37

I am currently employed as a TA (statistics related) at a university until September, but I'm looking to transition into industry.

I am looking to work in software development or data science. I already have some working experience (several internships let's say) in IT, mainly web development.

I have been doing programming for almost ten years now, but not much professionally so I wouldn't really class myself as a junior, but also definitely not as a senior yet.

So I thought it might be a good idea for me when I apply for a job to offer to do like a month or two internship, with lower pay (I wouldn't need money now, as I have paid summer off as a TA), so the company can get a real world idea of my abilities and how I'd fit in with the team before discussing full-time employment and salary.

It seems like a win win scenario, as on the one hand I'd gain some more experience and catch up with the developments in the industry (having been in academia for some time now, I am a bit rusty, but can get up to speed quickly) and on the other hand, the company is making a much lower risk hiring me after the trial period, as they know much better and there is much less uncertainty, relative to straight up giving me an offer.

What do you think about this?

Is offering low pay work for a trial period over the summer before discussing full-time employment a good idea?

  • 1
    Is the work you are doing less valuable for the person you are doing it for, just because you haven't worked for them before? – GrumpyCrouton Apr 11 at 15:56
  • Do you have student loan debt? Credit card bills? A car note? Living expenses? Rent? Money owed to family? These are unlikely to be paid with intern wages. – Zorkolot Apr 11 at 18:33
  • @GrumpyCrouton No - not because you haven't worked for them before, but because programming is only about 50% of a programmers job (give or take about 20% any given day), so no matter how good of a coder you are, that's still only half the job. – David Rice Apr 11 at 19:02
  • 3
    Presume TA is "Teaching Assistant" in an academic setting? Might be good to clarify as in IT it's often "Technical Architect". – anotherdave Apr 12 at 13:29
  • 2
    @GrumpyCrouton If only there were some document the employer could ask for, to see a history of a person's employment and skills. Or some process where the employer could talk with the applicant to learn what they have and haven't done. Too bad nothing like that exists, and we have to just randomly assign people to jobs and salaries and hope for the best. – David Rice Apr 12 at 14:17

13 Answers 13

106

I don't see how it's a good idea in my honest opinion. When you sign a contract, you have a two month trial period (at least where I'm from), and the purpose of it is exactly what you mentioned. During that time, the company can evaluate your abilities and you can evaluate if you want to stay in the company.

If you try to negotiate for a lower salary, companies will just use you and negotiating for a higher salary afterwards will be hard.

Moreover, even though some internship experience is considered as 'experience' in a CV, I usually make a distinction between someone who have, for example, worked 6 months in a company as an employee and someone who has worked for 6 months as an intern. The reason for that is that I don't expect an intern to have done the same job as a full time employee, but that's my opinion.

So in the end, if you have the choice between signing for a full time job and an internship, choose the full time job. And don't worry, if you're new in the industry, they will usually take the time to train you. Don't underestimate and under-sell yourself.

Clarification: As Chronocidal pointed out (in the comments), probation periods are not mandatory for companies but I've currently never encountered a company who didn't have a probation period for new employees. And indeed, it can be more or less than two months, depending of your contract and country

  • 2
    As you say, this is exactly the reason why many companies include a 1-to-6 month Probation period in the contract. (Longer Probations usually reflect an understanding that it will take longer to finish any training or acclimatisation for the role or company.) – Chronocidal Apr 11 at 12:54
  • 19
    As a counterpoint: I've don't think I've ever had a probationary period on any job in the US. Of course in the US its employment at will and they can fire you for any reason at any time (minus a few discriminatory ones). – Gabe Sechan Apr 11 at 13:22
  • 1
    As an anecdotal reference to this answer, my current situation relates strongly. I'm more of an entry-level developer, but was struggling to find development work for a few years. I took a relatively low salary with my current company to get my foot in the door. After two months, the owner pulled me into his office to offer a substantial raise as he had been impressed with my work. Depends on the company if the same would happen for OP, but aligns well with an evaluation period. – Steve-o169 Apr 11 at 14:08
  • 3
    Also consider, your manager doesn't want to waste time with HR negotiating a salary a 2nd time. You should just get whatever you are due the first time, this 'benevolence' you offer is so far off normal for HR that the amount of administrative effort to overcome isn't worth it for your department. – Paul Apr 11 at 14:43
  • 2
    An anecdote to support this. When I moved from various IT positions (with already some BA tasks, but very limited and never clearly stated in my contract to support the thesis) to a full-time BA I was ready to accept an offer well below the market. As a result I had accepted a position with salary at about 60% of market rate (it was still over a boost for me). After about a year my manager said that when I was in the middle of 3-months probation period he made a mistake of under-valuating me but he couldn't do much about salary. Fortunately he managed to push me out to a better position. – Ister Apr 11 at 15:02
29

on the other hand, the company is making a much lower risk hiring me

You are mistaken about this. It is true that the hiring you after the trial period will be lower risk, but the trial period itself is a huge risk.

