Cinneah El-Amin, 28, in New York City has worked in banking and tech. In February, she was laid off from her tech job and is taking time away from Corporate America to grow her own business, an online career and lifestyle platform called Flynanced.
In her early career, she more than doubled her salary, starting off earning $72,000 and leaving her most recent job with a $186,000 yearly paycheck.
Here's how her salary has changed throughout her career:
El-Amin majored in Africana studies at Barnard and went on to a one-year master's program at Wake Forest University School of Business. She held a fellowship with American Express during grad school and focused on finding her first post-grad job with the company. When she graduated in 2017, she was offered the role of senior product analyst.
The initial offer came in at $68,000 per year and El-Amin negotiated it up to $72,000.
She didn't know much about negotiating but knew everyone said to ask for more, so she shot for something that would move her into the $70,000-range. "I didn't really have a strategy back then. I was just kind of happy to have a job at that point," she says.
In 2019, she got a promotion to a product development role and a salary bump to $89,000. She didn't have transparency into how pay was set and was told there wasn't an opportunity to negotiate for more. Several months later, she got an equity adjustment to bring her up to market earning just under six figures.
"I never really felt slighted," she says. "But looking back, I know there was a level of transparency I should have been afforded. And for whatever reason, I wasn't."
By 2020, El-Amin began talking to former college classmates about moving to a new company. She spoke with a fellow alum who worked at Mastercard, who ended up referring her to a product manager job. She describes it as being the "right time, right place" — "They were looking for someone with almost my exact background and I matched well with the team. It was a pretty swift interview process."
It helped that El-Amin had many former classmates and Amex co-workers at Mastercard, so she asked them for advice about the interview process and how much money to expect. When a recruiter asked about her salary expectations for the job, El-Amin turned the question around and learned the role paid from $119,000 to $160,00.
In March 2020 she was offered the job with a base salary of $130,000. El-Amin says leveraging her network helped her go through the hiring process quickly and end up with a competitive salary. She also thinks her confidence came through in interviews, since she was already gainfully employed and wasn't exactly desperate for a job, she says.
In 2021, she hit her 22% targeted bonus and earned upwards of $150,000 for the year. She says the big salary jump confirmed that she made the right decision to job-hop, even though some of her mentors advised against it.
"Seeing almost a year later that I made more than $50,000 by making that move I definitely felt affirmed in that decision," she says.
By May 2021, El-Amin was looking to change course again. She was anxious about returning to an office and wanted to work for a tech company with a remote-first environment. She started putting feelers out and went through a "grueling" job hunt, including at least 150 job applications and seven months of searching.
"That opened my eyes to being more intentional about the job search strategy," El-Amin says. "I was probably a little too overly confident that I could just easily land another role as a product manager."
In September, she applied to a job at PayPal on LinkedIn but didn't hear back for months. (She later learned the recruiting team experienced a lot of turnover, so her application got lost in the shuffle). She started real conversations in November and flew through interviews again.
With more negotiating experience under her belt, El-Amin asked the recruiter about the salary range for the role ($150,000 to $200,000). She got an offer for $186,000 and countered for $197,000, explaining that she had all the experience they were looking for and that she would excel in the role.
PayPal couldn't bump up El-Amin's base pay, so she instead negotiated for a $29,000 signing bonus to make up for the bonus she'd forfeit for leaving Mastercard. Paypal agreed.
El-Amin describes getting the PayPal offer as "a really proud moment, because it had been such a process getting to that point. There were days I was unsure of what I was going to be able to get. I just received so many rejections over that time period. And it really took me some time to really find my groove in the job search."
She worked for PayPal until February 2023 when she was part of a round of company layoffs.
El-Amin says she still gets nervous when she thinks about negotiating pay. That doesn't keep her from doing it, though.
"I've learned those feelings are normal, and I still have to make my ask in spite of feeling nervous," she says. "I know that the worst that they can say is no, we can't do that. But as I've seen in my own experience, I've been able to get a lot of things just by asking."
The best way to deal with the nerves is to have a script of exactly what points she wants to hit — her qualifications, why she specifically will excel in the role and make the company better — and then the higher salary she feels that expertise will command.
She makes sure to review all the details about the role she's learned from interviews, conversations with recruiters and intel from connections in the company to "really build a case as to why I deserve these extra things that I'm asking for."
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