On being a "Creative"

I read an article shared by NPR the other day about a study seeking to explain why employers lowball "creatives" during the hiring and salary negotiation process. Although the reasons are complex, they can essentially be boiled down to one thing: passion. In creative positions, like graphic design and film, the creators are expected to be passionate about the work that they do. And they should be! But a lot of times, employers take this as an excuse not to pay them fairly. Because Creatives are supposedly passionate about their jobs, and therefore get enjoyment from performing them, they don't need to paid as much. Right?


Yeah, it doesn't make sense to me either. Yes, I love what I do and I am passionate about my future in creative fields, but why should that mean that I don't need to be paid fairly for my work?


Even as someone just getting my start in the business of creating, I have already had my fair share of people trying to get away with taking my talents for unfair prices. An actual message I received from a complete stranger, regarding my custom-made Pet Portraits: "Since I am potentially a second-time customer, can I get a deal? I think I paid $10 last time." To which I responded, "Hi, I price them at $35 now. Selling them for that price was a huge discount which resulted in me working on portraits for 60+ hours for less than minimum wage, so I hope you can understand why I don’t sell them for so little anymore." Anyone want to take a bet on whether she responded?


Spoiler alert: she didn't. And no, she didn't order the portrait, either.


For me, being able to adequately price my work and skills has been such a such a challenge for me. With creative jobs, you are not only paying for the time and the work itself, you are also paying for years of training and experience. But as someone who is just starting out, I don't always feel comfortable pricing things as high as "real graphic designers" would (imposter syndrome, anyone?). For new Creatives, it takes a great deal of confidence in yourself and in your work to truly get paid what you deserve, and the clients who constantly question the reasoning behind your prices don't help.


As I'm getting further into the job search, I am seeing trends similar to those discussed in the article. Employers demanding passion, creativity, college degrees, strong portfolios, and years of experience, all for a $15/hour gig, or better yet...for free, through the guise of an "unpaid internship," promising "real industry experience" and "portfolio building" as the true compensation. The bullet point lists of requirements for these jobs seem to last for miles, all for wages that are lower than what I tend to make at the steakhouse at which I am currently employed. So what gives? Did I really earn my degree just to make less than what I am already making in the service industry?


Optimistically, I hope the answer to that question is no. But as someone looking for my first job out of college, and particularly as a woman, I am well-aware of how the hiring process may take advantage of me in terms of compensation. And truthfully, I'm not even sure how much I'll be able to combat this. The stats on average salaries for entry-level positions in my field are all over the place, and nowhere during my college career did I actually learn how to negotiate salaries in an interview setting. For now, I'm still in the early stages of applying, where the job hunt has exclusively consisted of filling out online applications for job after job, with varying levels of interest and relevance to me. As I (hopefully) move closer to the interviews stage of this process, I need to trust my gut, and be ready to fight for my worth in the Creative industry.



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