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Context
I am considering an offer I have received. It consists in a four-month internship, paid hourly, leading explicitly to a full-time position (if all goes well, obviously).

Being intern prior getting hired seems to be a company custom — and I'm fine with it. I think their team is facing rather a shortage than an excess of potential employees — they are quite pressing me to start asap.
I am new on the field (development) but I have quite a few advantages (my background is quite rich, and I know the industry they work for) and I am confident I will well perform at this position. I thus assume I will get an offer at the end of the internship. I am about to receive an offer for a similar position (developer) in a start-up — but for a real job and not an internship.

Question

How hard should I negotiate the internship wages now?

Indeed, I am considering the long-term move (i.e. what matters to me is the long-term position) and I am not sure what is the good strategy to adopt to maximize the long-term job salary:

  • I should set the bar high, straight from the beginning and show them I won't undersell (touchy when you're actually accepting an internship?). Moreover, my other offer won't be valid anymore in four months. Yet I fear could appear "over-caring" for a few-month thing (and not choosing the right battle to fight). Moreover, the internship package may not be that much negotiable, and it's still true I haven't prove my value already.
  • I should wait to over-perform during the internship (I can commit myself to it) to have more cards to play — plus I don't spoil already all my arguments (to which they could say: "Oh, yes we know, but we already made an effort last time, and this is already a salary increase; so we can't do much more"). But it could weaken my leverage if already I accepted to do a low-paying internship.

Other benefits (remote working, continuous learning, childcare, etc.) seems ok to me, i.e., I don't see how I could be more satisfied. I can imagine working for this company for the next 3–4 years, at least.

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    "I am about to receive an offer for a [real job]". It's hard to see why you wouldn't just take the Real Job offer, rather than mucking about as an intern? – Fattie Oct 1 '18 at 13:16
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    @Fattie +1 I added an answer that has more details that I hope will help. – J. Chris Compton Oct 1 '18 at 13:42
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    @Fattie: Indeed, it may look incomprehensible. The reason is that I prefer responsibilities of the internship (tech stack, industry), and I think this company will offer more mentoring and continuous learning opportunities. – ebosi Oct 1 '18 at 13:43
  • @ebo You may be correct, I don't have the details you have. If you're really looking long term, keep in mind that this period will be labeled "intern" instead of 'job'. If you get the mentoring and learning opportunities that you expect, intern may be the way to go - you'll have to decide that. Best wishes! – J. Chris Compton Oct 1 '18 at 13:49
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    Hi @ebo OK, but bear in mind that software is the epitome of "nobody can help you" and "you are completely finding, defining and solving problem sets on your own". – Fattie Oct 1 '18 at 17:48
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How hard should I negotiate the internship wages now?

In many companies, interns typically have little to no leverage regarding wages.

When I hired interns for software positions, it was for a standard wage. There was no negotiation. If the intern wanted more, they would have to look elsewhere.

If you were specifically sought out by the company for this internship (perhaps via a nationwide search) it might be different. But in general, you'll get to work for the company's "standard intern" wage.

So if you want to work for this particular company, your best bet is to get the internship and demonstrate how superior you are. Then when you are offered a full-time position, you can negotiate with some leverage. Presumably, you would have the ability to go somewhere else at that point in time and get hired, too.

On the other hand if you are being offered a full-time position by another company now, you could negotiate hard for that job with that other company and skip the whole internship uncertainty.

Unless the first company offers significantly more potential with their internship than the second company offers with their full-time position, it's not clear why you would go the internship route.

  • Thank you for your answer. The reason why the intern path looks more attractive to me, is that (I think) I will have more mentoring there than in the start-up — hence I'll progress (as well as my "market value") faster. – ebosi Oct 1 '18 at 8:26
  • I may indeed be over-confident regarding how beneficial it will be. When discussing with my (hypothetical) manager, it was, however, clear that my need for training was valued (something like: "we need you to help us on these projects, and you're eager to get trained on these new techs. we will work to meet halfway so that we both benefit from this time together") — hence my optimism. – ebosi Oct 1 '18 at 14:08
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How hard should I negotiate the internship wages now?

Given that you are new to development, it makes sense to lean toward your latter strategy ("wait to over-perform during the internship").

In order to negotiate effectively, you must have an alternative, such as another job offer, or simply the ability to walk away from the offer.

You also must have something the other party wants. In this case, you have some skill, experience, and ability, but nothing that truly sets you apart from other applicants, at least not yet.

If you are interested in maximizing your earnings, explore other job opportunities during the course of your internship. That way you'll be better able to compare and negotiate full-time positions when the time comes.

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how hard should I negotiate wages now?

Not a lot, you're still raw.
The actual number doesn't mean much at this point unless it is really low.
Negotiate once you have leverage - which in this case means being able to point to projects you've performed well on in your new field (development).


If you're confident that the start-up has sufficient funding, I'd take the 'real job'.

You'll likely do more types of things in a small company; you'll learn more areas because things aren't in silos. Those experiences will be great material to use when looking for future jobs (especially during the interview process).

To succeed at the start-up you'll have to learn more on your own, which isn't a bad thing. If you feel you really need the mentoring maybe the internship is better, I've never been one or had one, so I don't know much about it. I have however worked at a number of startups and they're a bit more fun especially when you're young or early in your career (or both).

Choosing between offers is never easy, but at least you have a choice.

Do put some thought into which one you'd regret not choosing later in life if you didn't choose it.
The exception to the 'regret' comment is vast wealth because of stock options (99.9 percent of the time [or more] those don't work out for you). It does happen... a friend of mine is retiring at 50 because of that, but you aren't her and anyway she isn't in software.
Save that kind of hoping for lottery tickets, keep it out of your career decisions.

Hope that helps,
-Chris C.

  • Thank you for your answer. It raises interesting points. I indeed had the fear of regretting not getting on board of the next Facebook early — especially for the "you instantly get millionaire at the IPO"-thing. I am glad your comment confirm that I shouldn't appraise this eventuality too much. You also mentioned that I should be careful about joining a silo-organized team — what is more likely in established companies. I believe (!) it won't be the case here. Anyway, my question wasn't about which opportunity to chose, yet I value your feedback and do consider it as a valid answer. – ebosi Oct 1 '18 at 13:59
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    Yeah, not the best answer to the question you asked. Glad it helped. – J. Chris Compton Oct 1 '18 at 14:03

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