How to Find Design Jobs That Pay Well

Tired of preconceptions that creative jobs don't pay well (a.k.a. the starving artist)? The best way to refute people's ill-conceived advice to abandon your creative passion for something more "practical" is to find a job in the creative field that actually pays well.

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Tired of preconceptions that creative jobs don’t pay well (a.k.a. the starving artist)? The best way to refute people’s ill-conceived advice to abandon your creative passion for something more “practical” is to find a job in the creative field that actually pays well. There are tons of online articles listing creative job titles that supposedly pay well. While their findings are backed by statistics from government agencies like the Department of Labor, it isn’t the most helpful resources for job applicants who are looking for a more practical approach to increase their salaries. In this article, we will be covering where and how you can find these high-paying creative jobs.

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Look for in-house creative jobs in high-paying industries

Working for in-house creative departments under big organizations is probably the best kept secrets of making high salaries while working as a creative professional. These organizations often do not do business in the creative industry, but they need creative services support in-house for strategic and resource purposes. These companies are often multinational corporations with billions of dollars in revenue. Therefore, they can afford to pay in-house creatives well. Even though your pay will not be the same as those in the revenue-generating departments (often referred to as “front office”), you will earn more than your agency peers. We have an another article dedicated to comparing the pros and cons of working for in-house vs. agency, if you are curious about the differences.

Generally speaking, some of the highest-paying industries include finance, legal, real estate, technology, healthcare & pharmaceuticals, professional services (management consulting, accounting etc.), engineering & constructions.
Look for Fortune 500 companies and go down the list to check their job boards. You’re going to find at least a few companies with in-house creative positions that might be a fit for you.

Become a lecturer or professor in universities

If you have an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) or a PhD, becoming a lecturer or professor in universities is a surefire way to get job security and good pay. Of course, higher education jobs have fewer openings and are limited to certain time of the year for interviews (as they follow the academic calendar). The payscale also varies greatly among different regions, universities, level of seniority and whether it is a tenured position or not. In general, people who choose to teach is not in it for the money. The amount of salary of professors will not make you rich and may be lower than those at in-house departments in big corporations. However, it does come with perks not available in most other industries, such as long vacations (remember how many months you got off from college?), research grants and ample time to take up other jobs in between.

Pitch to become “Head of …” in small to mid size businesses

It is difficult and time-consuming to climb the corporate ranks in big companies, but not so much in small to mid-size businesses. If you are looking to have more creative control and become head of a department, you’ll have a better chance at a smaller company, especially those that are looking to start a creative division for the first time. Because these companies lack experience in the creative field, you have a great advantage of being the expert who can take on the lead to run the department. If you have at least a couple of years’ of experience working in the industry with a great portfolio to show, consider applying to positions like Creative Director or VP of Design at small companies. Don’t just settle for applications – proactively reach out to small companies that seem interesting and pitch yourself to be their creative lead. Some companies may not even realize they need one until you convince them. The best way to do this is to attend as many networking events as you can and talk to people who might be interested in bringing you in.

Establish high-end client base for freelance projects

In the wild world of freelance projects, possibilities are endless. While a lot of freelance projects don’t pay much, some are very lucrative if you manage to build long-term relationships with high-end clients. A lot of these well-paid freelance gigs are never advertised, so you have to network to get them. In the meantime, you have to put yourself out there and make sure your profile and work is everywhere on the Internet. Set up a kickass website; maintain an active social media presence; put your services on websites with directories; advertise your service on social media and Google search. If people search for keywords in your areas of service and they can find you, you will potentially be connected to high-end clients.

A few examples of lucrative freelance jobs from our own editorial team: one of us have gotten a design teaching gig from putting up a profile on a popular tutoring website (without expecting anything). The gig came through the website and it required a total of 4 hours of teaching. Guess how much the pay was? $5,000! And not surprisingly, the company that offered this amount of pay was a tech company. Another team member of us once landed a one-page web design job for a real estate company that paid over $5,000. All it took was an introduction from a friend who knew someone at the company.

Networking is a lifestyle. It needs to be done consistently without expectation of immediate return. If you manage to make lots of connections, you may be able to land highly-coveted gigs that are never advertised. Once you do, remember to maintain the relationship and pitch for new work periodically after successfully completing the first job.

Make strategic moves every few years

In order to make more money, you need to ask for it. While asking for a raise should be a regular activity at your job (about once a year), the reality is you rarely get the amount of raise within the same company that you would get if you move to another company. The smart way to make more money with your creative job is to make strategic moves every couple of years. We don’t recommend changing your job every quarter, but don’t get too comfortable in one place. By making moves, you will not only make significantly more money but also learn new things and meet new people.

Making money in the creative industry (or any other industry) is not about choosing the right job that makes money – every job has the potential to make lots of money. Do what you are good at and enjoy doing, but keep a keen eye on getting your value compensated. You need to think strategically and constantly ask yourself: “Is there anything I could do to increase my earning potential and expand my revenue stream?”

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