I’m 35 & I Left My Office Job For A Career In The Trades

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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Previously, we talked to an executive assistant in San Francisco, a sales research manager in New York City , and a psychologist in Los Angeles,

Age: 35

Current Location: Boston, MA

Current Industry & Title: Electrician Apprentice, Trades

Starting Salary: $28,000

Current Salary: $42,500

Number Of Years Employed: 14

Biggest Salary Jump: $45,000 to $52,800 in 2017

Biggest Salary Drop: $52,800 to $42,500 in 2019

Biggest Salary Negotiation Regret: “My biggest regret was not fighting for a raise every time I had a review. I was basically getting 2% cost of living increases for years and never spoke up for myself. I have many regrets, but I specifically regret that when I got my promotion, I didn’t negotiate for a larger salary increase. Also, whenever I did try to say I wanted a raise, I never backed myself up and showed why I deserve it or researched how much I should be making. That’s a huge regret.”

Best Salary-Related Advice: “Don’t be afraid to make changes. It’s never too late. I regret not leaving my job sooner and starting a career in the trades. I never had even thought about myself working in a trade. I didn’t think it was a real option. But now that I’m actually doing it, I love it. Before, I was working in traditional office jobs, and I didn’t like being so stationary from 9 to 5 every day. But I kept looking for those kinds of jobs not even realizing there is this whole other world I wasn’t taking into consideration.

“I wish I would have considered another profession sooner. My advice is not to just focus on traditional 9-5 jobs and office jobs and salary steps, but on work that makes you feel fulfilled. Step outside the box and don’t be afraid to try something you could never imagine yourself doing. Right now, I am an apprentice and the pay isn’t great, but in a few years I could be making up to $200,000 a year as a licensed electrician.”

“I had been working as a part-time sales associate while going to school, and they decided to promote me to retail department manager after I decided not to finish college. I was 21, burnt out from school, and decided to jump on the offer of a full-time job in retail while I researched options.

“At the time, I felt a little lost. Most of my friends were graduating with degrees while I felt confused about my future and what I wanted to do with my life. This felt like the right step at the time, and the job itself wasn’t horrible. It was stable and something I could count on. But managing people was a bit harder than I expected.”

“I never had an actual review at this job, which was a little strange. There was never a real opportunity to go in and discuss our performance. But we were given annual cost of living bumps. This year, I got a 2% raise.”

“Again, I didn’t have a performance review, so I wasn’t able to discuss how I had been doing in my position. I got another 2% annual cost of living bump.”

“I was terminated from my department manager job. I made the mistake of giving a discount to an old employee and faced the consequences in an unpleasant manner. It felt so devastating at the time; I had originally thought was no big deal because I had seen other managers giving discounts to family and friends in the past.

“I was embarrassed about the entire situation, but luckily after about two weeks of being unemployed, I received a call from a former employee and friend telling me to apply to a smaller wholesale company. I went in for one interview with the manager; he called me back within hours and offered me a position. I didn’t negotiate because it was a lot more than I had anticipated. I accepted on the spot.

“This job was good. I’m a people person so I like working with people. I was at a computer helping with orders and I liked it. But it was something I mastered quickly, and I started looking for growth.”

“After working for the same company for two years, I was promoted and became a key account coordinator. I felt like I had learned a lot and was ready for more responsibility. It was a small step, but felt I could keep growing with the company.

“My salary wasn’t changed other than a small raise since the company had gone through massive layoffs, and the economy wasn’t doing well. I received a small cost of living raise and was told that each year I would receive roughly a $2,000 cost of living raise.”

“In this job, I had formal annual reviews. I was given a $2,000 cost of living raise and accepted it without negotiating.”

“During my annual review, I was given a $2,000 cost of living raise and accepted it without negotiating.”

“During my annual review, I was given a $2,000 cost of living raise and accepted it without negotiating.”

“During my annual review, I was given a $2,000 cost of living raise and accepted it without negotiating.”

“During my annual review, I was given a $2,000 cost of living raise and accepted it without negotiating.”

“During my annual review, I was given a $2,000 cost of living raise. Because I tend to be a people pleaser, I never spoke up about the raises I was given each year at my annual review. I just accepted and never tried to negotiate.

“Looking back, I regret never once speaking up to ask for what I deserve. It was tough. I had gone through so many different managers, and each manager had a different type of working style; it was hard to learn how to navigate these dynamics.

“In my written reviews, I requested raises, but never said what I wanted or felt that I deserved based on the work I had been putting in. I just said that I wanted a raise. It was hard to push back, because I did technically get raises. I just never asked for more.”

“After not getting a raise in 2016 because of a poor performance review, I started to get more vocal about developmental growth. I tried to apply myself more and do more work at home after hours. I put some overtime in and made more of an effort to be vocal and share what I had done with my team. My COO offered me a chance to become a Product Development Manager, and I received a big raise. I accepted without negotiating.

“There had been some changes in the company, particularly with management. The COO of my company was difficult. I was unhappy for many years. Though I felt I worked ridiculously hard, I never reaped any real benefits. I felt overworked, exhausted, and anxious that I could lose my job at any moment. My self-esteem didn’t help — I never spoke up about getting additional raises and never really sought out a major raise.

”In the meantime, I was pursuing my online degree in Graphic Design and graduated in October of 2017. School was a weakness that I had put off for too long, and I felt proud of my degree achievement. As I was finishing up my degree, I started doing more product development and working with my coworkers to help enhance our product. I felt like it was a huge accomplishment, because I was never really a great student but I did like doing hands-on projects in the design program. That was a huge help with self-confidence at work.”

“I received another poor performance review in 2018 and didn’t receive a raise. I was overwhelmed, because I was trying to work really hard, felt I had done a lot to improve myself and it wasn’t being appreciated. Looking back, I was afraid of my boss, and felt that he never provided the type of mentorship that I needed. There was so much stress and pressure in a world that meant so little to me. I had so many doubts and so much regret about not making changes to my life sooner. I had been planning to quit no matter what, so when an opportunity came up I took it.

“I have a family friend who was in an electrician union and was always asking me if I wanted to join. I had turned him down multiple times, but the more I thought about it, the more I was interested in trying. After quitting my job, I decided to try it out on a whim and see if it was something I liked. You normally have to apply, take a test, and be interviewed to get into an electrical union; I feel really fortunate because I didn’t end up having to do all of that.

“The first little while was very overwhelming. Everything was so foreign, and I didn’t know how to use any of the tools. But I was lucky to be working with and mentored by a great journeyman (licensed electrician). As an apprentice, you work with a journeyman most of the time, and it’s on-the-job training. I was uncomfortable at first — I had no idea what I was doing. But the more you do it and the more practice you get, the more you get comfortable.

“Now, I am loving my job. I use power tools, get dirty, work on a construction site, wear a hard hat, and am completely happy with my choice. Yes, I took a salary cut, but I am paid just the same as a male apprentice. My school is free. I work overtime. When I work overtime, I actually get paid for it. I know that my salary cut will lead to an eventual larger salary increase once I become licensed. To become a licensed electrician, it will take roughly about 5 years. But after I finish my apprenticeship, I will be a licensed electrician and can make very good money.

“At 35, my career choice finally feels right. I am starting slowly, but am learning skills that I regret not learning earlier in life. The more I use these tools and the more I learn about this trade, it just feels right. In the past, a lot of things haven’t felt right in my professional career, but this does. I feel empowered and can’t wait to see what the future brings.”

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