When do you know if you are being taken advantage of?

I was hired in November as an Assistant Graphic Designer. I love my job and I have learned so much in the last three months. I feel that even though my title has the word assistant in front of it, I have a lot of responsibility. Under the supervision of the creator director, I do all of the printwork, from the beginning stages to submitting it for print. I download and manage the stock photography. Design social media pages ex. twitter backgrounds. I OCR scan and replicate magazine articles for clients to be added to their sites. I am trying to learn more about web design as quickly as possible. I can make minor changes and add media updates. Aside from the Creative Director, I am the only other creative in the office, so I really get a lot of work.

I was called into my bosses offices last week and they told me I was doing a great job, working really hard and showing a lot of effort. They want me to learn more about the web and continue to grow and when they feel I am ready, they will hire another designer to do some of the grunt work and I would be in charge of them. So I was thrilled that they basically promised me a promotion.

All of that being said, when I was hired they told me I would be starting at $9.00/hr. I knew that I had to take whatever I could get and work my way up, but the fact that they told me after three months I would have a review with a significant raise made me feel a little better. In my review last week they made it seem like they never said that. They said they usually give reviews every 6 months, but they noticed what a good job I have been doing and wanted to give me a little something now. They gave me a $500.00 bonus and another quarter an hour. ($9.25). Once again I was thrilled and very proud of myself.

I recently learned that the intern who helps the office manger out, who is a junior in college getting her degree in education ( which has nothing to do with our business) is getting $9.00/hr. I know it’s inappropriate to compare yourself to other co-workers based on salary and it’s not politically correct to discuss that sort of thing. I know that my review went very well and I should take what I can get. I know that I have to pay my dues and work my way from the bottom up. I don’t expect to being making even 30k right now or anything, but I have a four year degree from a big state school and I am making as much as the interns. I can deal with it now, but what happens after working for a year and I am only at $12.00/hr? I can’t move out of my parents house to pay for an apartment. I have a student loan payment of $1,000.00 a month, and I commute 45 minutes one way to work everyday. Maybe I shouldn’t have posted this type of question on here, but I just need some advice. Am I being taken advantage of? Should I wait until the next review to speak up? If the median salary for a graphic designer in the town I work in is 35k to 45k, should I atleast make 25k as an Assistant GD?

I also get no vacation time, no sick days, no benefits of any kind

You are definitely being taken advantage of. Right now you are making less than $20k per year. I was making $14 an hour as an intern doing renderings and graphics work. Maybe the company you work for doesn’t understand the value of your work? You seem to have already moved pass the assistant level and you should be compensated properly. I would start looking for another job. Good luck.

You aren’t being “taken advantage of”, you are maybe just being underpaid for now. If you had to get lunch for the staff, make coffee, do other people’s work, and still make $9.25, maybe that would be opportunistic on the employer’s part. Don’t read too much into promises of promotions and management; the bosses like dangling carrots in front of energetic employees to make them work harder for the same pay. Do what’s right for the business and your portfolio.

Interns at big law firms and financial firms make as much as a senior designer makes in a year. Point being, it might not be useful to compare yourself with the intern there, maybe its different dept budgets, family connections, who knows.

It sounds like you are learning a lot, have a lot of responsibility, and are being pushed to grow in creative ways. Bite the bullet for a little while longer, build your work portfolio in order to present your argument persuasively, and then bring it up at your next review. Ask for a bit more than you think you deserve, and hopefully settle somewhere in the middle.

Disclaimer: My experiences are from industrial design, not graphic/web, of which the job market is probably even more saturated with potential employees. Abundant supply and stable demand pushes prices/wages down.

Exactly what I was going to say. You were offered a job, at a set salary and took it. You were offered a raise (although unreasonably tiny) and accepted it.

“Taking advantage” requires an unfair advantage on one side.

Yes, you are generally underpaid (if comparing to the intern), but also we don’t know your work, the location, or what the intern does.