When a firm hires a programmer, there are two big costs that you probably aren't aware of:

  • The cost of the recruitment process. It takes a vast amount of expensive programmer time to sift through CVs and interview people (not to mention expenses for flights and hotel rooms if necessary).
  • The cost of coming up to speed. Even if we can get a new hire without having to pay them a salary, they will cost us money for the first six months because they don't know the existing code base, the procedures, or the problem domain. As such more experienced people will keep having to stop what they are doing and explain.

Because of these large up-front costs, employers want to be as certain as possible that it is going to work out OK, and that they aren't going to be starting the search from scratch in two months time. Saving 50% of the salary for a couple of months really isn't going to make a difference to their risk assessment. What it will do (as other have said), is make them worry that you aren't up to scratch.

  • 1
    It also increases a risk that the peer finds a better paid position in the meantime leaving a gap again. – Ister Apr 11 at 15:04
25

With this question I guess you can only "survey" the opinion of readers.

Let's think - are there actual facts which can help us decide?

  1. The software market is incredibly hot currently. Programmers are "ridiculously" in demand.

This surely says "don't do it"

  1. It's sometimes said that it is "a little less hot in Europe than in the US". We work internationally every day, and I really don't see that. Companies in France, Deutscheland, Sweden, the East are desperate for programmers. But even if, the "slightly less hot" market in Europe is still "ridiculously hot". You ae in huge demand as a junior, middle, or old person.

This surely says "don't do it"

  1. Programming is highly "talent based". It's rather like, say, being a musician. It's the professional field where you have to confidently know that you can perform from minute-one. Every single thing you do should exude confidence.

This surely says "don't do it"

  1. Companies are as despeate to hire (good) beginners as they are to hire experienced people. You can see this by glancing at the job ads on this very site, or anyone in the industry will tell you.

This surely says "don't do it"

  1. Perhaps most significantly. The amount of money involved is trivial compared to the value of software. An offer like this is just silly - a token offer - to a software team. A month or two's wages for a junior programmer - we spend that much on graphics cards and Gin every week :) And gaming keyboards.1 The offer would be seen as a bit "silly" to any software related company.

This surely says "don't do it"

Again this is a "survey question" and you can only ask for different opinions from folks in the industry, for me looking at the facts the answer is clear.


1Nobody needs gaming keyboards for software. They just look cool :)

enter image description here

  • 4
    The market in France is slightly different, due to a very centralized structure. Salaries are far more fixed than in other countries(though it begins to change since a couple of years). Still, if everyone gets 42 and you ask 38, you're doomed as well. Different reasons, same conclusions. – gazzz0x2z Apr 11 at 13:21
  • 1
    Honestly, to spend $100 and get the programmers to go "Oooo" instead of "Ugh" is already worth it. You don't want programmers coming it and complain about your craptastic 50 cent OEM keyboard. – Nelson Apr 12 at 1:58
  • +1 particularly for the "companies are desperate to hire good beginners" point. I do interviews regularly, and I love finding people who are eager to learn and have clearly started down the path themselves. What I look for in a junior is very different from what I look for in a senior, but I want to hire a mix of the two. It is very possible to have too many seniors in a team. – Mikkel Apr 12 at 4:39
  • @Nelson I'd rather go for a 9.99 euro full keyboard than the Apple 100 euro magic keyboard that I have to use every day and I hate (no, I can't bring my own keyboard). – ChatterOne Apr 12 at 7:54
  • @ChatterOne , you're totally correct, I've learned in the last year or so. I now use (with Mac) a "gaming" keyboard (ie a Windows keyboard, a top quality mechanical ("gaming") one). (There's a setting in OSX where you can make the three keys at the bottom left in the correct place; so my mechanical keyboard does not have a cloverfleaf symbol but otherwise the layout is identical to a mac keyboard.) It takes you some days to get used to the totally different key feel of a mechanical keyboard, but once you do, you realize the apple keyboard IS RUBBISH. .. cont .. – Fattie Apr 12 at 11:41
22

I did exactly what you propose when I transitioned into industry, and it hasn't worked out in my favor. I was very confident in my skills, but my CV and history were rather chaotic, so I figured I'd be in a much better negotiating position if I started low and used the first few months to show off what I could do for the company. Which is also what I told the hiring manager.

