Tefi Pessoa Went From an Annual Salary of $21,000 to $200,000 After Her First Audition

The TikTok star and co-host of Prime Video's 'Influenced' spoke to editor-in-chief Nikki Ogunnaike for the 'Marie Claire' podcast "Nice Talk."

tefi pessoa nice talk podcast
(Image credit: Future)

Welcome to Nice Talk, hosted by Marie Claire Editor in Chief Nikki Ogunnaike. Each week, Nikki sits down with fascinating women—entertainers, entrepreneurs, creators, athletes, and changemakers—to discuss money, power, and style. “Well-behaved” women have long been discouraged from speaking on these topics—style should be effortless, and conversations about money or power aren’t “proper,” “ladylike,” or “nice.” But Nikki's definition of a Nice Talk is one where all parties walk away feeling empowered. You can listen to Nice Talk with Nikki Ogunnaike on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Leave it to everybody's TikTok BFF Tefi Pessoa to have a relatable story about the challenges of breaking into your dream career.

The internet personality and co-host of the upcoming Prime Video talk show Influenced (out August 1), recognized by many on TikTok and Instagram as @hellotefi, opens up on the Marie Claire podcast "Nice Talk" about when she got her first big break—and how it affected her both financially and emotionally.

"When I moved to New York when I was 22, I would only go for these minimum wage jobs because, as a millennial, the first thing they teach you in school is, 'If you don't go to school, you're never going to make any money, you won't have any opportunities.'" Pessoa shares. "You have to climb this ladder and the ladder is being held up by like really old white guys. Like, 'Amazing, amazing. I'm never going to be able to do that. I'm never going to go anywhere.'"

With that mindset, the TikTok star explains that she was made to feel grateful when she landed a job at a production studio that paid her a yearly salary of $21,000. She recalls, "They were like, 'You're Head of Community, but you get to answer the phone in the front.' And I go, 'Okay, I'm a receptionist. Got it. Got it. Thank you so much. Thank you for the opportunity. Thank you. No, I don't even need health insurance. Thank you so much.'"

So when a producer personally emailed her asking if she'd be interested in hosting a new show, Pessoa says she jumped at the opportunity and made up an excuse to take time off to go to the audition.

tefi pessoa tiktok star

(Image credit: Courtesy of Tefi Pessoa)

The influencer recalls on "Nice Talk" that she auditioned at a theater in front of a crowd of hundreds and performed a 20-minute set about Harry Styles' 2019 Met Gala look and the conversation she had with her grandmother about it. Pessoa explains that it wasn't until she got off stage that she realized the audience was made up of other people auditioning—many of whom were professional broadcast journalists, podcasters, and established influencers.

"I was the only one that got hired," says Pessoa, who landed the gig for what became the YouTube show Tefi in July 2019 on her 29th birthday. "They were like, 'We will pay you $200,000 a year.' I'd only been making $21,000 a year, so I signed it really quick because I thought they made a mistake."

The show found moderate success but was short-lived, due to the pandemic in 2020—which is ultimately what led Pessoa to move her material over to TikTok.

"I think for me, my whole life, I knew that I wanted to be heard and I knew that I wanted to be seen, but I was terrified of perception," the internet personality says. Thanks to a shift in her confidence that she felt while making her first show, and feeling like viewers were affirming her sense of humor, she said it was like she "had found [her] scissors to the wrapping paper," and went all-in on making content.

"I think what was going through my mind was, 'There's no option B now,'" says Pessoa. "Once I found that groove, I'm like, 'There's nothing I would not give up to do that again. I will scrub floors, I will be a barista, you name it. Like, I'll work five jobs if it means that I get a shot to do that again ... I started posting like my life literally depended on it."

Pessoa shares more about her career trajectory, her signature online personality, and more on the latest episode of "Nice Talk," which is available now wherever you listen to podcasts.

Sadie Bell
Senior Culture Editor

Sadie Bell is the Senior Culture Editor at Marie Claire, where she edits, writes, and helps to ideate stories across movies, TV, books, and music, from interviews with talent to pop culture features and trend stories. She has a passion for uplifting rising stars, and a special interest in cult-classic movies, emerging arts scenes, and music. She has over eight years of experience covering pop culture and her byline has appeared in Billboard, Interview Magazine, NYLON, PEOPLE, Rolling Stone, Thrillist and other outlets.