The right thing to do in this situation is have a nice polite chat about your value with the boss reviewing your work and your expectations. Then you can either suggest a raise number that matches what you would be happy with, or let them make an offer. Of course nothing is guaranteed, and they might say, thanks but no thanks, and find someone else willing to do the job for what you make and be happy about it.

Standard operating procedure all around.


I completely agree with you. I got myself into the situation that I am in, and I take full responsibility. Perhaps “taken advantage of” wasn’t the best choice of words. I don’t mean to sound like I am whining. I feel very blessed to have a job in this field right now. However, this is my first job so I’m just trying to navigate this in the best possible way. I know a lot of people who post on here have been in the business for many many years. To me, it’s hard to find the courage to have a conversation with my boss like that for the first time, so I guess I just wanted to see if my thoughts were valid and how much I should be making.

So far you are handling it well it seems. You question posed was very reasonable and well worded, and it came across as level headed and fair. If you use the same tone in your conversation with the boss, it should be good.

Best of luck,


PS. Nobody can really tell you how much you should be making as there are so many factors. What we might be able to do though, is give you a good evaluation of your work, if you post a portfolio :slight_smile: so you perhaps know better where you stand…

The reality of the job market is it follows just as much of the supply and demand curve as anything else. In the graphic/web field - you have a large number of unemployed grads hungry for work, and a ton of 18 year old kids with a hacked copy of photoshop who in some cases can do the same amount of work.

With that said you’ve only been there since November, and it sounds like you’re still handling a lot of grunt work. You probably have 2 options:

1: Work your butt off, show where you can go above and beyond to add value, and plan in a few months when your next review comes up to have an open and frank conversation about your performance. If they are willing to compensate you more appropriately - great, but if you’re still making less than a Burger king grill jockey then you should consider looking for work elsewhere.

2: Start applying for other jobs and get out of there. But this means you’re jumping back into the pool with all the other people who might be completely willing to do your same job for $8/hour.

I don’t know where you are in the country, and I do know that the market for graphics and web stuff is pretty heavily saturated. Either look towards really pushing yourself on the graphics front (it sounds like right now you’re doing a lot of production stuff but not a lot of creative stuff that would land in your portfolio) or if you are looking to pursue the web arena start pushing yourself on the technical side a bit (Learn flash, dreamweaver, etc).

You’re as valuable as the skills you bring to the table - so in a tough job market you need to keep bringing your A game if you want to move ahead. Some companies will see this and reward it, and some companies are just run by jerks who think design is a checkbox and you need to get out of there as soon as you can. Without knowing you or your job personally I couldn’t tell you which is which.

You do seem to conduct yourself in a positive way, so I’d just follow what you’re doing and make the work you do known. If you ever have the opportunity to promote yourself and your impact on the business “Hey boss, I just landed 2 new sales of X client thanks to my work on Y” then it shows management you are really contributing to the bottom line of the business and moving you ahead becomes much easier for them.

this kind of thing can happen at any point in one’s career. I was upset about being a long time contractor at my first job, and a very wise sr designer shared that he thought he should be making more at his experience and that he had been un-justly overlooked for a manager position. His wise advise was generally: "look at the pros and cons of your situation. If it’s something that you cannot find acceptable, then you have the power to ask your boss to consider your point. If the outcome is not what you want, you are free to quit and find a better situation. Being upset about it won’t get you anywhere… " He was really right… and in hindsight, being so upset about my situation back then did nothing but hurt me

If I were you, I would share your concern with your manager. If nothing changes, put a folio together or build skills outside of work, then get a better job

yup, it happens all the time and can be a function of various things (manager not knowing the correct salary, low cash or business for the company struggling to survive, weak push from the designer to stand up for themselves, etc.). I had the same thing in one of my jobs, and went about the conversation proactively once I felt I wasn’t being valued for what I thought was fair. I put together a complete list of the projects I worked on that were in my job description, things I did outside of that, a nice pie chart showing how I was doing more management than design (vis a vis. was working at a higher level than my title), and a little compendium of other jobs and salaries I found that were more of a match to what I was doing to make my case. In the end, it helped a bit, but I realized the corporate salary structure wasn’t going to let me get where I wanted to be, so started the portfolio work and found another gig.

