A woman shares her experience of quitting her job to do her master's degree

Nomphumelelo Sibiya. (Photo: Supplied)
Nomphumelelo Sibiya. (Photo: Supplied)

But after years away from tests and assignments, the 26 year old is both excited and a bit frightened. Is she making the right decision? This is her story.

“A few weeks ago I resigned from a permanent job to pursue my master’s degree – it’s a bitter-sweet situation and it wasn’t an easy decision to make. Even though I worked as a data analyst, which is someone who extensively uses Microsoft tools to translate numbers and help companies make better decisions, I always knew I wanted to do my master’s – I just never thought it would be so soon or even full-time.

After a lot of self-talk, self-convincing and support (but not approval) from friends and family, I made the hard decision to leave my job, which I had lost interest in over time.

During this period I had also looked into the market-related salary for someone in my field, based in Cape Town, in hopes of finding better prospects which would perhaps inspire me to stay put.

After reading several articles and investigating amongst my peers I became distressed when I realised I had been making next to nothing. 

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I then decided to extend my job search to the Joburg region and after multiple attempts at various companies with no luck, I finally scored myself a job offer with Company X (I won’t use the real name).

I was delighted as this was everything I wanted in terms of my career growth prospects. At the first interview I was asked a question many of us shy away from – what my salary expectation was. 

I usually don’t answer this question, I give the company an opportunity to value me or tell me what they have to offer for my skills as well as experience and most often than not the company can become apprehensive, making the entire dialogue a back and forth situation.

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A while later I got a call from their HR representative asking for my pay slip and I forwarded it to them. Big mistake! They then called me to discuss compensation and told me their company policy requires they provide new employees 5% more than whatever they currently earn.

This just doesn’t sound right to me. For example, if Person A works in Company Y with less experience, less education and makes R40 000. Person B works for Company Z with more experience and more education but only makes R25 000.

Should they both get hired by Company X this means Person B will make less than Person A despite their experience, job roles and responsibilities, education or any other income factors.

Also, it is important to note this entire discussion was being done with a representative from one of the company’s departments rather than someone from HR. Let's call him “William”.

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William made it clear we couldn’t come to an agreement. The only option offered was for me to take what they had offered and wait for my salary review, which would only happen the following year in June.

Only then would they align my salary with the market.

This amount – 5% – was below the inflation rate, not to mention the fact that my current salary wasn’t close to market value. So I’d still be making next to nothing if my new salary were to be based on my current salary. 

Your remuneration package should never be based on what you currently make, always make sure that is clear.

Before declining Company X’s final offer I negotiated two offers - they would either offer me a market-related salary or the minimum amount I was willing to take – but that didn’t go so well.

I was blatantly told by William that if I was only moving for more money I should stay where I was and look for growth in corporate business as what they had to offer in terms of career growth was beyond what I had received at my previous company. 

Mind you, this was all after I had completed several assessments before the job offer in which they were impressed with my skills, yet they don’t think I was deserving of the minimum market-related salary.

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Eventually, William went his way and I went my own way too. I remember I was so angry and I actually cried out to God in frustration asking why this was happening as I had hoped this particular job would be my career breakthrough. A week later I was still indecisive about whether I wanted another job or if I was going to stay put.

Although moving back to Durban meant I’d be closer to my family, the thought of going back to university after three year of not studying was both exciting and scary. Then I received a surprising phone call.

It was Company X again, only this time it wasn’t William contacting me, let’s call her “Nontombi”.

I don’t want to make this a race issue, but it was really starting to feel like one. Mind you, William and I didn’t part on good terms. Nontombi tells me William sent her to come back and negotiate with me.

My first question is, why is he sending someone else? Why is that someone black? Could he not come back and swallow his pride and admit what he said was totally out of line? 

The story gets even more interesting. Nontombi asks me what my expectations are. I tell her and she’s shocked because that’s still very low compared to what other analysts are making at Company X and to my surprise William didn’t even tell her what really happened between us – according to her he just said all I’m looking for is money.

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Nontombi, who knows and understands our struggle as black women particularly in the corporate world, seems to have my back. She tells me what I’ve asked for isn’t even half of what the company had budgeted for the position and doesn’t understand why William is doing this. I finally come to an agreement with Nontombi, but during our conversation she says something that cuts me so deep, 'It’s written in a book of history that if you want cheap labour go for a black person.'

At this point I made up my mind not to take the job, even after we had renegotiated.

The following day William calls to tell me how happy he is about my chat with Nontombi, adding that the company is willing to give me R3 000 less than what I had agreed on with Nontombi. After my probation period they’d consider giving me what I want. 

I respectfully declined the offer and I felt, with everything I’d been through at my current job and with William, it was about time I go for my master’s. I felt at peace with my decision and became thrilled about my new journey. I learned a lot through this whole negotiation process, including my value, and I really hope it will help at least one soul out there.

I know it’s the beginning of the year and most companies are hiring and there will be people who’ll be going into the work environment for the very first time.”

When getting a job offer that requires you to relocate, ALWAYS do your research thoroughly and calculate the cost of living

This is what I want you to know:

  • You have the right to refuse giving your pay slip if your potential employer asks for it, unless this is for benefits and you have already discussed your expectations.
  • Make sure you know the market-related salary for jobs in your field before stating any figure to your prospective employer. These can be found on websites like Payscale.com, Glasssdoor.com, Salary.com and Indeed.com
  • Your remuneration package should never be based on what you currently make, always make sure that is clear. This should only be based on your skills, expertise and experience. For all you know, what you’re asking might be peanuts compared to the millions you’ll be bringing in for the company.
  • We want jobs so desperately – due to the economic climate, discrimination, the legacy of apartheid and many other factors – that companies know we’ll take anything they offer us.
  • Don’t settle. Know your value
  • Always stand your ground and fight for what you deserve.
  • If it means losing out on a job offer, then so be it
  • When getting a job offer that requires you to relocate, ALWAYS do your research thoroughly and calculate the cost of living. Once you’re at the negotiating stage of a job you might feel pressured to just accept what they give you so you don’t risk them retracting the offer. Make sure to ignore that feeling! Negotiate to a realistic figure.

Do you have an inspiring story you would like to share with us? Simply drop us an email at Mystory@Drum.co.za 

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