I want to talk to you about a common mistake a lot of entry-level professionals make in their career – one that can truly cost them a lot and I don’t just mean money. This is something that can cost you your professional development, salary increases and potential career advancements. It’s something I wish someone would have told me when I was first starting out because unfortunately, it’s a lesson I learned the hard way firsthand. My hope is that by sharing it with you, I’ll be able to stop you from making the same mistake as you start your career.
In this post, we’re going to be talking about what the mistake is and how easy it is to make, why it’s so detrimental to your career and what you can do instead.
Because it’s a lesson I learned first-hand I’ll be including bits and pieces about my experience all with the goal of showing you what not to do.
The most expensive mistake that you can make in your fashion career when you’re first starting out is staying at the first company that gave you a job for years and years and years.
Now, I’m not talking about your after school part time gig, I mean your first salaried job.
Chances are when you got that first job, you didn’t have much experience interviewing or negotiating, which means your offer was low. But to you, it was a full time job and your first-ever salary – so it was AMAZING…and it truly is! I think everyone remembers that first job out of school or in the corporate world or some other area of the industry where it didn’t matter how much you made so long as you could be considered an “industry professional”, got a steady check and maybe even your own desk.
When you first start out in the fashion industry, it’s natural to be excited and eager to get your foot in the door, regardless of what you’re getting paid.
Now, I am by no means degrading this experience or the entry-level pay that normally accompanies it. This is a necessary part of everyone’s career. It’s the next part that we are going to be talking about.
Once you’ve gotten that job and have been working for some time, what usually follows is that after a year or two, you get a promotion and move up the ladder onto the next position. However, where people often start to make the mistake is when they start looking for another position within that same company to move to – after they’ve been there for 2 plus years.
I bet you’re saying, But, Maria, why is this a mistake? Isn’t it normal to want to continue moving up if you’re with a reputable company that you like working for and you’re good at your job?
While it may seem like you’re improving and advancing your career, you’re actually doing it a huge disservice in more than one area.
THE FIRST AREA: MONETARY LOSS
The first is in your salary and the offers you’re receiving. By moving up within the same company that gave you your starting entry-level salary, you’re potentially missing out on making thousands more … and I’ll explain why:
Many times, when you start your career at an entry level salary, by default, that amount becomes the starting point all other increases and promotions are measured against and move up from.
This doesn’t mean that your second or third promotions are measured back to your starting salary, but when you move from first role to second, the salary bump is based on that first amount you made. And then, when you step up from second to third promotion, your third position’s salary is now being measured against how much you were making in the previous role, which was measured up from your 1st.
This goes on and on and on depending on how many years and positions you stay with the company for.
Look at it like this: you’re moving up a ladder that started at the lowest possible starting point instead of getting a fair value on the roles you’re applying for or getting promotions on.
There was actually a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology that found that employees who stayed at a job for longer than two years were paid 50% less than their counterparts who moved on to a new job after just one year.
Another study, published in the Harvard Business Review, found that employees who stayed at a job for more than three years were paid significantly less than those who changed jobs more frequently.
There is a significant amount of research and information available about the negative effects of staying at a job for too long, including making less money than your counterparts. And this doesn’t even take into account that it’s even worse if it’s your first company.
Do you see how that could be detrimental to your salary advancement?
For those of you who don’t know, I got my first corporate job right out of college. I interned with this particular company my senior year and shortly after I graduated, they contacted me to let me know they had created a position for me within their marketing department.
I was definitely offered that entry level salary we’ve been talking about, but at that point, I didn’t see it that way. This was my ticket into the fashion industry – working for a major corporate company and fashion brand in New York City.
Two years flew by and before I knew it, I was offered a promotion in the form of a second role that was created for me. In reality, it was a similar role to what I had been doing, with some additional responsibilities and more divisions to be in charge of.
At this point, I knew I needed to be making a much higher salary than what I was offered for my first job and so I asked for a $15,000 salary increase. After many rounds of going back and forth with human resources, providing examples of my achievements within the last 2 years and the value these accomplishments provided for the company, they finally agreed.
Now, it might seem like I had asked for a lot of money and won. It may seem like my logic is wrong and that with this story, I proved my own theory wrong. But sadly, no.
That $15,000 salary increase I had to fight for brought my salary up to $50,000. If you do a quick Google search on salaries for marketing coordinators in NYC, you’ll see that they usually start at around $68,000. That’s almost $20,000 less than what I had just fought for.
