Salary Story: The High Salary Wasn’t Worth My Mental Health

·5-min read

In our series Salary Stories, women with long-term career experience open up about the most intimate details of their jobs: compensation. It’s an honest look at how real people navigate the complicated world of negotiating, raises, promotions and job loss, with the hope it will give young women more insight into how to advocate for themselves — and maybe take a few risks along the way.

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Age:
27
Location: London
Current industry and job title: Law (in-house) legal counsel. However, law is not my passion and I finally found the courage this year to leave law and pursue a different role that will get me closer to my dream job. I've therefore just accepted a senior account manager role and will be responsible for selling my company's beauty portfolio into our supermarket customers.
Current salary: £59,740 + £8,000 car allowance.
Number of years employed since school or university: 4.5
Starting salary and year: 2017, £37,000.
Biggest salary jump: 2019, from £50,000 to £58,000.
Biggest salary drop: 2021. I successfully negotiated the same base salary for my new role starting in a couple of months but will receive £6,000 as a car allowance (a £2,000 reduction).

Biggest negotiation regret? Not having the confidence in the value of my skills to ask for what I was really worth! I qualified as a solicitor in 2019 but knew the toxic culture of City law firms was not for me so took the unusual step of not applying for a job at the firm I had trained at. I was the only one in my cohort of about 60 trainees who did not apply so HR were pretty shocked! During my training contract I had worked on secondment for a fantastic FMCG company and knew I wanted to work there but there were no opportunities available at the time so I took a job for a boutique London law firm instead. They offered me £48,000, which was the same as my trainee salary. I negotiated them up to £50,000 but regret not asking for more – I think I was so grateful to get out of the City culture that I undervalued myself. I trained at one of the top firms where salaries start at £70,000+ for newly qualified lawyers and although boutique firms never pay the same, I definitely should have asked for more.

Best salary advice: Follow your values, not the number on your payslip. Like many, when I graduated university I was swept up in the notion that I should take the highest paid job I could get and did not spend enough time thinking about whether it was really right for me. In hindsight, I didn't enjoy my summer internships but ignored the red flags because I was focused on a number. Well, let me tell you, these City firms work you to the bone for that number! Fast-forward six months into my training contract and I was suffering from anxiety and depression – no salary is worth your mental health.

I was offered my first job as a trainee solicitor off the back of a summer internship between my second and third year of university. A lot of my friends had been applying at the same time as me and many were struggling to get internships, let alone job offers, so I felt very lucky to have received an offer for £37,000. Looking back, I took the job so I could feel 'secure' and not have to worry about my third year of uni so much.
I was offered my first job as a trainee solicitor off the back of a summer internship between my second and third year of university. A lot of my friends had been applying at the same time as me and many were struggling to get internships, let alone job offers, so I felt very lucky to have received an offer for £37,000. Looking back, I took the job so I could feel 'secure' and not have to worry about my third year of uni so much.
My law firm merged with an even bigger one so our salaries were increased (mine to £42,000) to align with those of the firm we merged with, although it took a couple of months to happen which created a lot of frustration. It's not very motivating working 14 hour days on a corporate deal, knowing the trainee next to you is being paid more.
My law firm merged with an even bigger one so our salaries were increased (mine to £42,000) to align with those of the firm we merged with, although it took a couple of months to happen which created a lot of frustration. It's not very motivating working 14 hour days on a corporate deal, knowing the trainee next to you is being paid more.
Typically trainee salaries will increase in the second year to reflect the increase in experience. In all honesty I was quite surprised at the increase – £5,000 seems like a lot for just one year more of experience! However the London legal market is extremely competitive and many of the more traditional firms have had to up their salaries to compete with US law firms that have come to London and pay nearly double.
Typically trainee salaries will increase in the second year to reflect the increase in experience. In all honesty I was quite surprised at the increase – £5,000 seems like a lot for just one year more of experience! However the London legal market is extremely competitive and many of the more traditional firms have had to up their salaries to compete with US law firms that have come to London and pay nearly double.
My job as an associate was my first job having qualified as a solicitor. I left the firm I trained at to go and work for a boutique firm that specialised in providing in-house-style legal services to fashion businesses – it was the fashion part that attracted me to the job. I was assigned three main clients and would work from the offices of my biggest client once a week. The pay was £50,000.
My job as an associate was my first job having qualified as a solicitor. I left the firm I trained at to go and work for a boutique firm that specialised in providing in-house-style legal services to fashion businesses – it was the fashion part that attracted me to the job. I was assigned three main clients and would work from the offices of my biggest client once a week. The pay was £50,000.
An opportunity finally came up at the FMCG company I had worked for as a trainee while on secondment. I loved my secondment – it made me see that there could be a completely different reality to working as a lawyer and I loved the direct contact with business partners. My boss from my secondment called me to let me know she had a role for £58,000 plus £8,000 for car allowance. I said yes and the rest is history.
An opportunity finally came up at the FMCG company I had worked for as a trainee while on secondment. I loved my secondment – it made me see that there could be a completely different reality to working as a lawyer and I loved the direct contact with business partners. My boss from my secondment called me to let me know she had a role for £58,000 plus £8,000 for car allowance. I said yes and the rest is history.
After a year in the role I got a 3% pay rise to £59,740 plus car allowance. Our company struggled with growth during the pandemic so I was not expecting a great pay rise and this was broadly in line with my expectations.
After a year in the role I got a 3% pay rise to £59,740 plus car allowance. Our company struggled with growth during the pandemic so I was not expecting a great pay rise and this was broadly in line with my expectations.
After four and a half years of never quite feeling like I fitted in as a lawyer, I bit the bullet and pursued a career change. I went into it with the expectation that I would have to take a significant step down but my boyfriend helped talk sense into me and made me realise all the transferable skills I have. I spent four months networking with the team I wanted to apply to and doing courses to boost my skillset, then applied for two roles, one more senior than the other. I got the more senior role and I start in a couple of months, which just goes to show you should always shoot for the moon and see what happens! I negotiated the salary to the same as my old salary, although the car allowance is £2,000 less.
After four and a half years of never quite feeling like I fitted in as a lawyer, I bit the bullet and pursued a career change. I went into it with the expectation that I would have to take a significant step down but my boyfriend helped talk sense into me and made me realise all the transferable skills I have. I spent four months networking with the team I wanted to apply to and doing courses to boost my skillset, then applied for two roles, one more senior than the other. I got the more senior role and I start in a couple of months, which just goes to show you should always shoot for the moon and see what happens! I negotiated the salary to the same as my old salary, although the car allowance is £2,000 less.

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