Should a Lead IxD with 3 Years of Management Experience Make $45/hr in San Francisco?

Posted By Debbie on May 17, 2018

A recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn about a job. Here’s some of his message to me:

One of the best-known agencies in San Francisco was looking for an interaction designer with 7 years of experience. Someone who can do lots of tasks within the User-Centered Design process. And rapid prototyping.

This is a Lead job and they want someone with at least 3 years of being a lead or management experience. Where I cut it off, it goes on to talk about managing relationships with partners and clients. So it’s client-facing, which is an important note as not all agency jobs are.

This is a tall order! And what will they pay for this person?

$45-75 per hour, depending upon experience

Say what? I told the recruiter that I had contracted at this agency before and they paid me a LOT more to do a lot less. The recruiter claimed he could go up to $90/hr (if I were 1099’ed and not W2’ed) but that this agency’s parent company had set a limit on the rate.

Now let me first say that we all know the recruiter placing someone in this job isn’t getting $90/hr. If they are doing their standard markup, they could be getting $110/hr or more. I often believe recruiters take too big a chunk for what they are doing. What they do is important, but not $20+/hr for my entire time of employment important. IMO. Ever since a recruiter told my manager she was “barely marking me up” but was billing him $85/hr and paying me $60/hr (years ago, when I was starting out in the Bay Area). So if that’s barely a markup… ?!?!?!?!

Why would this recruiter think that someone with three years of UX lead/management (and wants to be an individual contributor in this job, not a manager) would take as low as $45/hr?

And would the recruiter be billing this agency the same $110+/hr I imagine they would get? Who in the San Francisco area matches these requirements, is available, and would be willing to do this even at $75/hr?

Plus this is Fjord, a large and well respected agency. The main thing they sell is talent so they can’t cheap out on this, especially when they are looking for someone at this level. The recruiter won’t be able to throw any junior into this.

Who do we blame for this pay rate?

One of my SF jobs had Senior Interaction Designers (not managers) getting around $120/hr… and that was what the worker got, not what the recruiter got. The middleman on that one was rumored to be billing around $140/hr. I heard they were billing me at $125/hr, later $118/hr, and paying me $100/hr for my Senior-level title.

The recruiter says blame his client for this low pay. But I’m not convinced. I wouldn’t be surprised if this huge, famous agency is paying the recruiter $125/hr or more for a Lead with 3 years of high-level experience. Which would mean that when the recruiter places someone for $75/hr, his company is wildly cleaning up on this worker… and underpaying a valuable, experienced, talented worker.

Of course, if someone fitting that description wants it at $45-75/hr, this recruiter will be happy to place you.

UX jobs in general have to do better.

There are many pay issues in UX jobs right now. Contractors make wildly more money than full timers. Companies offer strange rates of pay. FTE jobs can pay much less than you’d expect, even in the SF area. And (some) recruiters are out to make the most per hour on you that they can rather than negotiating on your behalf to get the rate you want or deserve.

But this one stood out to me when I read the requirements and saw that they were hoping to pay $45/hr. There’s no way someone with 7 years of UX experience and 3 years of lead/management experience who isn’t an impostor, does great work, and can hold down a job would accept that pay. Maybe not even $75/hr. And maybe not even $90/hr when they can get more at other workplaces.