At the time though, I was SO excited to be getting my $15,000 raise, I didn’t stop to research other companies or what they were paying for similar roles
THE SECOND AREA: PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT & GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES
Another area that can be negatively affected by staying at your first company for too long is your professional development and growth opportunities.
If you stay at that first company for too long, you may miss out on the chance to gain experience in different areas of the fashion industry or even in the way you learn certain processes, as this differs from company to company.
Starting a new job at a new company gives you the opportunity to broaden your skills and gain exposure to other ways of working, new systems and technology and gives you a chance to gain valuable experience that can help you advance in your career.
Having more work experiences can expose employees to a wider range of skills, methods and systems that they can bring with them into new roles and work settings.
By not learning or being exposed to these new skills or challenges, it means you’re not growing as a professional. In addition to affecting your career in the long-term, it hurts your resume, your earning potential and your prospects for future jobs.
Additionally, if you stay stagnant as the industry evolves around you, you won’t be an attractive candidate for any future roles you apply to. The truth is, the fashion industry is wildly competitive and is always looking to hire a person that brings that 10% edge. There is no edge to you or to your work if you’re just doing the same uninspired thing, day in and day out.
The novelty of my new position and the salary bump that came with it quickly fizzled out.
What I didn’t see at the time was that I had already been feeling like I wasn’t being challenged and like I wasn’t learning or growing towards the end of my 2nd year at my first role.
Taking on this new position that was, in essence, a lateral move, wouldn’t really bring me much more fulfillment in the short term, much less long term. The problem was that as each day passed, the job became more about crossing things off a to-do list than actually enjoying what I was doing. The feeling of not being challenged or learning anything new that could help me develop my career, my strengths or my skills was there, even stronger than before.
Admittingly, this is where I should’ve taken my leave. Instead, I stuck with this position for 4 ADDITIONAL YEARS.
THE THIRD AREA: CAREER ADVANCEMENTS
In addition to the areas that can be affected by staying with your first company for too long, there are also some negative outcomes of staying with any company for a long period of time that directly affect your career advancement opportunities.
Depending on the company you’re with (it obviously varies from small start-up to international corporation), you may find that the opportunities for growth and advancement within the company become limited. You might also find that the promotions or levels you have to climb make it almost impossible to actually move up.
Even if you are able to advance within your current company, there is a risk that you may become too comfortable in your current role and may not be motivated to continue learning and growing. This can lead to stagnation in your career and may make it more difficult for you to take on new challenges or adapt to changes in the fashion industry.
One of the most profound ways staying with the same company for too long can impact your career is that you will have fewer opportunities to network and build relationships with people in other organizations within the industry. This can absolutely limit your exposure to new job possibilities and make it more difficult to find a new position if you decide to leave your current company.
One of the most frustrating things I found the last year or two I was at this corporate company was that in order to move up to a position that I felt reflected my experience level at that point, the ladder I had to climb was so steep.
The trajectory from coordinator to senior manager alone had about 7 positions in between it. Keep in mind, this company did not like to promote within a year. Meaning, it would take almost a decade to move into a senior role.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD
So what can you do instead to help you avoid this negative career path?
Something that we often hear or read about on job sites like LinkedIn is that job hopping is bad – that it won’t look good to recruiters and hiring managers or that it will make you look like you can’t hold a job. In reality, job hopping is something everyone should be doing in their career. By doing so, it will open the door to meeting more people, learning additional skills, increasing opportunities for promotions and with it, pay increases, career growth…the list goes on and on and on.
After your two year mark, reassess your career goals and give yourself a time limit for how much longer you’ll stay with this company. Now I know some of you may be thinking that you don’t want to leave your company after 2 years – you’ve been getting raises and the potential for a promotion is there.
While many companies offer yearly salary increases, the reality is that competitor companies may offer a higher earning potential. What this means is: leaving a company gives you the opportunity to negotiate your salary with a new organization, which may offer more of an immediate boost to your earnings than your annual bonus.
At your interview, you can request a higher salary based on your negotiation skills, talents, and experiences. You’re no longer starting as the entry level professional with the salary you got right after college or when you were first starting out.
It’s not your first job anymore.
Now you’re starting as someone who has already been in the field and can ask for more money because not only do you have the experience under your belt, you have the name of the company you came from as well as references, a portfolio to show, projects to talk about, figures to impress them with – all things that you should have been collecting within the 2 years at your first job.