What that actually accomplished was to set a precedent that I was okay with doing the difficult and stressful tasks for a below average salary. While my accomplishments were certainly noted, there was no real pressure to adjust my salary. Time was working against me, and management knew that, so they delayed the negotiations, kept offering excuses or small, incremental raises. There was also significant turnover at the management level, so the reputation I built was not nearly as useful as I had hoped.

Eventually, I moved to a different branch and negotiated a more substantial raise, but even that was somewhat limited by a company policy that had been put in place in the meantime. Perhaps not coincidentally, the raise happened shortly after a client had offered to hire me directly.

Long story short, it doesn't benefit the company to pay you well if you'll do the job (well) for less. In the eyes of a manager, a highly skilled and motivated employee that is also cheap is not just a bargain, it's an accomplishment. Good managers will realize that they'll need to make adjustments eventually to avoid losing you, but the longer they can delay these adjustments, the better.

Don't expect a significant raise unless you get promoted, change positions or there's a credible threat that you'll quit if they don't, and the latter usually works only once. No manager I've ever met will give you a raise just because you deserve it. So aim high to begin with or have a serious plan B.

  • Agreed! It's one thing to accept lower pay because you currently lack the experience. But this proposal is "so the company can get a real world idea of my abilities and how I'd fit in with the team before discussing full-time employment and salary", which makes no sense. A mutual agreement on the probationary period should be sufficient to address the risk issue. There's no need to devalue yourself in addition to that. – 200_success Apr 11 at 19:42
  • 2
    Note that management's success criteria is, sadly, not necessarily to make you happy! If a manager can delay a 5% raise (which can be thousands of dollars) by a couple months, that's thousands of dollars saved to his credit! (Bad?) managers have many reason to delay raises... – Nelson Apr 12 at 2:04
12

While your proposition sounds reasonable, it might be useful in the short term and detrimental in the longer term.

If this is your first job, you are to some degree anchoring your wage expectations. This can off course be changed later on (but probably only by moving elsewhere) - but generally it seems people who start off low tend to never really catch up later on.

Since you don't need the money, I would wait for a job that pays what you are worth.

8

I don't think the key issue here is what you are actually worth as a developer, or whether "trial periods" in general make sense, or how hot the job market is. I think the key issue is that you generally won't be successful at proposing something that's structured differently than what the employer has decided they are looking for. You said,

So I thought it might be a good idea for me when I apply for a job to offer to do like a month or two internship, with lower pay

(Emphasis mine.)

By the way you're phrasing this, you seem to be indicating that you're applying for job postings for full time, permanent software development positions. In most organizations, by the time a job posting has been made public, there's already been a fair amount of process and effort put in to creating, describing, funding, and otherwise preparing for the position. Things like the hours (full time vs part time), position level (entry level, senior), position structure (contractor, internship, full time), benefits, compensation (at least, as a range), what type of work the person will be doing, if there will be a probationary period, what the process is for determining raises or annual increases is, etc - are all generally decided before the posting is made public.

This is highly relevant to your question. You are basically proposing that you'd like to work in a very different role than what has been advertised. Your concept of working a trial period "as an intern" basically means you'd be causing the company to have to rework or re-decide many of these factors. Most companies won't be willing to do that, especially since they will likely have other candidates to choose from who aren't challenging them on the structure of the position.

Further, you may think, "what if I am just SO desirable that the employer is willing to bend to my plan?" Well, think about that for a second - if they really thought you were that desirable, why would it make sense for them to basically treat you like someone who wasn't worth the title/salary they were advertising?

The point I'm trying to make is, when you're applying for jobs, it's generally not wise to challenge the structure that the employer already has in place for the position, because they've already put thought into making sure that structure meets their needs.

The good news is, if you really see yourself fit for a role that starts as an intern or entry-level temporary trial position, there are lots of companies that will actively seek those arrangements - but they'll be advertised as such! So there's really no point in finding employers who aren't advertising that structure, and then trying to talk them into it.

  • 1
    Very good point. There are exceptions, e.g. in small(ish) startups, but those come with their own additional risks. – Ruther Rendommeleigh Apr 11 at 14:48
3

Granted, I'm in South Afica so things may work differently to Europe, but it seems like a bad idea to me, for a few reasons.

