The Job Interview Question That Helped This 25-Year-Old Negotiate Her $115,000 Salary

Illustration by Gene Kim

Welcome to Paycheck to Paycheck, where workers across the U.S. share how much they earn, how they got to their salary and their best negotiating tips. Ready to join the salary transparency conversation? Apply to be a part of the series here.

In this installment, a 25-year-old shares how she makes $115,000 working as a senior data analyst in Alexandria, Virginia.

Hannah Williams has no problem sharing how much she makes. She doesn't mind asking other people about their pay, either.

By day, Williams, 25, works as a senior data analyst and earns $115,000 per year.

In her free time, she gives out personal finance and career advice on social media and recently launched Salary Transparent Street, a video series where she asks strangers on the street how much they make in an effort to promote "equal pay through transparent conversations."

It all started from her own journey of job-hopping through five roles in three years and needing more data to figure out how much she should be paid.

She went from $40,000 to $90,000 but was still underpaid

Williams studied business management at Georgetown University, graduated in 2019 without any great leads and took a telemarketing job that paid $40,000 a year. Two months later and by "dumb luck," a small government contracting firm found her resume on a college job board. Williams was hired as a junior data analyst at $55,000 a year.

After eight months, Williams went to a career fair and landed a new job with a large consulting firm that paid $72,000 a year.

She didn't enjoy it but stayed for a year, then landed another new job through Indeed. It felt like a big opportunity — a jump to senior data analyst and a $90,000 salary — and, like every job change before it, she didn't think to negotiate.

"I thought I hit the jackpot," Williams says. "I was like, oh my god, I'm rich. I was only 24, I thought I had the world ahead of me, and I thought I was making crazy money."

But the celebration was short-lived. Soon after, Williams' colleague was fired, and she worked around the clock to do the jobs of two people. Her mental health took a dive. She prepared to ask for a raise, researched online and realized other people with her job and experience in the D.C. market were making $110,000 a year.

She brought her data to HR but was denied a raise request. Instead, she could make the case for a 2% increase after a year.

It instantly changed how she viewed her company. Williams nearly quit without a backup plan but instead, armed with data, started a new job search in earnest.

She got $5,000 more by asking one question

Williams fired up Indeed and started going on interviews. This time, she knew exactly what she should be making.

But every informational went the same way: HR would ask for her salary expectations, she'd respond that based on market data she wanted $110,000, and they'd say it was over budget.

"I got tired of having that conversation," Williams says. So during one informational, she flipped the script and used a negotiation tactic she'd heard of but never tried. When the recruiter asked for her salary expectations, Williams instead posed: "What's your budget for the role?"

The recruiter responded, unfazed: $115,000.

"At the time, I would have been more than happy with anything between $105,000 or $110,000. So I felt like she saved my a-- because I wouldn't have even bothered to ask for more than that," Williams says.

She collected herself and was short and concise in her response: "That works for me." Williams sailed through interviews, accepted the job and started in November 2021.

Getting people to talk about salary

By now, Williams knows the power of discussing pay. She's tried to talk to friends about it in the past, but they'd hesitate to share their own numbers. "It really just clicked for me that these conversations need to happen outside of our friend groups," Williams says, "and they need to become part of our society — something that's not taboo anymore."

So, Williams figures, she might as well put her own data out on her two TikTok accounts discussing career advice and salary transparency. To her surprise, strangers on the street have been pretty quick to open up and share their own numbers for her video series.

She wishes she had a similar resource earlier on. "You go to college and learn everything you need to break into your career field," she says. "But I never took a single course that taught me how to conduct market research, how to negotiate my salary, how to understand a 401(k) or an IRA — all of these core components of being a professional."

Her biggest advice to others figuring out their pay is to do market research, whether that's online or through personal conversations: "Having those numbers completely changes your outlook." For her, it took out the fear of the unknown or feeling like she might be taken advantage of.

Williams feels good about her earning power now, and most importantly for advocating for herself. "I'm only 25, and I'm just proud that I can also share what I've learned with others. The fact that I took an unconventional professional route has really worked in my favor, and I encourage others to step outside of the path they think they should follow, because you never know where it'll take you."

Check out:

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

This 34-year-old earns $125,000 as a project manager—why he prefers to work on short-term contracts

This 26-year-old negotiated his $120,000 salary by finding out how much his coworkers make

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