I’ll be making another post on how you should be saving every single task, assignment and project that you’re working on – in any company that you’re working at – or everything that you do – even as a freelancer because these are all things that may not make it to your resume, but they can translate over to things like a portfolio, a website and leverage for higher compensation in interviews.
All of these things will allow you to ask for a higher salary and better benefits.
Now, for those of you who love your current company and don’t necessarily want to leave, I have some tips for you too:
Using the concept of leaving your first company to exponentially grow your experiences and your pay, look for opportunities that interest you outside of this first place of work. Find a role that provides a better salary and gives you opportunities to learn new skill sets and grow as a professional.
After being there for a year or two, look for positions within your first company and feel free to go back. The difference now is that you’ll have even more recommendations, experiences and projects under your belt – PLUS – because you were being paid at a higher rate, it means that your starting potential salary is much higher than if you would’ve been promoted to this role internally.
I worked with someone at this first company who was a marketing manager and made a lateral move to another company after almost 3 years in that role. He was able to get a salary increase of $25,000 a year just by going to work for someone else.
After a year and a half, maybe 2 years, he came back as a senior manager, getting paid more than he was making at the new company, you know, the one that gave him the 25k salary increase …because now he had even more experience, more to offer and the position was a logical step up.
I finally left this corporate job after 7 years, set on starting my career as a freelancer within the events space. I decided I wanted to be my own boss and take on projects that filled me with joy while also bringing with them new challenges and experiences.
The good news was that I was invigorated and ready to take on this new adventure. The bad news was, I knew absolutely no one in this space that I could work with or even turn to for guidance
Being at the same company for so many years limited my network to only people that worked there and none of them knew anything about being a freelancer as they were full time employees.
So I had to start from the bottom and work my way up from there, sometimes taking on projects that were volunteer-based with little to no pay, in an effort to meet new people, learn new skills and have projects to add to my portfolio and resume.
I also spent hours and hours a day sending out cold emails to event production companies in my area, meeting them for informational interviews and asking to be part of their freelance rosters.
The first few years as a freelancer were difficult, but the hard work paid off in the end. I’ve enjoyed the luxury of being my own boss for almost 7 years now. Thankfully, work now comes from word of mouth recommendations, but I couldn’t have gotten here without the hard lessons and key learnings from my career. Being able to teach you from my life lessons and mistakes is something I will always be thankful for and never get tired of doing!
IN THE END…
The choice of how long you stay at any company, job or position is solely up to you. This particular lesson is something I’ve heard happen to many colleagues and it’s something I also had to go through to truly understand. Looking back on it now, I think it would be easy to say I would change this experience if I could. But the reality is, if I didn’t go through it, I wouldn’t have learned it and I wouldn’t be able to teach it to you.
While salary is important, what I didn’t realize when I was younger was that just as important as what you’re making is the responsibilities you’re given – the growth opportunities that you have as a professional. This doesn’t mean that you let people take advantage of you and give you every single project to work on, but there should be a constant state of learning, a constant state of growth that occurs within any role you’re in. Don’t let yourself get to the point where you feel stuck.
A mentor once said to me, “Start to look for other positions when you’re still happy in your current one.” At the time, I looked at her like she was crazy.
But the reality is, if you start to look for new jobs when you’re unhappy with your current position, you’re not going to be looking for the best thing for your career, for your growth – you’re gonna be looking for the fastest way out of there and realistically, you’ll probably just take whatever comes your way and that may or may not necessarily be what’s good for your career.
However, when you start looking for positions while you’re still happy and fulfilled in your career, you can really take the time to pick the companies you want to consider, read through the job descriptions available and understand what impact they’re going to have on your career. How much growth is possible, what you’re going to be doing, learning and ultimately, growing. This is what a healthy cycle of jobs looks like in this industry.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to stay with your current company or explore new opportunities is a personal one. Be sure to periodically reassess your career goals and consider whether staying with your current company, especially if it’s your first, is the best way to achieve them. If you feel that you have reached a dead end or that you are no longer learning and growing in your current role, it may be time to consider moving on to a new position.
The bottom line is this:
Every new place is like a reset button that gives you the opportunity to negotiate a better, higher salary based on the current market, your skills and your experiences. Be open to new opportunities and don’t be afraid to take calculated risks in order to advance your fashion career.
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