Most important thing in these discussions I think is to also keep in mind the perspective of the other side. It’s too easy to be focused on your needs, but if you see their side, you can better understand where you can make a push or where not (ie. as mentioned previously about supply and demand). If you don’t bring anything unique to the table just asking for more because you’d like it won’t get you anywhere but out the door and replaced quickly (nothing is easier to do than replace 1:1 a designer who is not happy where they are as the company knows they will be leaving soon anyhow and it’s in their best interest to replace them on their timing rather than scramble after your decide to jump ship).

again, best of luck and it seems you have a good perspective on things. To add to that, sometimes companies are just cheap. Better to know that than be stuck banging your head against the wall if that is the case.


In my case I think it may be " a weak push from the designer to stick up for themselves".

Right before I applied for this job, my father who lives over 2,000 miles away from me had a severe heart attack. Because I was the only person in my family without a job at the time, I flew out immediately and took care of him for two months and got him through open heart surgery.

I explained to my future employer that I wouldn’t be able to come in for an interview until I saw my father through his recovery. They decided to send me a design test to see if I was worth the wait. They sent me all the print collateral for their newest client and told me to come up with other ideas. I came up with three separate ideas (total branding) and I am assuming they really liked it because instead of hiring the three other people they gave interviews to, they waited for me for three weeks.

During my meeting, my manger was boasting about how the economy isn’t effecting us and he can pick which clients he wants to work with right now.

You know, good resume’s look like what they call elevator stories… they show jobs that get better and better as you gain experience. This is could be the start of a great elevator story. If your job sucks, get the experience and get out.

the worst part of this kind of situation is that the only leverage you may have is to find another job and ask for a counter offer (or put on your best poker face and an make up a story like that). And if you go through all the work to get a better offer, why would you want to stay at your old job after all that anyway.

You do sound level, and are experiencing one of the frustrations of the working world - it’s really one of those things you have to roll with and not let it get to you. If it’s any comfort, there is probably an investment banker out there that’s completely pissed because his co-worker is making $180k and he’s only making $150k

You have to decide what you feel your effort is worth. If your compensation doesn’t line up with what you feel your effort is then take the advice here. You can work harder and hope it pays off, you can speak directly with your boss, or you can work on your own portfolio and bounce upward.

It comes down to how much you’re willing to put up with, but also don’t forget about where you’ve been. If you just spent 4 years in school and have $1000 a month in student loans, well, from my perspective your employer isn’t cheating you…yet. I know the economy is rough, and when I graduated in 2001 I worked at Home Depot for $11.50 an hour with benefits. Now, if I had found a design gig for $9/hr I absolutely would have jumped on it for the experience. But there comes a point where the experience you gain can overtake your compensation and if they aren’t willing to continue to reward you for increases in performance and expertise then yes that would be them taking advantage of you. Regardless i’m miffed that you have a degree and they’re paying that, but I chalk that up to the economy.

If you’re worried simply about being employed/unemployed at this point and they aren’t budging much just consider banking the experience instead of the cash, it will pay off later. Once you get to a point where you feel you aren’t going to reap much more experience from them, put together a great portfolio and check out.

I love the show “House” so I am going to quote one of the episodes. “Salary isn’t about fairness. It’s about what you can leverage in negotiation”

I would agree with everyone here, you are underpaid, but I am guessing this is your first real post college job in a horrible job market. Use this job to your advantage, build a stronger portfolio, make connections, keep your eye out every day for different opportunities because you never know what is going to pop up. And keep doing what you have been doing, learning as much as you can.