The Top Up: How This HR Exec Doubled Her Salary Within a Year

"I was very transparent about the offers I was receiving from elsewhere. In fact, I shared an offer letter I got from another company."
(illustration: Ashley Floréal)

Want to make more money at work? Of course you doFor our series The Top Up, Canadians across different industries tell us exactly how much they earn—and how they navigated every raise, promotion and job change to get it. Each month, a different executive shares their journey and their best advice for how you can better negotiate your salary, too. This month, a Toronto-based HR director who works at a software-as-a-service company tells CB how she went from making $60,000 to $150,000 within seven years of working full time.

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Current job title: Human resources director  
Industry: HR
Location: Toronto

First full-time job salary: $60,00 in 2016 as the director of performance and culture at a wholesale company

In university, I had a part-time job working with my university’s student union council. I oversaw legal and financial aspects of the organization, and I was able to network with a lot of professionals in the HR industry through that work. I used those relationships when I entered the job market, and I was able to negotiate a higher starting salary at my first “adult job”—director of performance and culture for a wholesale distribution company. Back then, new grads were making $48,000 to $55,000 but thanks to my relevant experience, I was able to get $60,000.

First raise: $60,000 in 2017, bringing salary to $120,000

Before I joined the company, it lacked structure in many areas. Within my first year I built a system for tracking performance, improved legal operations and enhanced organizational design. I defined business goals clearly and indicated which KPIs we needed to achieve. These changes drove my performance as well as the performance of others, and helped me make the case for my first raise.

Because I was working in HR, I saw how much the previous person who had my job was being paid. Taking this, as well as my experience and contributions into account, I created a proposal for what my compensation should be. I stated what I thought was reasonable: $85,000 to $100,000. They offered me $120,000 because everyone else in the company had a bonus and I didn’t. Instead of adding a bonus, they just gave me a higher salary.

With this promotion I started managing five people and the scope of my role expanded: The geographic focus of my work went from Ontario to the whole of Canada, and then Latin America. I became responsible for budgets and developed a new co-op program for young talent. In my expanded role, I reported directly to the executive leadership. This line of communication allowed me to learn more of the business-side of the organization and gave me a chance to build trust with senior colleagues.

Second job salary: $90,000 in 2018 with $30,000 in equity as HR lead at a financial-services start-up

I changed jobs because my former boss moved to another company and asked if I’d be willing to join her at the start-up, too. I knew that you need to be scrappy when it comes to working at start-ups, and be comfortable with risk. You shouldn’t be jumping on board because of money, but because of the vision, the leaders you’d be working with and the impact you can have. And you have to be willing to work like hell to make it happen. These are qualities the company saw in me when I applied. I used my past work experience improving organizations and growing teams as salary-negotiation leverage.

There was a ton of risk in this job switch: The business wasn’t doing well; there were issues with profitability and executing the vision; and management wasn’t hitting its targets. But I wanted to work with my mentor again and was up for the challenge of fixing a problem-ridden start-up.

Third job salary: $105,000 in 2019 as VP of HR at a cannabis company

After a year at that financial-services start-up, I was poached by a cannabis company. I was attracted to a situation where I could work on a product that was going from illegal to legal. That rarely happens in our economy. It was my opportunity to show my HR skills in an emerging industry.  

“Know the results your business is interested in and deliver them to your boss before discussing an increase in salary”

I was promised equity for a total compensation of $130,000—but the company’s IPO didn’t go as planned and the stock price dropped, so my salary sat at $105,000. I wasn’t in a position to negotiate a raise since the whole company was downsizing. I had to lay people off and was eventually laid off myself. So, for a few months in the summer of 2020, I was out of work.

Fourth job salary: $105,000 plus $20,000 in equity in 2020 as HR director at a SaaS company

While a lot of people like myself were let go in the HR industry during the start of Covid, months later, things in my field changed: Companies were scrambling to hire talent. In particular, American companies were hiring Canadians to work remotely. They were paying very competitively, relative to their Canadian competitors. So there was a huge demand for HR professionals. I started at a base salary of $105,000 with $20,000 in equity, bringing my total compensation to $125,000. After a year, and a lot of effort on my part, my team quadrupled and the company tripled in size. I decided it was time to negotiate a pay increase. I determined a number based on the growth of the business and my contributions to that success by hiring key employees and significantly increasing the scope of my duties. I also took advantage of the market dynamics.

First raise: $45,000 in 2021, bringing salary to $150,000

Negotiations were in person and took about a month. I was very transparent about the offers I was receiving from elsewhere. In fact, I shared an offer letter I got from another company for $140,000 plus 30 per cent bonus. We went back and forth about what would make me happy. They asked me what kind of base and equity would be fair, given the particular market pressures. My base went from $105,000 to $150,000.

Best negotiation tip: Know what matters to your organization

Know the results your business is interested in and deliver them to your boss before discussing an increase in salary. For instance, in my first job, I built a co-op program—which still exists today. You have to be willing to contribute lasting value. You do this so you can say something like, “Look what I’ve done to save time or generate money.” And the more senior you get, the longer-term you want your impact to be.