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I tried to find a clearcut answer to this question, but after searching for a while on the site I decided to post it. I've read through many informative answers on general salary negotiations and have gotten the general feeling that you should always negotiate because 9 times out of 10 it can't hurt. However, is this still the case when it comes to interns, who have much less leverage? I realize that the value in internships is mostly due to the work experience and the potential for future job offers, but I was just wondering whether salary negotiation is appropriate.

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This is an area where I suggest you act with care. An internship is not a normal job. The main compensation you gain from an internship is a "real-world" working experience and new skills from what you do in the internship. It's a resume builder for the intern. In at least some cases, the organization is doing this to create goodwill with its community and prospective entry level hires. It may also be auditioning possible future employees. Sometimes the return on investment for the organization is less than the cost of bringing in the intern. Thus, seeming greedy may annoy your prospective employer and cause them to withdraw the internship or label you as a problem.

While I realize you may have bills to pay, most internships I've seen have a fixed salary and there's no budget for an increase. In fact, many internships are unpaid. In the organization in which I work interns are expected to either be local, or find roommates if they have to move to the area temporarily.

Thus, I'd suggest you avoid an attempt to negotiate here. If you feel you really need more money to cover expenses, you may want to ask if there's any way for the organization to pay more. However, realize you don't have a lot of leverage (if you refuse to work for the organization, they probably won't have much difficulty finding someone to take your place) and be very polite in your actions and accepting of whatever response you receive.

  • Thanks for the response, this is actually a hypothetical situation that I was thinking about. I know interns dont have very much leverage, but I was wondering if attempting to negotiate presents the danger of losing the offer entirely – jkau Jul 3 '13 at 15:09
  • I am more inclined to agree with this response than the others, as this response touches on many of the qualities of an internship (not hard to find someone taking your place, annoying your prospective employee, etc.) – Irwin Jul 3 '13 at 23:22
  • Is outright removing the offer really necessary though. Wouldn't it be just as easy to simply tell them "this salary is non-negotiable" and leave it at that? Also doesn't at least attempting to have the conversation a good sign since it shows that the intern is proactive? – Lee Abraham Jul 4 '13 at 16:28
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    @LeeAbraham - You know that neighbor, the one always borrowing stuff from you and never returning it? He's being pretty proactive too in locating that tool set to further his self-interests, yet somehow that doesn't make you want him more as a roommate. – jmort253 Jul 4 '13 at 20:51
  • @LeeAbraham: No, it is not necessary to withdraw the offer, but it wasn't necessary for the potential intern to ask for more money either. I've worked with interns several times and supervised a couple. Some were good, but others were more trouble than they were worth. Where I work it is difficult and time consuming to get any new employee set up and functioning. Thus, I do not see a problem withdrawing an offer from an intern who showed signs of being difficult before they started. How things happen will depend on organizational policies and the people who work with the intern. – GreenMatt Jul 5 '13 at 13:45
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I was just wondering whether salary negotiation is appropriate.

The answer to this is yes. But the "why" is more complicated.

For many companies, internships are part of their full-time interview process. An intern is a relatively cheap, "should we hire this person?" question they can answer considerably better with an internship than hiring a full-time person just on interview alone.

Hiring full-time employees is really expensive for companies. This article sheds some insight.

So what?

An extra few hundred dollars a month is a very small cost to the company. Even $1,000 a month more is only $3,000 for a summer, which is still a relatively small cost for most internships.

Some companies will say no, some will say yes. If you say something like, "I was hoping for something in the range of $3000-3500 a month, is there any way we could work something out?" you are unlikely to get shot down, without passing go, having your offer rescinded, or having it be game over.

Note that success may vary considerably by company and job function. I work for a 50k+ company and know of interns who negotiated pay increases, but in technical positions. If you are a political science intern, you might be lucky to get any salary. Engineers/software interns are much more desirable.

Leverage

Don't undersell yourself here. If you are a competent person, especially in technical areas, you have a lot more leverage than you might think. This increases significantly if you can prove it (previous work experiences, good interviewing skills, good project work, good GPA, etc).

Most highly talented people are on the job market a short while. After they are employed, it's normally their terms they seek employment. So a company looking to hire them wants to get them into their system as early as possible. Internships are really good for this.

So my point on leverage is, if you are a desired candidate, you have a lot more leverage than you give yourself credit for.

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    @JoeStrazzere that's fine, if your companies want to go as far as canceling offers to all interns who negotiate that's fine. My perspective on that would probably be to advise people away from working for a company who treats all interns as such completely disposable employees. Talented interns, especially in engineering/software worlds, have no problems getting offers at companies who treat them with more respect. YMMV, I guess. – enderland Jul 4 '13 at 13:37
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    @JoeStrazzere my point is responding to a potential intern asking, "do you have any flexibility on the offer?" question with "nope, actually we're withdrawing it, NEXT" is a great way to lose talented people who have a lot more options. – enderland Jul 4 '13 at 13:45
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    @JoeStrazzere Yes, you have a racket. The school tells the kids they aren't allowed to negotiate. The school tells the kids they should focus on learning. The school tells you what to offer to be competitive. You are happy with the school, the school is happy with you, and the students are happy with the school. The real talent finds a better position that offers more than "learning experience". – jmac Jul 5 '13 at 0:11
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    @JoeStrazzere This is coincidentally the same method that Japanese companies use to hire 20-something talented people from top universities to work 60 hour weeks at minimal salaries. Because they are getting crucial "work experience". Note that 25% of these students are now quitting within the first 3 years, and major companies are now suffering serious brain drain. – jmac Jul 5 '13 at 0:14
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I think the safer bet would be to treat an internship like an extended interview. Prove to the employer how good you are, make them want you, and then once they offer you a permanent position, begin negotiations. An internship is an opportunity to learn, make a good impression, create contacts and show off what you've got.

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