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28-year-old former teacher now makes $110,000—how working for a company with pay transparency helped

Acacia Fante, 28, earns $110,000 as a senior product marketing manager in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
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Salary transparency laws are sweeping the U.S., and workers are more open than ever about how much money they make. Have you ever negotiated a job offer, scored a major raise or used pay transparency to level up in your career? CNBC Make It wants to hear from you. Fill out our form for chance to be featured.

Like scores other U.S. workers over the summer, Acacia Fante was blindsided when she was laid off from her marketing job as part of a company restructure in July.

To top it off, Fante, 28, was in the middle of moving with her husband from Denver to Tulsa, Oklahoma, so he could start his medical residency program.

Despite the sudden departure, Fante's ex-employer did give her one major point of leverage that powered her new job search: The ed-tech company operated with total salary transparency. Every job posting included a salary range, and internally, you could see the pay progression for different levels of promotions within your job family, Fante says.

Fante adds that the company's policy existed before Colorado enacted its salary transparency law in January 2021.

"It revolutionized the way I thought about pay, because that transparency just felt very natural and like something everyone deserves," she says.

It became a must-have for anyone she interviewed with, and it also empowered her negotiations: "Once I had gotten a taste of it — knowing what I was going to be paid for this position, knowing what I could be paid if I were to move around — it just seemed silly to me to battle with an employer that wasn't operating in the same way," she says. "It gave me a confidence to feel like I could have those conversations, knowing that I was worthy of a certain level of pay, and that I could negotiate."

Transparency conversations have unlocked a new level of negotiation power she never experienced in her former teaching career, which she left in 2020, that's helped more than double her pay.

Negotiating up the job title with a $25,000 boost

Thanks to her old company's pay policies, Fante never had to second-guess the market value of her skills and experience. She earned $105,000 in her previous job and felt confident in sharing her former salary in hiring interviews, then asking for more based on where she hoped to grow. Her message: "Here's where I've been valued, here's where I have ambitions to be, and where I think I can be based upon my skills," Fante says.

That came in handy when she kicked off interviews with her now-employer, an HR tech company she was excited about. But there was one big problem: In the first interview, she learned the content writer position would pay $75,000 to $85,000.

Instead of seeing it as a deal-breaker, Fante was intrigued that the role would be the company's first full-time marketing hire under the director of marketing. Translation: She'd be on a small, growing team and could leave her mark.

She also saw it as an opportunity to negotiate the title upward into a more strategic senior role. First, she disclosed her former pay to show that her skillset was more advanced than what they were looking for, and therefore should be paid at a higher rate. Then, Fante asked more about the company's goals and the kind of work they wanted new people to do for the organization. Finally, she demonstrated where she thought she could best contribute, and pitched transforming the content writing role into a senior product marketing manager job.

Fante aimed high. Her research said a senior product marketing manager working for a tech company makes an average of $130,000 in the U.S. She knew it was a moonshot since she'd already be stretching the company's original $85,000 proposal.

Ultimately, they landed on $110,000 a year, just enough to replace her old income, plus a little extra.

Fante sees her negotiation experience as a success. "I'm proud of myself, and I think it speaks to really skilled negotiation tactics to not just get to a certain number, but to walk a company through like the evolution of: this is where you need me to be and why you need me in this particular role that you didn't actually set out to hire for the first place," she says.

Other important perks: Promotions, remote work, the freedom to grow her own business

Fante's biggest hesitancy in accepting the job at $110,000 a year was knowing that it could be valued much higher at a different company. She discussed this with her boss before accepting the job, and the two came up with a plan to track her performance and map out promotions and raises so that, on an agreed timeline, she can get up to that market value point.

Those discussions also clarified Fante's future with the company. "I also need to know, how can you help me grow? How can you help me be successful?" she says. "Sometimes that's with a specific number, and sometimes it's with an opportunity."

Fante also values other perks within her compensation package: she's eligible for bonuses and stock purchasing, her pay is tied to her skill set rather than her geographic location, she can work remotely and, as she's already done, she can take ownership of designing her job and how it evolves.

She even got the company to amend her employment contract to ensure she can continue doing freelance work and growing her own career coaching business on the side.

Imposter syndrome for doubling her pay

Today, Fante feels good about how much she makes, and she hopes to clear the $200,000 mark within her career.

But her salary success has come with a dose of "serious imposter syndrome" as a former educator who, over four years, went from making $33,000 to $43,000 a year before changing careers in 2020.

"Educators are notoriously underpaid, and I've more than doubled my salary in the last two years," Fante says.

She feels proud of the feat and "of my choice to commit to finding something where I felt valued," but admits it's tough to swallow thinking about others "who are working just as hard as you in different roles and being valued at such a lower degree monetarily. And so, for me, I keep trying to say it's not that I don't deserve it — it's that other people deserve to be paid equitably, as well."

Check out:

How a 24-year-old veteran doubled his pay to $127,000 in a year without negotiating

The job interview question that helped this 25-year-old negotiate her $115,000 salary

This 26-year-old tripled her salary to $100K by tweaking her resume—here's how

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