As programmers working for a small company but with software running in stores nationwide, we are treated as resources and measured against deadlines, even though the software we work on has a lifetime of at least a few years and earns substantial revenue for the company. Thus the worth to the company is significant, even for a junior. The software makes a lot of money, so much that salaries based on deadlines are absurd compared to the revenue the company earns. The difference between a junior and senior salary is negligible when software earns millions, so there is no point in working for lower pay.

As others have stated, trial periods are commonplace anyway. We tend to have three month probation periods here, but without any increase when transitioning to permanent staff. Once your salary is set, you won't get much of an increase. Increases are often yearly or target-based, which over here is again detached from the real value of the software to the company, but rather a way of basing increases on what you already earn, an excellent way to keep costs low but profits high.

Recruiters also tend to base future salaries on your current earning. So work for lower pay, and you don't find other work for more than 5 to 10% more than that. Thus earning a lower pay gets your salary locked down to a low amount.

3

While this sounds good in theory, in practice, this is unnecessary at best and potentially harmful at worst.

The basic problem is that interns in programming aren't treated that way. The last time I worked at a company with interns, they did not get paid less than me. Their salary was pretty much the same as mine. Now, I did receive other benefits that they did not. These benefits include stock grants and matching retirement contributions. Those required a vesting period that was longer than the internship period. So I was compensated more. But I wasn't paid more. They received essentially the same monthly salary as I did.

The reason for this is simple. The return from good programming work is much higher than the cost of a programmer. And the return from bad programming work may be negative. As such, there is little incentive for companies to try to save money by not paying their programmers. That would create a situation where good programmers mostly went to other companies that were willing to pay while the leftovers would go to the underpaying company. It makes much more sense to concentrate on finding programmers worth their pay.

If you want to engage companies as an intern, simply apply to companies as an intern. If they pay less than market, you can still choose to take that job. If they don't, they don't. But there is no reason to open with a willingness to take less pay. If they want to pay you less, they'll let you know. This is not a good way to stand out among other applicants. You want to project confidence, not cheapness.

If it comes up, you could say, "I am so confident that I would provide value to this company with my skills that I would work for free for three months to prove it." That expresses your confidence rather than trying to compensate for your weakness. But the truth is that it is unlikely that would come up in an interview. Concentrate on showing your skills, not negotiating compensation.

Negotiating compensation is usually the last step in the hiring process, well after the decision to make an offer is past.

3

Your question made think of issues that may be more of a philosophical nature, but hopefully will be 'food for thought' as your career progresses... which I hasten to add - I wish you well with. At least you have thought about life and made the effort ask a question. So that will help you just in itself.

I'm 66yrs now, and back when I was about 15yrs my father asked me "How much will an employer pay you?". I'm an engineer and scientist by aptitude, interest and training so even at that young age I began trying to answer what appeared to be a vague question. Anyway, he put me out of my misery by answering "The minimum you are prepared to accept." And on reflection I think it's very true.

I have worked in Aerospace, automotive engineering and software development but completely failed to recognise I am suited to R&D. This realisation only transpired by accident in my 50s but the reasons are not relevant here. I think the following comments need the reader to know this.

In my 40s I read a book "Winning at interview" (WAI) Winning at interview and it totally changed my understanding of the employer / employee relationship. I was the typical employee with 'employee thinking' up to the age of fifty; then partly as a result of not understanding the roles for which I should have been applying, I jumped into self-employment. And that changed my view of the 'world of work' yet again. I was self employed offering heating and plumbing services to the public. This meant I was totally dependent on explaining the problem to the customer and suggesting a solution.

Initially I approached people as though I was in the technical offices at the various companies for whom I have worked, which drew the complaint that I was 'too technical'. So the battle was meeting my potential customers (employers) on their terms at their level of understanding. And then perversely, once 'reel in', customers tended to stick with me through thick and thin rather that risk finding another tradesman.

Understanding people is not for the faint-hearted. But it's essential.

You need to be with an employer who knows your value and who values you.

The employer has the whip-hand; you have to ensure that you understand what it's costing him to employ you. If you started your own company and began interviewing potential employees, for whom you have to pay a salary, for offices, for computers, for benefits, for sickness etc etc, your viewpoint would change totally to that of the 'employer'. Employees need to understand their employer and "TELL THEM" they appreciate their difficulties.

Over the years I have observed people in the 'employed' category acting as though employers OWE them a job. They seem to find it all too easy to have a "gimmee, gimmee, gimmee" attitude; and employers sense it immediately. I don't mean that I sense that about you. It's just a point I want to make.

You will be, at least, employed by virtue of your attitude and understanding of the employer's position, as much as on your worth in terms of skills and abilities.

