Meet Corey, a 43-year-old sales professional based in Danbury, Connecticut. When COVID hit, Corey’s sales position in global mobility and employee relocation was also hard hit. So she started transitioning into a new career. But her salary negotiation didn’t go as expected and put her on a totally different path. Here’s our conversation edited for length and clarity.
I was in sales for a long time – global mobility, so relocation. Obviously, due to COVID, the world stopped moving. I was let go. And for a while I was job searching. I needed health benefits and I really wanted to get into recruiting.
One of my colleagues is friends with a woman who has a PR firm. I interviewed with their HR person. Him and I hit it off. I was going to be a recruiter, new to the space, but I’ve been in sales for 15 years so I get it.
I went through two interviews. There was a little homework assignment, did that.
And then they were like, “Oh, can you start Monday? And I was like, let me look at this and go through it.”
It was like a Tuesday or Wednesday. I got like a paragraph, I actually have it. “I believe we can proceed by having you start part-time 20 to 25 hours per week. Contractor role. Do you have time Wednesday or Thursday to discuss?”
We ended up speaking and I was like, “I want full-time but I understand that if it has to be part-time. And you guys are looking to grow. And if this is a way that I can come on full board, I’m all for it. Either this week or the following week. Can you just go $5 more an hour?”
And then, no response.
I actually called my girlfriend to walk me off the ledge. And she said, “Do you want the job? Like, what are you looking for? Do you want to kind of tell him to f- off? Or do you want it? “
And I said, “Can we do both?”
I think my big thing was, you tell me that you want to hire like 50 more people and that you have an immediate start.
You wanted me to start within five days and I’m only countering for an extra hundred dollars a week. If you can’t do it, that’s fine.
And finally, I was like, “I was supposed to start last week, what’s going on?”
And then, “Well, you’re the first person we talked to and you don’t have experience. So we’re going to look elsewhere.”
And I said, “You wanted me, I wanted this job. What is preventing us from working together?”
I said, “If you can’t go the extra $5 an hour, that’s fine. I’ll take the role. I’m interested and I understand that this is a gateway to work full time with you guys.”
Still nothing. Went weeks.
That part was really frustrating just because I really wanted to get into this industry. I wanted to get into this role. So you know, this is my opportunity.
I’m wondering where that’s left you with how you feel about work – and the kind of work you do want to do or don’t want to do?
So when my position had been eliminated years ago, I became a certified matchmaker and dating coach. And I said, I’m getting out of this industry. I’m getting out of sales. So I went through the certification process as I was looking for jobs.
Started my business, had an event, three weeks later we shut down due to COVID. I’m thinking people aren’t going to date, what are people going to do?
So I kind of sat back for a year and was like, okay, let me understand the industry and let me understand what’s happening. At this point, I’m rebranding, I’m redoing everything. And I said, you know what, if I’m going to go out and I’m going to sell, I’m going to work for me.
I don’t mind getting up at 5:00 AM to do something if I’m doing it for me.
At this point, I’m done. I’m done having to report, having to be micromanaged, having to tell everybody.
I just want to do it. Like let me just execute it, let me do what I need to do.
And I think I’ve seen a lot of folks do that.
My girlfriend’s getting her real estate license. Just a lot of people right now just are taking control of what they want to do.
What specifically are you done with?
I’ve been in corporate sales for 15 years. The thing with sales is, I know I’m replaceable. I know there’s going to be somebody who’s younger. Who’s going to come in making less money. I understand that.
But my big thing was, the days of cold calling are done. People are doing hybrid. People are working from home. People aren’t going back to their offices. So traditional sales – it’s over. So you need your marketing to come out strong. And if I’m not supported by the business and it’s just, they want me to do certain numbers, I would rather be consultative relationship building and spend time closing deals that I know that are actually going to close rather than filling a column with an RFP or something.
So for me it was, I don’t want to just do the metrics. I want to close business that I’m going to make money, the company is going to make money off of, and just to work with a company that is supporting their sales team.
And what do you love about the work you’ve been doing for yourself?
It’s still kind of sales. I mean at the end of the day, everybody wants to be in love. They want to have some sort of relationship. I enjoy meeting new people. I enjoy going out there and having conversations with them. I love the fact that I work from home. There’s times that I’ve taken my laptop and sat at the beach and worked. You can work anytime of the day. If I want to workout at seven, eight o’clock in the morning or noon, I can do that. It’s that flexibility and not having the overhead, not having to go to an office every day. And just to be able to do what I want to do.
Note from the editor: The ambition diaries are a collection of interviews with women who’ve experienced the ambition penalty. The ambition penalty speaks to the paradox at the heart of women’s empowerment. To close gender gaps in pay, wealth and leadership, women have been directed to “speak up, negotiate more, and take what they deserve” — overlooking how women are often penalized for doing those very things.
The ambition penalty helps explain why decades of educational gains and a lifetime of “empowerment” haven’t translated into corresponding gains for women in the workforce, in wealth or in leadership. Because it’s not that women aren’t negotiating or speaking up or working to get what they deserve, it’s that they’re doing so within a network of institutions that undermine and penalize them when they do. And it’s these conditions, not the behavior of women, that need more of our attention if we want to make meaningful progress on measures of equity.
Do you have a story to tell about how ambition has played out in your life — for better or for worse? Let us know in the comments.
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