In 2012 I worked for a hospital system in East Texas as a staff accountant. I was a single mom living paycheck to paycheck, making a salary of $42,500. Fast forward five years to 2017, I was at a director-level making $135,000. In this article, I reveal the top moves I made that tripled my salary in five years.
Changed jobs every 2-4 years.
Over the course of the last eight years, I switched companies five times. I was promoted in two of those jobs, so I've had seven different job titles in eight years. If the current company doesn't pay me what I'm worth, I know that I can negotiate higher pay when I'm ready to switch companies.
No longer do we live in a culture that values tenure. You can actually hurt your resume by not changing jobs often enough. Why? You will be perceived to lack experience if you stay in one job for too long. Working for different companies exposes you to different technologies, techniques, management styles, and processes. How can you know the “best practice” for anything if you only ever seen ONE practice? As you work for different companies, you can take the best ideas with you, and leave the rest behind. All companies have shortcomings, and all have something you can learn from. Sometimes the most difficult situations breed the best experiences. Learn from them, learn how to change and adapt, and bring those skills with you to the next job.
Never said no to more responsibility.
There will come a time when your boss will be in a tough situation because one of his or her direct reports failed in some way. He or she may come to you and ask you to step up and help fix the situation. Never say no. You may be terrified of stepping up and taking on a new role. You may question whether you have the skills to step in and make a change. Don't. You got this.
When I was working in Fort Worth as a financial analyst, the controller was failing miserably at making sure the payroll clerk processed payroll correctly. Our company was owned by doctors, and in early January, the doctors received their pay a day late. This was the last of many mistakes. On a brisk Monday morning, my boss came to me and asked me to take over payroll, hire a new clerk, restructure processes, and make sure the same mistakes never happened again. I was shocked. My first thought was to ask, “Are you going to pay me more?” But instead, I wisely said “Yes.”
Two weeks later the controller quit, and guess what? They offered me her job. I had already proven I was willing to do whatever it took to get the job done. They gave me a new title, Accounting Manager, and said I had 6 months to prove myself. Although I was annoyed that I did not receive an immediate pay raise, I knew that with the manager job title, I would qualify for management jobs at other companies eventually. After 6 months I got a nice raise, and a good bonus at year end.
Two years into the job, I had taken all of the processes and made them less manual, more efficient, and paperless. I had taken a 10 hour per day job and made it into a 6 hour per day job. I was bored and needed a new challenge.
Willing to relocate.
When an ex co-worker called me and asked if I was interested in a Revenue and Treasury Manager job in Phoenix, I didn't say no. At the time, I was still a single mom, but in a long-distance relationship with a guy who was based in Alberta. It would be much easier for him to visit me in Phoenix than Fort Worth. There's a quick flight from Great Falls, Montana, just south of the Canadian border, and Mesa, Arizona, part of the Phoenix metro area, that made quick, frequent visits more realistic.
I flew out to Phoenix to interview for a job that didn't even exist yet, and attended a University of Utah football game with my boyfriend who had taken the quick flight in. We drove around the city and I decided it was somewhere I could live.
Four months later, my son, our dog Daisy, and I left Texas in our CX-5, headed across the desert toward our new home. When we left Fort Worth, we didn't have a place to live in Phoenix beyond a La Quinta hotel room. I probably had 25 days worth of cash to live on, and no other assets beyond my car and a formal job offer. It took me three days to find us a house to rent in Phoenix with a nice pool in the backyard for barely more than I'd paid for a 2 bedroom apartment in Phoenix.
The job offer provided a base pay rate that was $15,000 higher than the job in Phoenix, with a director title. Little did I know what a challenge working for that company would be over the next three years of my life.
Specialized in an Industry or Niche.
I was offered the position in Phoenix with a company that was basically a start-up. The company was private equity funded, and they were looking to grow and, and ultimately sell to a big corporation. They had already acquired a couple of companies, and were looking for more acquisitions. They had just grown by 100% the month I started. They acquired businesses with complicated contracts and processes, and needed someone to jump in and figure things out. I was hired because I had specialized knowledge in calculating revenue for healthcare companies, specifically radiology. I knew how to bridge the gap between the revenue cycle department and the finance and accounting department. I had proven that at my last job, and the Revenue Cycle Director knew it. She's the one who had asked them to hire me. I immediately stepped in and started building KPI (Key Performance Indicator) dashboards to monitor our accounts receivable. By the time we were done acquiring companies, we had 17 different entities and five different billing companies that we were monitoring, with a skeleton staff. Efficiency was key.
After a few months into the job, the controller quit. I was asked to step in and take over the job. At that point I was doing two jobs – the controller position and the revenue cycle director position. I was also making more money – they gave me a pay raise of $15,000. I stayed in that job for three years. After two years we sold to a $6B corporation, and I spent the final year setting up the books for the newly acquired company and transitioning the complicated accounting processes that had been handled by four people to a department of a hundred. From a private equity company to a public corporation, we went through a rigorous process to bring our documentation up to the standards needed by the public entity. It was an invaluable experience. My specialized knowledge was even more elite, and I was able to use that knowledge to land my next position.
A Change Maker
Many times throughout my career, high level personnel have asked me to look into a process and make it better. I am known as someone who is efficient and good at figuring things out. People who are afraid of change, or who think their processes can't be improved, tend to stagnate and stay in the same jobs forever. They cling to routine. Routine, although it has a place in processes, should never be prioritized over making improvements to technology or processes. There's almost always a better way to do things. Always be looking for those opportunities and implementing them.
Problems = Opportunity
You may walk into a new company and realize on day one that the new company has some serious deficiencies. Their processes are stale, methods old school. They are still using fax machines. They type numbers into fillable pdfs and run a tape to add a total at the bottom, instead of using Microsoft Excel. You might think that's crazy – no one would do that. The truth is, I just uncovered such a process at my current company. Instead of freaking out, I simply saw it as an opportunity to make a change that benefits the company. It was an easy win that solved an efficiency issue for two departments at a time when it was critical – we were on the verge of sending a 50 person department home to work during the Coronavirus pandemic. Management decided that not only would we send them home through the pandemic, we would keep them at home indefinitely. Some processes had to be automated, and there I was with a wealth of experience to help make it happen.
I tripled my salary over five years and I did it by being an employee who could step up and solve problems. I was willing to relocate, and I was an implementer of change. I changed jobs every 2-4 years, and I never said no to more responsibility, even when a pay raise was not offered at the time. It almost always pays off later when you can add new skills to your resume.
I could mention a host of other things like be self-motivated, have a good attitude, nurture relationships, and so on. Those things are important too. I focused on the factors that made the biggest difference in my own career. Never stop learning and growing, and watching the smart people who are in charge. There will be people above you who impress you – watch how they do things and then learn to do those things. Be competitive, but pleasant. Most importantly, never set low expectations for yourself.