We have to realise that if we are worth our pay then offering a 'cut price deal' to an employer may well backfire. Will he think "This guy actually questions what he is worth." And what is the 'cut price deal' supposed to achieve? Is the employer so poor that a saving of £10k (or whatever) will keep the company afloat? If so, do you really want to work for them!? If the employer is happy to accept an employee working for less pay, then what does that say about the employer? If you were the employer, would you want your staff struggling financially?

And one last point: I find that programming tends to cause us to place the most important part of thought process at the end. My rule is "Re-read and move the important point to the beginning." So to quote you- "Is offering low pay work for a trial period ... a good idea?" Your point is "Is it a good idea...?" The concept of the "good idea" envelopes what follows, so say that first.

I hope these ramblings help. Do read the book.

1

Slightly contrary to other answers:

Yes! Of course!

Now the actual explanation for it...If you don't need the money and you were to be hired quite quickly you would be double paid for that period of time.

You can use this extra pay to allow a pay-cut to yourself for the first year.

If you intend to remain in the place you are applying for, this is a bad idea as you will start with a low pay (unlikely they will accept a low-paid probation followed by a payrise) that will be difficult to lift.

In the other hand, if you want to make a career move and you feel you need to pocket at least 1 year experience somewhere before you can move on and get paid again what you deserve, you can simply offer to start at a lower wage, to gain the experience you need.

I have done this and have gone from call centre staff to being a PM, despite the fact I was still being paid, in average, 8000 less than I should have in that company, that meant I could get a job, after getting the experience I needed, and now the salary reflects that.

TL:DR - You can instead work for a lower wage to get the experience to get a better paid job in 1/2 years if your financial situation is able to withstand that and your experience needs the boost. It is an investment in yourself.

  • 12
    in my experience, asking for less than the market standard is usually bad received on the recruiter's side : the candidate seems either clueless of its own value, and is therefore suspicious, or he is aware he is inferior, which is even more suspicious. – gazzz0x2z Apr 11 at 9:52
  • @gazzz0x2z and I've experienced the opposite. Again, the titled question is "is it ok?" and I believe the answer is yes, and gave the exact situation where I feel it is ok. I still agree with all the other answers that say he shouldn't do it, even though his answer is whether is ok or not and not whether he should do it or not... – fireshark519 Apr 12 at 12:25
1

To answer your direct question:

  • No, I would not recommend doing that

Others have addressed my reasons.

I have been doing programming for almost ten years now, but not much professionally so I wouldn't really class myself as a junior, but also definitely not as a senior yet.

Just for your awareness, some people would classify your experience as Junior at best because you haven't done your software dev professionally1.
What you code on your own is different (and generally less difficult) than when you are answering to other people. No need to argue with me in the comments if you disagree, I'm just reporting knowledge that some people (in hiring positions) believe this... I'm not arguing whether it should be true.

I don't say that to discourage you, nor to detract from your actual abilities, I just don't want you to be offended if you run into someone that feels this way. Their mind can possibly be changed, and it is possible that once you have a little experience you may want to work with them (it isn't personal; it is just guidelines they use).

1 The key is who is driving the requirements. If, for example, you have a large software project that has other users, and it has been through revisions... it would probably be "professional experience".
Perhaps also pull requests you've done which were accepted on a complex project would be "professional experience" (for lack of a better term).

0

Simply showing up and saying “I’ll work for less than anyone else you can hire” isn’t really a positive selling point. Indifference to the pay might be a tie breaker, but isn’t going to be leading trait — because what’s cheaper than hiring you instead of the other guy is to hire neither. So if they are hiring, they have something they want to happen that they consider more important than the cost. You are actually asking them to take on additional risk, failing at a reduced cost is still failing.

Experience reduces risk...

So, instead of saying yes or no I’m going to suggest that you break out of the box: look for a position as an intern. That gives you time to gain the required, demonstrable, experience. If you can’t find an internship, look around for where you can volunteer or if you have an industry contact where you can get them to create an internship. And if you can’t find that, see if you can’t find someplace that wants to train their own.

For these positions, helping you is part of the goal, making you a very low risk proposition.

0

In my opinion, it looks well.

However, my experience is that employers don't like such offers. They prefer not hiring someone to hiring him for lower wage, and giving him a chance.

If you passed an interview and they want to employ you, they give you an offer. If they don't want to hire you, they won't. If they want to, you won't need to make such compromises.

The only possibility for such an event is, if they want to employ you, but they give you this offer. It is rare, but can happen. Then it is your decision, if you accept it or not.

In no case should you offer this.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.