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I'm a college student in an engineering field. Last year I applied for and received a co-op at a small but well-known company in my city. It is organized through my university, and we have an informal agreement (no written contract) for me to work three terms at this company. A term is either a semester or a summer break.

I've since worked one term, a semester during which I took no classes and worked 40 hours/week for the company. I really like the company a lot. My coworkers are very nice and helpful, and I'm contributing to real-world projects.

The pay is good, but I regularly hear of other students in the same field earning 15 - 20% more. In fact, working for my university on small projects and research, I'm earning ~30% more, although the work is 8-10 hours/week as opposed to 40 hours/week.

My hourly pay for the first term was agreed upon in the initial job offer. But I've heard from other students at the same company that the pay does not increase in the following terms.

My question is, given the company's history of maintaining the same hourly rate, what is an appropriate way for me to ask the company for a raise? I am consistently working in the field and improving my skills even while taking a full course load, and I believe because of my proven track record with the company and other working experience I deserve to earn as much as other students working in the same field.

One thing I've heard of other students doing is pursuing offers from other companies and then using those offers as leverage to raise their pay with their current company. I have a couple places where I could apply and have a good chance to earn more. But I don't want to "lead on" other employers, and I really would like to stay with this company. It's exactly the type of work I want to be doing, I don't have to relocate, and the people there are awesome.

Any advice out there from students or employers who deal with college students on internships/co-ops?

Edit: summary: If I want a raise from my current company and want to stay at the company, is it better to a) pursue an offer from another company and present the current company the offer for the current company to counter or b) simply ask for a raise, giving my contributions and experience as grounds for a raise.

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    "but I regularly hear of other students in the same field earning 15 - 20% more" Remember that when you were younger and got 'pocket money', or whatever it's called? Did you also think that "The other kids in my class get more"? Consider that what you are concluding is just confirmation bias. – user8036 Oct 5 '14 at 9:58
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So - hindsight being 20/20 - if you were able to get a rate of pay higher at your university than here, if you knew that ahead of time, it would have been wise to mention. It's also not a bad idea to get the lay of the land in terms of other offers before making a commitment.

As an employer that takes on interns - I have to admit, I wouldn't be overly obliging to someone who had worked for me for 4 months and then wanted to change our deal. Pay rates don't go up that quickly - it's fair for the employer to assume you really didn't know what a standard rate was when you accepted the offer, I doubt there has been an explosion in the industry of 15-20% in 4 months.

The other problem is - they are investing in you in other ways. They spared time from other employees to get you up and going, they found meaningful work and intern could do - they are the reason that you've had a great experience. They did that in part, with the faith that you would finish out your commitment.

The last question I'll ask is - under what context are your peers getting the better rates? In the same basic area? Same industry? Same hours? Same skills? All these things will change your rate. In particular - you mention it's nice to not to have to move -- if the opportunities are in different cities, they are paying for the standard of living in those cities, and the scope of the competition is different.

It's absolutely fine to be getting a sense of an actual market rate that is fair in this industry. I'd say get that sense as you go to interviews for positions after your internship commitment. Either work after graduation, or the next internship - do a better job of finding out what a reasonable rate is before making the commitment.

  • The students I'm comparing to are in the exact same industry, just at different companies, also working full-time with very comparable skill-sets. I guess that is true about the standards of pay differing between cities. Back when I got it, I was just excited to have gotten a position at that company; I didn't dare question their offer. I guess you just get jealous hearing about other students doing essentially the same work earning more. Although $4-5/hour for a student does make a big difference. – Cale Edwin Oct 2 '14 at 14:49
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Make your argument for a raise in good faith i.e. based on your performance, your experience gained and your increased effectiveness and efficiency at work. And let's see how the management responds.

Since you mention that the people you work with are awesome, skip the gaming and just ask and justify in a straightforward, confident manner. Others may disagree with me but your mention that "I deserve to earn as much as other students" sounds like individious comparison and whining. You are asking for a raise, standing on your own merit and potential to do good to the firm and not on what someone else is or is not earning.

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Given the case that you have two companies, one is offering you more money without preconditions and one needs to be leveraged with an offer from another company, ... what was the question again?

  • I don't have a second company at the present moment. I feel confident that I could get a second offer. The question: will I have a better chance at a raise if I a) pursue another offer and present it to them or b) simply ask for a raise given my contributions to the company and other work experience. – Cale Edwin Oct 2 '14 at 3:11
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    this reads more like a comment than an answer. See How to Answer – gnat Oct 2 '14 at 19:55
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DO NOTHING

You agreed to work there for a year, and have only worked there for FOUR MONTHS. FOUR MONTHS. To expect a raise after FOUR MONTHS is greedy, arrogant and naive. The typical US policy is annual salary increases, and that is far from universal.

I infer they are flexible on hours and schedule to accommodate your attending school. And you like the company, and want to work there permanently after your complete your education. Do you really want to risk that for a potential (and unlikely) 20% raise. A far more likely outcome is that they choose not to have you return for the third term.

I suggest that you count your blessings, cultivate the relationships at this company, and worry about doing a great job. When the time comes to join full time, then you can negotiate and have relationships and performance on your side.

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    This is a little aggressive for my liking, although I agree with the underlying sentiment. – Fiona - myaccessible.website Oct 2 '14 at 9:19
  • I understand. I've thought of it that way as well. To be fair though, what they are paying me is a lower bound for most of the research I've done about typical pay for interns/co-op students in this field. I am by no means saying I'm working for free, but I also don't think it's unreasonable to increase from that lower bound. I do enjoy the work though, so that's what matters at the end of the day. Because of them I'll have the skills and means for a comfortable life after university. – Cale Edwin Oct 2 '14 at 14:55
  • @CaleEdwin "Fair" is in the eye of the beholder. You accepted the job knowing the 1 year term and the wage. Reasonable or not, if you ask for a raise you will be perceived as selfish and ungrateful. – tomjedrz Oct 2 '14 at 15:04
  • @FionaTaylorGorringe I intended it to be blunt. I actually plenty of sharper thoughts out. If I were the manager and a 4 month intern came in asking for more money, my response would be something like "You're kidding, right, after 4 months?". – tomjedrz Oct 2 '14 at 15:11

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