What You Need To Know About Working In NYC — According To Transplants

photographed by Jessica Nash.
Each year, millions of young professionals from all over the country and world move here in search of their dream career. For many, New York signifies opportunity and is a manifestation of the American dream, but is living and working in NYC all that it's cracked up to be?
New York City isn't always an easy place to live. With a high (and ever-increasing) cost of living, a fickle housing market, competitive culture, and less-than-efficient public transportation, the city is filled with obstacles that can sometimes make thriving here a challenge. And, when it comes to navigating work culture, things aren't always much easier. After all, this is a land of pros and cons: For instance, the average New Yorker works 49 hours a week (thanks to an average weekly commute of nearly six and a half hours) but also makes higher-than-average wages.
In order to paint a better picture of what it's like to live and work in New York City — especially given the city's polarity — Refinery29 chatted with six transplants from different cities about what they wish they had known before moving to the city.
Opening up about finances, office culture, the wage gap, and side hustle culture, these professionals shed some much-needed light on the realities of being a young professional in the city that never sleeps.
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Many workplace cultures revolve around alcohol.

"I started in the music industry when I was 21 in a relatively small city. There was a big straight-edge subculture in music scene there— no drinking, no drugs — so hanging out at bars wasn’t a regular thing for me and my coworkers.

"Looking to branch out, I moved to NYC to work at a major record label. The music industry in NYC was of a different caliber; there were thousands of people who worked in music versus the hundred or so in my old city.

"When I started working NYC, things were the opposite of what I was used to. My new coworkers loved going to bars, and going to shows meant hanging out at the venue bar. This was a fairly frequent thing and became less enjoyable for me after a while since I wasn’t an avid drinker.

"What I didn’t realize was that, by not hanging out at the bar, I was missing out on building stronger relationships with my coworkers, which would come into play with something foreign to me: office politics. I thought hard work and dedication to my job would be rewarded, but after a few years, it became clear that the way to get ahead was to become friends with your superiors and that was easier in a bar than in the office.

"Once it dawned on me just how far behind I was in the office politics game, I left and started over somewhere new, making sure I didn’t skip out on happy hour invites."

— Lauren, 29, music industry, originally from Maryland
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There's no shame in side gigs.

"New York City has been overwhelmingly kind to me, and the only regret I have is that I didn't move here sooner. I moved here after attending college and living in Washington, D.C. for five years.

"When I lived in D.C., I felt a sense of shame working side gigs. Perhaps it was the political circles I moved in, but I felt there was a clear atmosphere of classism in the D.C. area.

"In NYC, I've worked as a cocktail waitress, dog sitter, server, and babysitter in addition to working as a freelance journalist. And, unlike D.C., there was no shame about side gigs — they were expected. To me, this does say something bigger about low wages and the cost of living in the city, but it's nice to not feel ashamed of working whatever gigs I need in order to live the life I want here.

"In New York, it's also common to see people taking up hobbies or pursuing their passions — I've taken up stand-up comedy, and other friends of mine have taken up music, trivia teams, water polo, and improv — while working their office or service hospitality jobs.

"It's refreshing to see that people here know that there is a life outside of working in a cubicle. The other surprising thing is that a lot of my employers have been encouraging of my hobbies and passion projects (as long as I do my work)."

— Sarah, 25, journalism industry, originally from Chicago
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Some fields don't have salaries in line with the cost of living.

"Many industries and bigger companies recognize the cost of living in NYC and adjust their salaries and starting offers accordingly. However, my niche field has been very slow to keep pace. I wasn’t prepared for the degree to which some small companies are out-of touch about the market outside of the NYC bubble.

"For some of the older generations in my field, there’s still a belief that the allure of living and working on projects in NYC will make up for the fact that they still offer salaries similar to starting offers of a decade ago, or similar to those offered in cities with lower costs of living.

"While I still think that I ultimately made the right choice for myself, and that I’ve grown immensely from working in NYC, there’s no easy way to have gone through some of the initial growing pains of being thrown into the world of NYC construction as one of the very few (or perhaps only) women.

"I had to adapt quickly to the brashness and the pace, and though I hold the lifelong experience of feeling the ever-prickling awareness of my status as a woman of color, I’ve been made even more hyper-vigilant in my homogenous working environment."

— Janice, 28, construction industry, originally from San Francisco
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The city can be really tough.

"I was born and raised in Mexico City where I lived and worked until I was 30. I was pretty used to the Mexican work ethic, culture, and environment, where everything has to be asked with extra care and politeness as if your boss, coworkers, and clients are doing you a favor.

"In New York, people openly ask, without hesitation, for what they want, need, and deserve. New Yorkers are frank, things move fast, and there’s no time for wandering around. You get straight to the point or task at hand.

"Besides the obvious differences in language and culture (which have been my biggest challenges) and the fact that New York doesn’t produce as much entertainment content for the Latin American market as Los Angeles or Miami, I wish I had known that this city is tough. I mean really, really tough.

"People come here to make it and are determined to succeed. The downside? It’s a very competitive city: You have the best people aiming for the best jobs and networking is key. The upside? You’ll break your own barriers and set your goals higher.

"As a woman working in the television industry I feel that, in matters of gender equality, New York is an empowering city compared to Mexico, which still lags behind in terms of becoming a more egalitarian culture. As of now, I’ve never felt that my gender had gotten in the way of my goals, as I used to constantly feel in my country.

"In New York, you need thick skin. You will hear the word 'no' way more often than you’d like. You’ll doubt yourself constantly. You’ll fail more than you succeed, but when you do succeed, everything will be worthwhile."

— Ximena, 34, entertainment industry, originally from Mexico City
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You have to learn how to help yourself.

"I moved to NYC seven years ago, and there were several things I learned that I wish I knew before I moved, [including that] help doesn't come until you help yourself.

"I spent the first part of my job search reaching out to alumni for referrals for jobs at their companies not understanding the difference between passively passing along my résumé and what it means to advocate for someone.

"I also went to countless networking events and was direct about what I wanted and needed from NYC, not realizing that a favor was always expected to be returned. I had to reevaluate how I was navigating my relationships and what my real needs were.

"We often don't realize that we already have everything we need to succeed. People want to see you try before they give their time and energy, and so I started trying to create opportunities for myself instead of waiting for an opportunity."

— Brittney, 30, digital marketing and media industry, originally from Tennessee
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It can be difficult to know your worth.

"I moved to NYC after undergrad, and I was hoping to be an artist assistant or art studio manager. It was difficult to be taken seriously as a candidate because all of my experience in this field was in my hometown. The opportunities that popped up were unpaid internships or art studios that paid below a living New York wage.

"Once I went in for an interview at a fiber arts studio, the artist and I really got along, and it seemed like an opportunity I could grow in. I was looking for $18 an hour, but verbally settled on $15 with promise for growth. The artist reached out to me via email a few days later and quoted the agreement at $10 an hour. This could have been a mistake, but the artist didn’t respond when I gently pushed back for the hourly wage we verbally agreed on.

"It’s difficult to know your worth in this city. A lot of business owners are looking to get the most out of you with the least amount of pay, which can run you ragged. My advice is to stick to your guns about payment, ask a bit over the price you really want so it’s negotiable on both ends, and if anyone ever tries to low ball you run for the hills!

"If a business owner disrespects your income they will disrespect your time and efforts. A really helpful tool to negotiate salary, or at least compare income here to somewhere else is CNN's Money Map. It can compare your salary equivalent in other states. For instance $40,000 in NYC is equal to roughly $20,000 in Las Vegas."

— Olivia, 29, art and wine industry, originally from Las Vegas

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