became hard to get out of bed in the morning, I would start looking for a new job - any job to make me feel better. I craved change because I hadn't found my passion, nor a company that I felt connected to. This string of career misfits gave me a crisis of confidence. I was sure there was something wrong with me. Why was I only getting hired by companies that didn't really suit me? It must be me, right? I was convinced I was professionally flawed in some way.
Then one day, I experienced a mindset-shifting event.
The company I was working for sent me to a training session on a new software program. The presentation knocked me over. I fell in love with the company instantly. I had never experienced that before. Totally by accident, and full of passion, I sent a letter that night telling them why I adored their product and business model. I was hired a week later. It's how I learned to write my first disruptive cover letter. You can read more on how to write one here.
At the same time, the recession was ending (just like now!) - and luckily, I had finally found my thing.
At that company, I used my passion for them to land a job in training and development. It was my entry into HR. I found what many people call, "flow." Work no longer felt like work.
For the first time, I loved what I did... so, I made another career change!
I was doing well in my job, but my company was conducting layoffs. They were a start-up company and their burn rate exceeded revenues. I survived the layoff, but was worried about my future. So, I randomly applied to a job that fit my new skill sets and strengths. I honestly didn't expect them to contact me. I was so used to rejection from my early years of "spray-and-pray applying" to dozens of employers in search of any job. (Just like it's explained in these videos about why people get shut out of the hiring process.) Imagine my surprise when I got a call for an interview.
I was only going on the interview for practice (or, so I thought).
I went to the interview thinking I didn't really wanted to work for this company. I couldn't find much about them online. They were a privately owned temporary staffing agency with offices throughout the country. I would be working at their headquarters. I initially cringed at the thought. I had always been told people who work as temporaries were usually unemployable. It felt like a step down from the cutting-edge start-up I was currently at. But, I figured it never hurt to do some interview practice, so I went.
Two hours later, I left with a 'job crush.'
I had never realized how interesting and important the staffing industry was. I interviewed with five people. Each one explained the company and its mission in a way that got me even more excited. You could tell they loved their jobs and the company. They were the gold standard in the industry and the people there were extremely intelligent, humble, and passionate about their work. I wanted to be with these people. They felt like my tribe. I wanted to be associated with this type of professional. I wanted this type of employer.
Here's where the income doubling began...
I negotiated a salary of $56,000 for a job in the HR department, building and delivering a comprehensive new training program for employees. Since the recession was over, the staffing industry was growing fast. Companies couldn't find the right talent on their own, and they were cautious about hiring full-time employees until they were sure the recession was really over. Hence, they used temporary workers with the option to convert them to full-time employees when they were sure the job was long-term. I had joined an industry that was on the rise.
Step 1: I focused on exceeding all expectations.
In the first year on my new job, I was very deliberate about my efforts. I found out how my role directly affected the success of the company. I carefully set meetings with key decision makers and stakeholders asking them flat out, "What does my new training program need to do to help you do your job better?" They were often surprised by the question. Several laughed and said, "Well, I doubt you can do it, but in a perfect world, ____ would happen," and then they'd explain how my program could positively impact work. Within six months, I knew exactly what I had to deliver to exceed the expectations of upper management. I worked like crazy to make good on my promise to help them with my work. I was working 50 hours/week by choice. However, in less than a year, I was given a promotion and a $10,000 raise. When my boss announced the promotion to the team she said, "J.T. did more work this year than most can do in two."
Step 2: I planned my next career move in the company.
Once I got the promotion, I started focusing on how I could get into management. I found several mentors in the company and shared with them my vision to become a division manager. They were extremely helpful. Remember, I had made sure my work directly helped their divisions get more profitable. Within a year, I was offered the chance to run a broken division of the company, 3,000 miles across the country in the Silicon Valley. I took it. They gave me another raise to $80,000.
Step 3: I completed a major money-making accomplishment.
Taking the job nobody wanted was a big challenge. The $10M division had been neglected and the staff was negative and disengaged. I had to restructure the business and rebuild morale. It was hard work. I had to make a lot of tough, uncomfortable decisions. Plus, I had to spend three weeks a month there and commute back to HQ (and my home!), only one week each month. I did this for just under a year. I turned the division around. That P&L was the ticket to my next career move.
Step 4: I found a company that needed me badly - and would pay gladly.
