Once upon a time, I was 23 years old and miserable only 18 months into my public relations job.
The work was interesting and I liked my boss, but I was young and resentful about my $28,000 salary.
I’d tell myself that I was just starting out, that it was part of paying my dues. At least I had a job! With the economy the way it was, I should have been happy with anything I could get, right?
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I wanted life’s little luxuries, like getting my hair cut without guilt and replacing my hand-me-down furniture. I also had big dreams for the upcoming years: I wanted to get married to my boyfriend, travel and buy a house.
And I knew there wasn't much potential for advancement where I was: One of the biggest red flags was that my boss told me that he was grooming me to be a director in the company ... and then put out a job posting to hire someone above me! I knew I had to get out before I wasted more time there being overlooked for promotions.
It became very clear to me that this job wouldn’t allow me to live the life I wanted, but I didn't have the time or money to pursue further degrees or certifications. Instead of scrapping my dreams, I leveraged my existing skills to make more money in the following three ways.
1. I Used My Skills in a New Field
What I loved most about my PR job was that I got to use my writing and research skills. I’ve always loved the challenges of research and writing, from science papers in high school to corporate white papers, and I figured that those skills could apply to hundreds of careers—not just PR.
Keeping that in mind, I researched all types of fields and career paths that had never remotely interested me. I investigated getting a Ph.D. and pursuing academia. I thought about starting a tutoring business. I sent resumes out for entry-level jobs in business consulting and market research.
After about six months of job searching, I was able to land a job in investor relations at a financial firm, instantly doubling my salary and life satisfaction. Was the job directly related to PR? No. Did it involve writing? Yes. And, if you read on, there are reasons that it worked for me—and that the firm was willing to take a chance on me.
How You Can Do It: The thing about switching jobs is that there tends to be a lot more wiggle room for salary negotiation. At your existing job, the company knows not only your current salary but the amount of every raise and bonus, while a new company will pay you based on what they think you're worth, not what you've been paid in the past. And no field is out of reach: I believed at one point that a jump from PR to IR was impossible because I didn’t have the financial background—but I proved myself wrong.
I was selling my skills, not my experience. Had I tried to talk about all of my public relations successes, the hiring manager wouldn’t have been able to relate and would never have considered me. Instead, I told him how I am an organized researcher, an efficient writer and quick to pick up new ideas. I would take their scattered reporting process and make it better. Of course he hired me!
2. I Negotiated a Raise
After a year in my new investor relations job, I knew it was time for a performance review. Without any additional skills (and just one year on the job), I was able to negotiate a 20% salary increase.
This is how: In my first full year of working, I saved every positive email, documented all of my accomplishments, noted where I worked outside of my "job description," and clearly demonstrated how well I had improved the company’s process for reporting quarterly client investments.
When I met with my supervisor, he was blown away by my preparation and my demonstrated successes. I asked for a 20% raise, thinking we would negotiate it down, but he accepted my first offer.
How You Can Do It: Follow my example: document everything (good). Did your boss pay you a compliment, or did you get a thank you email from your department head? Did the monthly metrics report reflect how much your efforts earned the company, or how many new clients you brought on board? Keep track of it all, along with your daily tasks and your original job description, if you can get ahold of it. When you go in to negotiate a raise (and by now it's common knowledge that in most jobs, the only way to get is to ask), focus on what you've done already, and use your records as proof of your value.
Of course, this won't work the same way for everyone—small companies can usually be more flexible with compensation—but a record of your accomplishments is always a good thing to have.
3. I Looked for Freelance Work
Around the same time as I negotiated my raise in my new job, my then-boyfriend (now husband) proposed. Although I was making plenty of money, I hadn’t saved for a wedding—which I've written about before. Not wanting to go into debt to fund the celebration, I used my skills again to make extra money on the side—by starting a freelance web writing business.
I went to local businesses and proposed helping them write the content on their websites. While hustling for clients and working on nights and weekends, I used my existing writing skills to bring in about $500 extra per month, which went straight into the wedding fund.
How You Can Do It: Now, I know that freelance writing is kind of cliche—it's a skill that lends itself to flexibility. Some writers even work remotely while they travel the world! But my approach isn't limited to writing. Are you a graphic designer? Do you work in public relations? Are you a whiz at financial models? If you have a skill that you can utilize without physically being in an office all day, you can freelance. If you have the time, you can even get paid to do other people's odd jobs.
*Name has been changed.