The $100,000 Job Title Increase

Real Life Story of How a Better Job Title Leads to a Salary Boost Down the Line

There was a great episode of Cheers long ago where the dim-witted Woody was duped into accepting the higher title of “Senior Bartender” over a pay raise. (For those under 30, Cheers was a sitcom in the 80s and Woody was played by Woody Harrelson … you know… that guy from True Detective and Hunger Games).

Maybe it’s because I somehow saw my future-self helping others negotiate, but even at the young age of 19, that scene really struck with me. After all, who could possibly want something as insignificant as a higher title, when the bottom line of money is what they were clearly looking for?

Well, I don’t always feel that way anymore – at least in the short term.

Meet Melissa, an ambitious woman in her late 20s, who came to me for salary negotiation and career advice. She was frustrated that she had been at her small company for 2 years, was doing a ton of work, and yet was not being recognized in her title or her paycheck.

One of the things working against Melissa was that she transferred into her field with little experience or training. Thus, she started out with a title of Marketing Coordinator and a salary of $40,000.

In and of itself, this is actually not a bad thing.

First, this is quite often what someone has to do when making a career change. For example, if you’ve been an accountant for 10 years and are making $100,000, but decide to make a change and pursue your passion of filmmaking or acting, there’s little chance you’ll be able to immediately land a job at that salary. More likely, you’ll need to take a pay cut, pay your dues, and prove yourself in your new field.

And second, for the level that Melissa was coming in at, Marketing Coordinator was probably the right title, and $40,000 is generally the pay level for that job.

However, fast-forward two years and Melissa had gone above and beyond in her job. As several other employees came and left (including some supervisors), she took on everything the company owners threw at her, brainstorming and executing innovative projects, building community across various cultures, and closing million dollar deals with high profile clients.

With her annual review approaching, we sat down and discussed her overall game plan. While we covered a lot of ground, there were four main areas we focused on:

  1. Confidence and knowledge. Some clients come to me with a fear around negotiating. Others come to me more confidently, but with a lack of knowledge of what to say. As Melissa told me, “I think like many people, I had to overcome both hurdles… they reinforce each other. Because I didn’t know what to say, I had fear and anxiety about the discussion.”
  2. Displaying past accomplishments. I knew that it was critical for Melissa to powerfully show the full impact she’s had on the business.
  3. Researching her worth. Using jobsite like within my five-step process, we knew that comparable jobs for what she was doing were paying at least $75,000, and often $100,000 or more; she’d had a few interviews within that range.
  4. Increasing her title. We crafted language to show that not only was the title deserved for the tasks she was doing, but effectively illustrated how it was hurting her ability to close deals for the company, costing them money. It was tricky to find a specific title that matched her skills, so I simply asked her, “If you could choose any title out there, what would it be?”

The next week, Melissa had her review. She told me that it went really well, but not perfect. On the plus side, she confidently made her case, and the company was blown away by her portfolio. I truly believe that putting together such a professional presentation illustrated – in real life to senior management – just how far she had come and how mature she was. This was not just another junior coordinator.

On the negative side, they flinched when she showed them our data around salary. I knew this might be an issue, so I prepared her accordingly. Yes, while she was definitely doing the job of someone in the $75,000-$125,000 range, companies almost never double or triple someone’s income, no matter how well they are doing. Additionally, the company was in a slight downturn financially at that time, but expected things to pick up shortly. They told her they’d get back to her in a week or two.

The Results? Melissa emailed me and told me that she was a little disappointed that they offered her a bump to $55,000. She had several peers that were making 6 figures, and was really hoping to get bumped at least to $75,000.

However, she buried the lead a bit, and told me about the title and incentives that were coming her way. I quickly got on the phone to talk about it.

Salary: I put things into perspective that in going from $40k to $55k, she had just received a 37% raise. Yes, that fell well short of her $75,000 goal, but considering the average raise is 3-5%, that is a massive show of faith on her employer’s behalf.

Bonus: She also mentioned that if one of the million dollar deals that she helped work on closes later this year, she’d receive a $75,000 commission. Suddenly, she’d instantly exceed her goal of earning $125,000, as she would end 2015 with a total package of $130,000. Additionally, the company said she would earn commissions on future projects on a case-by-case basis.

Title: Finally, she said that the company accepted her dream title: Director of Marketing and Innovation. I told her that I couldn’t emphasize enough how important this was. Here’s why this title bump alone could be worth $100,000 when you look at it in the long run.

Yes, before the title increase, there’s a chance that she could prove the level of work she was doing when applying for her next job, especially if she came through a referral. And maybe there’s a chance that she could jump from Coordinator at one job to Director at the next. But it’s not very likely. Most companies like to see a progression to Manager, then Senior Manager, then Associate Director, and so on.

However, if she stays at her company for another year in the Director role, when she’s ready to look for a new position, it will be much, much easier for her to go from her current Director role to a new Director role. At that level, salaries are generally in the $125,000 – $150,000 range plus bonuses.

Even if the bonuses don’t happen this year, she is taking a short term hit by working at a $55,000 base salary now and gaining even more experience at the Director level over the next year, and in return is in great shape to land a $155,000 position in the future.

So when you’re up for that next raise or promotion, while it’s important to consider your dollar worth on the market, also take a long term view and make sure your title sets you up for future success.


Jim Hopkinson

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