The Top Up: How a Mid-30s Journalist Increased His Salary Sixfold

"I felt confident negotiating since I had work experience behind me. I figured they weren’t going to say 'No, we don’t want you anymore.'"
(illustration: Ashley Floréal)

Want to make more money at work? Of course you do. For 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. First up, a Toronto-based communications lead who works for a tech company tells CB how he went from making less than $30,000 to over six figures within a decade of working full time.

Want to help lift the veil on salaries in your industry? Email us at [email protected] to share your story anonymously with our readers.

Current job title: Communications lead 
Industry: Tech
Location: Toronto

First full-time job salary: $26,500 in 2015 as a radio news anchor and reporter

After I graduated from journalism school, I was working freelance gigs and short-term contracts as a writer and editor at national newspapers and news websites. I did this for two years, averaging about $40,000 a year. Then in 2015, I landed a job at a local radio station an hour outside of Toronto, in the town where I grew up. I was offered $26,500. I asked if they could do any better, and they said no, so I just accepted it. It was a big hit to my income, and I didn’t even try to negotiate; I knew how difficult it was to break into radio. But because the job was in my hometown, I could live with my parents and save on rent. I also knew this job wouldn’t be something I stayed in long-term. I wanted to get on-air experience for my portfolio. I worked Tuesdays to Saturdays, chasing stories, doing interviews and writing scripts. From midday to early evening, I anchored the news and recorded segments for six other stations in the network.

Second job salary: $50,000 in 2016 as a newspaper editor and tech reporter

The radio station was a super high-pressure environment. A newspaper editor that I had worked for on a previous contract had switched over to another paper and was building up their technology section. He knew I always had an interest in tech and he offered me a job as a digital editor. I’d also get to write tech articles and produce video and other multimedia, which I liked. They offered $50,000, and I didn’t negotiate because this job ticked all my boxes and it doubled my salary. Plus, I knew the editor and enjoyed working with him. 

About a year-and-a-half into starting this job, the paper had a push to unionize. Around the same time, management pulled me into an office and gave me a raise of $1,000. They didn’t say this outright, because that would be illegal, but my guess was that the raise was to convince me to vote against unionization. I accepted the raise—I didn’t negotiate—bringing my salary to $51,000. The paper never ended up unionizing.

Third job salary: $83,000 in 2018 as a senior communications associate at a tech company

I always wanted to get into the tech industry. I had built up a name and reputation for myself as a reporter, reviewing gadgets, going to product launches and getting exclusive interviews with founders. It was a good time to try something different and move into a communications role at a tech company. I figured I could always go back to journalism if it didn’t work out. Plus, the pay in journalism wasn’t great and the job security was questionable.

I saw a posting for a communications associate role at a major U.S. tech company’s Canadian office. I already knew their head of communications and reached out to him about the position. I applied formally, but I think my connection helped me get the job. They offered me $79,000. There was no salary range listed and I didn’t poke around or ask others for an industry average. I kind of just tested the water since by that stage in my career I had learned that you should always try to negotiate your salary. So I took a stab at it: I asked for $85,000. I felt more confident negotiating at this point since I had work experience behind me. I figured they weren’t going to say “No, we don’t want you anymore.” We settled at $83,000. I was in charge of communications for the consumer portfolio, meaning I’d write announcements about new app features, for example. I had a great boss, and I got a crash course in communications. 

After I was there for about four months, some people left the company and others got promotions, so I was promoted to communications lead for Canada. That role involved identifying opportunities in the business that I thought tech journalists would care about, then working with a PR agency to get the word out and land coverage. The promotion came with a raise of $3,000. I just took it and didn’t negotiate. I took on a lot more work for not a ton more money, but I had a supportive manager who trusted me. Plus, it would’ve taken me decades to earn a salary like that in journalism. 

Third job salary: $90,000 in 2020 as a senior media advisor for a transportation authority

My wife is from New Zealand. By early 2020, we had lived together in Canada for about four years and thought we’d try living in New Zealand to see where we wanted to settle eventually. We moved there in January 2020, then got married a month later. I was fortunate to line up work before we left Canada.

After working in tech, I wanted to try the public sector. I worked for the transportation authority of a major city in New Zealand. They covered transit, sidewalks, parking, roadways, bike trails—anything related to movement. I applied for a role as a communications associate.

I highballed my salary expectations to NZ$110,000, the equivalent of about CAD$90,000, which was higher than they expected for a public-sector gig. But they were super keen to hire me based on my experience. So they bumped up my title to a senior communications role so that I’d qualify for a higher pay band.

In this job, I wrote press releases and managed questions from the media, chasing answers for them within the organization. Anything with the public sector moves at a bit of a slower pace, especially compared to a tech start-up. I actually found it a bit boring at times, especially since I was used to the fast-paced nature of newsrooms. But I did enjoy moving into “crisis comms” mode, like when Covid lockdowns hit. I provided strategic counsel to the head of communications and the CEO using my prior newsroom experience to let them know how a journalist might think. 

After a year in New Zealand, my wife and I decided that we wanted to live there permanently. But we felt like we weren’t done with Canada yet. So we figured, before we settled down and had kids, we’d do one more stint in Toronto. 

Fourth job salary: $147,000 in 2021 as a national communications lead at a tech company—with 10 per cent in equity

In early 2021, I came across a job opening for a tech company based in New Zealand. They had circled Canada as a priority market and were hiring someone to lead communications here. It felt like the Venn diagram of my past experiences lined up for this job. I was hired in the spring of 2021.

I gave them a range of $140,000 to $160,000 and they offered $147,000. I took their offer since they said that was as much wiggle room as they had. I really wanted to work at the company.

Because of Covid travel restrictions, I worked out of their New Zealand office for eight months, leading communications in Canada remotely, before we moved back to Toronto in early 2022. So at first, I was paid in the equivalent in New Zealand dollars, but when we moved back I was paid in Canadian dollars.

I also got the equivalent of 10 per cent annual in stock options—which was a pretty exciting bonus. This company is listed on the Australian stock exchange and I saw a lot of growth opportunities, especially since I would have direct involvement in how well the company does in Canada. I’d identify interesting stories and narratives within the company and find ways to build awareness for the brand. I knew that the company was keen on a good work-life balance and that was part of the allure for me. 

In the summer of 2022, I got a raise as part of the company’s annual review process. They were based on performance—I know of some people who got a two per cent raise, some who got four per cent and some who didn’t get a raise at all. I got four per cent because I was exceeding my outlined performance goals, which landed me at my current salary of $150,800.

Best negotiation tip: Bet on yourself

When I graduated from journalism school, I knew I wanted to be a tech reporter. But when my portfolio only had written work and no broadcast. I wanted to show that I could do both and diversify my skills. By taking the radio job and accepting a lower salary, I was betting on myself. It was less about the money and more about the path to get to an end result. In a way, I was reverse engineering my dream job. It’s not always a bad idea to accept a job with lower pay, if you can afford to, if you know you’re gaining skills and you have a plan for your next steps. 

as told to Andrea Yu
as told to Andrea Yu
Andrea Yu is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. She writes about life, culture, real estate, business and health with a focus on human-interest stories.