In our series My 6-Figure Paycheck, women making more than $100,000 open up about how they got there and what exactly they do. We take a closer look at what it feels like to be a woman making six-figures — when only 5% of American women make that much, according to the U.S. Census — with the hope it will give women insight into how to better navigate their own career and salary trajectories.
Job: Creative Director, Interior Design
Location: New York City, NY
Degree: Bachelor of Science in Interior Design
First Salary: $32,000
Current Salary: $137,000
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"It was always either art or design. A painter, a fashion designer, an architect. I’ve always known that some professions are not for me — like medical or law. I interned at my uncle’s architecture firm one summer, and I think after that decided that interior design was the best hybrid of all my interests."
What did you study in college?
"Bachelor of Science in Interior Design. I changed my major from Architecture right before starting school."
Did you have to take out student loans?
"I went to a private university, so I had substantial loans. I had a partial scholarship and financial aid as well. I took some of the loans, and thankfully my parents took the rest. Mine were about $25,000 total.
"I deferred for a couple years while I scraped by in NYC, then started paying off much more seriously once I found a stable job. Then a few years ago, something magical happened. My company grants stock options, so I ended up selling some of them to pay off my loans."
Have you been working at this company since you graduated from college?
"Since graduating ten years ago and moving to NYC, I’ve mostly worked for two firms. At the first one, I started as an intern and left as a senior designer. To support myself while I interned, I worked hourly jobs at a smoothie place and a furniture showroom. I also did freelance work drafting in CAD and photo editing."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"I’m the voice of the interior design department to external clients and the other branches of the company. I lead my team of designers by conveying design direction and working individually with each to encourage and guide them in the right direction. I review layouts, finishes, lighting choices, furniture, and more. I set initiatives for the leadership team — anywhere from switching to a new software to planning inspirational field trips — and create a framework to complete them. "
Did you negotiate your salary?
"I’ve asked for a raise at every performance review. I tend not to negotiate, though I know I should. Frankly this is more money than I ever thought I’d be making, and I feel grateful for every step. My last raise brought me from $115,000 to my current salary. I was ready to make my case to my manager for the raise during my annual review and had slides showing my accomplishments and contributions to the team, plus new ideas. I power posed beforehand. I was aiming for $125,000, and the first thing my manager said when I walked in was that my new salary was $137,000. I gave him my presentation anyway."
Is your current job your “passion”? If not, what is?
"I do consider it to be my passion! I’m lucky that what I studied in school is directly what I do as a job. I struggle thinking of what I’ll do next though, especially if my husband and I ever leave New York. Certain sectors of interior design only flourish in big cities."
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"Honestly, I don’t think I’d change a thing. Making mistakes early in my career taught me never to make them again. Trying to make it in NYC during the recession in 2009 was awful, but my years of being scrappy and resilient have given me perspective as I continue to rise in my career."
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"Always allow buffer time to get to interviews early. Keep your portfolio updated as you go so it’s not a huge task every time. Email contacts after you meet them, otherwise you’ll lose the business card. Stay in contact with people you work for and with, because they are your network next time you’re looking for a job. Most importantly, always remember that people want to hire and promote those who can not only do the job but also who they get along with."
Are you a woman under 35 with a six-figure salary ($100,000+) and want to tell your story? Submit it here.