As a teenager, I wanted to make $50,000 per year when I graduated from college. In 2005, when I graduated with my Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Technology, I thought $50,000 was a lot of money. While in college, I was working as a clerk at a government agency making less than $35,000 per year. I knew I didn’t want to stay working in an office that wasn’t in the information technology field. One of my professors knew I was extremely self-motivated and he helped me land my first job interview out of college with a telecommunications company.
So I went to an interview ready to land my first IT-related job. The great thing about this interview process was that my resume had four years of professional office management experience since I had worked part-time while working on my degree — many college students have resumes with a lot of retail experience that doesn’t always relate back to their college education. In the end, the interview went very well and I received a job offer of $55,000 per year as a Network Control Center Supervisor.
I was 22 when I graduated from college, and I had always been a type A young woman with a plan. During this time, I always listened to hip-hop music, and I knew the next best thing to being a multi-millionaire was making six figures. So I created a five-year plan to make $100,000 a year. All I needed was a $10,000 pay increase each year. But I had to put in the work to get to $100,000 per year by the age of 27.
During this time in my life I listened to Jay-Z’s music a lot and he released (3) Blueprint albums. These (3) albums lyrically described how he created his hip-hop brand, built several businesses and overcame adversity. Jay-Z’s resilient attitude and business mindset helped me create my six-figure career blueprint — here's how I did it, and how you can too.
Create the Blueprint
“Your time is coming, you one hit away.” —Jay-Z, "Blueprint," The Blueprint
During my first year at the telecommunications company, I attended a lot of company training and corporate conferences. At this time in my early career, I was very observant and took notes from my direct managers, directors and vice presidents. This level of exposure helped me define my career goals. If I wanted to make six figures, I needed to understand the role of six-figure employees and their path to success. So I asked many questions about what skills, certifications and roles would help me advance fast in the company. Since I had created a five-year plan, I defined which new skills I wanted to learn, what types of roles I wanted to be promoted to and what training I may need to get that particular role. As I became more familiar with my own passions in the IT industry, I constantly updated this plan. Every goal you achieve makes you one step closer to making six figures.
Do It Your Way
“Demandin' y'all respect, hand over a check.” —Jay-Z, "I Did It My Way," The Blueprint 2
After a year of working in the telecommunications industry, I decided to resume working for the federal government as a Software Developer. I was able to maintain my private sector salary and transition into a real IT role. My first job was a great experience, but the company was focused on telecommunications and if I was going to be on the road toward six figures in the IT industry, I was going to need to learn more about writing code, testing software and creating enterprise level database systems. As you execute your blueprint, make sure you do it your way. Don’t let anyone disrupt your path or discourage you from following your career passions. I was passionate about being a strong software developer during my first four years out of college. I knew that if I became a solid software developer, I could ask for more money when it was time to get promoted to my next role. I was at that position for three years, and I was promoted each year. Even more, I was able to take programming, project management and IT requirement writing classes during that three-year period. During my third year, I started leading projects and managing small teams. In just three years, my salary went from $55,000 to $87,000, and I was a top performer. When you work hard, learn new skills and display your professional worth, you can demand the pay you deserve.
Maintain an Empire State of Mind
“New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of / there's nothing you can’t do.” —Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, "Empire State of Mind," The Blueprint 3
I was at that job for five years, and it was a very challenging time in my career, but I had an empire state of mind. I worked on detailed assignments with political appointees, won federal government-wide awards and published my first book. All this is to say — don’t let your starting point dictate your destination. Jay-Z came from a New York public housing community in Brooklyn, and he did not allow his low-income upbringing to defeat him. We as professionals have to have an empire state of mind. If you want to be a leader, you can, and if you want to be a strong team contributor, you can.
By the time I was 31, I was working for Fortune 500 technologies companies making $140,000 a year. Today, at 35, I continue to create goals to add to my career blueprint for my professional career brand and my digital technology company.
Never forget: If you keep learning, you will keep earning.
Kanika Tolver is a former highly-decorated government employee turned rebel entrepreneur and Certified Professional Coach. She is a serial innovator who’s fueled by an extraordinary commitment to social change and to helping others create their own “epic lives.” Tolver helps individuals establish themselves at the “architect of their own life” to realize career, business, life and spiritual success — all in a way that promotes restoration, balance and nurturing one’s authentic self. Her services include career coaching and technology coaching.