By this time, I was married and had bought a new home. I wanted to spend more time with my husband there. I started looking for jobs that needed my P&L fixing skills in the staffing industry back home. I found one with a well-known national tech recruiting firm. (Remember, I was based in the Silicon Valley.) Ironically, I remembered an old friend from my college days had worked there. I drafted my disruptive cover letter and contacted him. He was happy to introduce me to the executive who was hiring for the job. The referral resulted in a lengthy phone call. I interviewed in-person on my next trip home. They called me the next day and said, "We want you ASAP and will give you $110,000 to come on board. Plus a $10,000 signing bonus." It was a big decision. I knew the company I was currently working for would eventually give me a better assignment back home. But, a quick scan of all the key players in roles I wanted and I knew it wouldn't happen soon. These professionals were top-notch and deserved their great jobs. They weren't going anywhere. I was impatient. I was missing home. I wanted to keep climbing. So, I took the job.
Step 5: I succeeded again. But this time, I did it faster.
As soon as I got to my new job, I was able to turn the P&L around. The impact was an immediate improvement to the company's bottom line. Several months in, they brought me in for a private conversation and said the larger division in Boston was suffering and wondered if I would take that on too. It was a big job, I'd be running the entire New England region. And, the current manager was going to be demoted, which would make the work environment very stressful. I thought it through and agreed to take the job. However, I made it clear the job was difficult and I expected a hefty increase in salary. They agreed and bumped me to $200,000 annually, plus bonuses that were averaging $50,000/year.
Step 6: I walked away and started over.
I spent the next year running the $30M region. We fixed the P&L and I helped the division get profitable. It was not fun. In that time, I got pregnant. I eventually went out on maternity leave, but with every expectation of returning. However, something happened during those four months out of the office. I realized I didn't like what I had become. In spite of all the so-called career success, I was burnt out and couldn't imagine doing what I was doing for the next 20 years. With the blessing of my husband, I resigned. All that work to climb the ladder and make a lot of money and I ended up walking away and starting over. People thought I was crazy. I'm serious. Here's the story that explains it all. But, I'm so glad I did.
That was 13 years ago. These are the takeaways I'd like to share in hopes it might help you going forward...
My 6 tips to double your salary (without getting burnt out, like me).
For every professional out there who is unemployed or under-employed, the recession is about to create a great opportunity for you to focus your skills and leverage your strengths. The chance to negotiate for more pay and better jobs will be increased too. You'll have a chance to make up for the income you may have lost in the last five years. However, don't lose yourself in the process! Be mindful and strategic with each career move. Here are some tips:
1) Figure which of your skills is the biggest aspirin to an employers pain. Companies hire new employees to solve problems. There's a reason that position is open. Find out the importance of the job to the company's bottom line and show them you understand the value the right candidate needs to bring to the role. The more you can show you will fully alleviate their pain (and then some!), the more attractive you are.
2) Make sure you understand the impact each job change has on your life. Some of the jobs you'll encounter will offer you a lot of hazard pay to do tough things. If you are up for the challenge, go for it. But, know that you won't be able to do those emotionally and physically challenging jobs long-term. It's just too hard on the other areas of your life. Be strategic in which roles you take and why. The money isn't the only factor to consider!
3) Bank some serious cash. When my salary started going up fast, my spending didn't go up with it. My husband and I banked a lot of cash and used it later to support us when I walked away to start over in my career.
4) Make a lot of career friends along the way. Networking with past and present colleagues gets even more important now. Create a strong professional reputation for yourself. Don't burn any bridges. When you quit, do it right. Had I not built up a strong network and stayed in good standing with them during those years, I wouldn't have been able to tap into them later when I was launching a new career and business. My very first consulting gig was with a former employer!
5) Work for companies with a great story, brand, and reputation. When you work for companies that tell great stories about themselves and have compelling missions, you'll find they attract a better level of talent. These are the kinds of peers you want to work with now - smart, savvy professionals who you can also see yourself working with again in the future (see #4). Plus, companies with good reputations and exciting stories make it easy for you to market yourself to other employers in the future.
6) Know when to move on. (Hint: Do it while you're still top of your game). The moment you get complacent or start to lose your edge, you need to find your next move, either internally or externally. If your job satisfaction is declining, you can't let that linger just because you are making good money. You need to identify that next project, skill, accomplishment or career move you need to take so you can stay engaged and satisfied. It's how you stay relevant and valuable to employers. Most importantly, it's how to stay happy in your career and life. A great example of this is my colleague, Michael Peggs, who recently quit working at Google with a video. See the video here - you will love it!
If you made it to the bottom of this post, here's some good news!
Not everyone has the patience or desire to figure out how to profit professionally from the coming hiring boom. That's your competitive advantage. Don't lose momentum! Keep seeking information and resources to help you. While it's not rocket science, it's not child's play either. The more you know, the more strategic you can be. Good luck and I wish you the best!
P.S. - My experience in the last recession is what made me start a company to help others profit from the next one.
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