cjs33139
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Designasks:

I definitely feel your pain; as I am a native NY'er whose first design opportunities were in major design meccas (NYC, Seattle and Chicago); both corporate and consultancy. After graduating in 2011, the competition was so fierce in NYC (even after meeting with design directors and getting great feedback on my portfolio) that I had to reevaluate my dream of ending up at an award-winning consultancy and start casting a wider net in search of ID work elsewhere (in not-so metropolitan cities) if I were to be gainfully employed.

I finally ended up being interviewed and hired by a major company in the Midwest known for highly valuing design and their employees; and I haven't looked back.

I don't miss the big city and have to come to embrace small town values; and I am close to some major cities if I feel the need to venture out. I am compensated quite nicely (starting salary 60K; and in three short years, am closer to 70K). Granted, the projects aren't as diverse as a consultancy, but that's ok. We have multiple product categories, so it's possible, even encouraged, to move around. I pay only 600 dollars a month for a nice one-bedroom apartment in a nice, modern complex. And in 3 years, I've been able to put a huge dent in my student loan debt. And I don't have to eat Ramen every night. I love the work I am doing, have a great boss and great team members. And I don't feel exploited nor overworked.

When you wrote, "I feel like my boss has the attitude that “there are a million other recent grads who are begging to have my job, and I’m lucky to be employed at all.”... I can sympathize because after talking to established designers over the years and reading gripes on Glassdoor.com about said consultancies, you will see that their name on your resume is your true compensation (not to mention the great work most of them do) because for the most part, designers complained about feeling exploited, overworked and under-compensated. No thank you!! Basically, you have to truly enjoy the work that frogs, Smarties and their ilk do because you won't get rich doing it. I made an assumption you are working for a design firm; either large or small, so I apologize if I am incorrect. (My advice below still stands)

You will have to ultimately decide if being in a large expensive city is worth the financial heartache; or if you just need to move onto a company/consultancy in your same area that will compensate you what you are worth. The problem is that in major design meccas with a oversaturation of designers, the competition is not only fierce, but employers feel (for the most part) encouraged to underpay their entry level designers because they know that there will always be another young talent around the corner. Design is a fun, rewarding business but can also be cutthroat and ugly if you allow it to be. My suggestion to you is to either go corporate and/or move to a city with a lower cost of living; and climb up the corporate ladder. When you are then financially more sound (debts paid off, money saved up) and more established as a designer, you can then venture out to the big-name consultancies or to the design meccas you dream of and demand the compensation you deserve; if that is your wish.

Best of luck to you!
bcpid
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Joined: March 20th, 2004, 8:26 pm
I make $35k / year in one of the most expensive cities in the US.
You are being screwed. Hard. That is fifteen-years-ago entry-level money but without the buying power. Adjusted for its 2003 buying power, that's about $24k. Which would have been poverty wages in a small city back then, and less than you'd earn doing just about any other work. Moreover, the expensive coastal cities have mostly adopted minimum wages around $15/hr. Which you are most certainly not making once you take into account your exploitive employer's likely expectation that you work more than 40 hours a week. So let that sink in: you'd make just as much money flipping burgers in NYC. All while your employer bills out your time for $150/hr, as you help create value for billion dollar brands. Get out of there NOW and look for a different job. Really. That kind of pay is pure, inexcusable exploitation, period. It also tells you that your employer has zero respect for you.

And no one on this forum should be advising you to accept or continue working for that kind of wage under any circumstances, unless you're working part time or something.
cjs33139
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Joined: March 23rd, 2007, 9:56 am
Agreed, bcpid; good advice! But also keep in mind that there are dozens of other small consultancies in coast cities doing the same thing (underpaying and exploiting) and getting away with it because more times than not, most young out-of-school designers can't afford to just wait around for the 70K entry level positions and take whatever they can get their hands on. It's sad. I remember (in NYC, mind you) as far back as 5 years ago entry level positions in medium sized consultancies offering 35K to 45K. That would go far maybe in the Midwest (depending where as Chicago can be just as expensive), but not in NYC! I hope he is able to walk away or just apply elsewhere until he finds something much higher paying then ditch his current job. Walking away is hard when you have student loans and housing to pay for. :( I wish him the best..
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I think firms that don't pay well and who work people extra hard tend to have a very high turn over rate (no matter their reputation)... and then their owners wonder why people don't stay... if you pay the minimum amount you tend to get the minimum in return (wether that is in effort, loyalty, or both).

I've worked for both good and bad. When I worked for places that didn't value their people I generally tried to figure out an exit. When I worked for places that treated me well I tried to stay longer, add value back, and be a good "alumni" by recommending good people and jumping in when they have reached out for help.

Also, in my experience, if you ever work for people who are always carrying on about people screwing them or being paranoid about people screwing them (clients and employees) typically that is a good indicator that employer frequently screws people over. I'm not sure if that made sense?
bcpid
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Joined: March 20th, 2004, 8:26 pm
It absolutely makes sense.

I want to add to the comments above. I started out a little below $35k in 03, with $17k in federal loan debt at historically low (2.8%) rates, or about $180/mo in loan payments. My debt was a little below average then, and it is my understanding that average debt has at least doubled in real terms since then, against higher interest rates (I want to say average loan debt was low $20k's in '03). It seems very realistic for new grads to have at least $500/mo in debt payments. I've been making adult money for a long time now and don't have a great sense of what fresh grads are being offered straight out of school, but just to be on even footing with where I started, the floor would need to be at least $50k...in a small city and more like $70k on the coasts before it's even viable to pick up a pencil.

Profs need to prepare their students for all the ways unscrupulous and/or "paying dues" mentality creeps will try to take advantage of their inexperience. The op's example is really egregious. As far as I am concerned product development is product development, and the wages of your product development peers are the gage you should measure your ID wages against.
Jboogie941
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Totally agree Bcpid! Never be afraid to negotiate your salary commensurate with your location and living costs. Keep in mind turning down unacceptable offers adds value to our profession. You will never see a doctor or lawyer in the US working for 35k.
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