How to make a tech-sized salary on a liberal arts degree

Tell your dad that your liberal arts degree may not be useless after all.

Tech companies are clamoring to fill sales and marketing positions and offering Silicon Valley-sized salaries to do it. Nearly half of the job openings posted by tech companies in 2018 are for these soft-skilled jobs, according to a study by Glassdoor.

The tech employers are even tapping recruiters to seek out these candidates, a strategy once reserved for just software engineering roles.

The trend is expected to continue, said Amanda Stansell, a researcher at Glassdoor, especially as the companies mature from their start-up status and need these jobs to help advertise and sell their products.

Designer Anthony Grant works on his computer at Eventbrite headquarters in the South of Market area in San Francisco, California May 25, 2012. More than ever, technology entrepreneurs, and their investors and employees, are choosing the urban charms of San Francisco over the sprawl of neighboring Silicon Valley. In the South of Market district, the nexus of the city's tech industry, rents are soaring and latte lines are lengthening - conjuring memories of the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s. Picture taken May 25. To match Feature SANFRANCISCO-SILICONVALLEY/GEEKS      REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
Tech companies are hiring more soft-skilled positions such as copywriters and sales executives and paying Silicon Valley salaries for the roles. (Photo: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

The increased demand is also having a trickle-down effect. Non-tech companies are upping their pay for these same roles to compete, resulting in increases to the average salary.


“Before, you may have needed 10 to 12 years of sales or project management experience to get senior-level salaries,” said Jason Nazar, CEO of Comparably, a job listings site. “Now, you see top performers, who are three [or] four years out of university, able to command those kinds of salaries and benefits.”

How much more does tech pay?

Sales and marketing jobs at a tech company often pay 20% to 30% more than the same roles in a traditional industry, Nazar said. They also typically offer a faster track to senior positions and often provide better professional growth opportunities, he said.

Here are three liberal-arts jobs tech companies need.

Sales representative

  • U.S. salary increase 2015-2019: 13.6%, per Glassdoor

  • Average salary plus bonuses in tech: $109,282, per Comparably

  • Average salary plus bonuses in non-tech: $97,470, per Comparably

Milo Ferencz, a sales rep in Los Angeles, saw a substantial pay hike when he moved to tech. His salary jumped 150% in the last three years since he moved from a food company to a tech firm focused on data integration. Both roles included selling products and services and hunting for new business opportunities.

Milo Ferenczi
Milo Ferenczi took a job as a sales rep at a tech company and saw his salary increase 150% over three years.

Ferencz, 22, not only likes the higher salary, but he also enjoys the fast pace of tech and the opportunity to work with bigger clients and grow. For a traditional company to lure him away, it would have to offer a more cause-based role.

“If my day-to-day is focused on helping people, that’s always something that would interest me,” Ferencz said.

Project manager

  • U.S. salary increase 2015-2019: 5.8%

  • Average salary plus bonuses in tech: $105,182

  • Average salary plus bonuses in non-tech: $100,379

When Henry Ly, a project manager in New York, moved from a watch company to a cybersecurity one, he got a 15% pay raise. But it wasn’t only the higher salary that keeps Ly, 35, in tech. He also gets a more generous paternity leave package from the tech firm, which provides six weeks of paid time off.

While at his previous employer, Ly had his first child and only could take one or two days for paternity leave and had to use his personal days for extended time off.

Henry Ly
Henry Ly took a job as a project manager at a tech company and received a higher salary and better paternity leave.

“Even when I applied for a personal day, it was at one point denied because it was during a busy season,” Ly said. “This prompted me to quit, leave my job, and take a month to be with my family.”

For a traditional company to win him back, Ly would need more flexibility and the option to work from home.

“The fact that I can pull my computer out and manage projects and just reach out to the team globally is an important factor,” Ly said.

Marketing manager

  • U.S. salary increase 2015-2019: 5.4%

  • Average salary plus bonuses in tech: $110,775

  • Average salary plus bonuses in non-tech: $98,514

Tina Lumbis works remotely for a biotech company as a marketing manager, a role she held previously in both publishing and academia. Her first move to tech gave her a 115% pay increase, followed by a 35% raise the following year.

It’s not just about the money for Lumbis, 34, though. She likes the flexibility and how her workday is scheduled around the needs of her projects.

Tina Lumbis
Tina Lumbis, a marketing manager, switch to a tech company and saw her pay and work culture improve.

“Having the structure of nine-to-five and the way that accountability is enforced is sometimes belittling,” said Lumbis, who lives in San Diego. “It's like treating people as if they’re children instead of functioning adults that are enjoying their work.”

She also likes the quick work pace and the excitement of her company going public. The vacation policy she receives is also a perk: Now she gets unlimited vacation time.

How to break into tech

Changing industries may be hard, so here are some tips on how to move to tech.

Understand your value proposition: Breaking into tech means facing unique challenges to the industry. But don’t underestimate the value of an outside perspective.

“Being able to communicate the skills you have and the unique knowledge you’ve gained from other industries outside technology can be used to your advantage,” Glassdoor’s Stansell said.

Networking and referrals: Know a colleague who recently changed industries? Ask for a good word.

“Tech companies are often looking for referrals and prioritize those candidates [over those] that just come cold,” Nazar said.

Networking also can help you get a referral if you don’t know anyone in the industry, Stansell said. That can also help you identify whether you need to strengthen specific skills and can give you a taste of what the industry is like.

Make your application stand out: This may be universal advice for all job hunters, but it’s especially important when applying for a competitive tech position. Submitting a resume may not be enough, Nazar said. Research the company and the product it offers.

“Write a longer email, talking about all the features that you love,” Nazar said, “and maybe some ideas you have on how to make it work better.”

Denitsa is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova.

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