Context: I've studied Biochemistry and while working in a lab I've studied Computer Science parallel.

As programmer I've done a (paid) freelancer project which involved exactly the technology the company is using for which I'm going to apply.

I'm now in the process of preparing for interviews and my concern is that HR will come up with the suggestion that I should work x months as (unpaid) intern or something. I don't know whether this is going to happen or not but I would like to be prepared if it becomes a topic, so...

Question: How do I argue in a professional manner that I am not going to work for free ?


More Context: I will apply for a paid position, however I think they might ask me to do a certain period as unpaid intern before giving me the job. Therefore my question: I don't want to work for free at all but how should I react when they ask me to do so even though I will have applied for the paid position?

The company might try this move simply to not heaving to pay me during that time. Something I can understand.

  • 7
    Are you applying for an unpaid internship? If so, then don't apply!
    – Jane S
    Jun 14, 2015 at 9:56
  • 4
    i think they might ask me to work as intern before accepting me as entry-level developer - Why do you think this?
    – Brandin
    Jun 14, 2015 at 10:01
  • 4
    If the company you're applying for is known to use this tactic, personally I would avoid applying there, or at least if you do, make sure it is at the very bottom of your job-search list. Most people need a paid position to pay for normal expenses, etc. Therefore you should prefer applying to places that have paid positions on offer.
    – Brandin
    Jun 14, 2015 at 10:09
  • 21
    "I'm not interested in an unpaid position"? Jun 14, 2015 at 10:35
  • 6
    Second @nathanCooper's suggestion. This is not something you should argue, it's something you should state. If that isn't what they budgeted for, thank them, say you'd be nterested if and when a paying position opens up, and ask whether this should continue as an "informational interview" so you and the company know each other better for that future discussion, or if they'd rather end it now and give everyone back the remaining time to spend on other things. But, yeah, best to find this out before the interview, again to avoid wasting everyone's time.
    – keshlam
    Jun 14, 2015 at 15:07

3 Answers 3


First of all before applying for the position you have to understand if the position is unpaid intern, low paid intern, or full-time paid position.

Based on the fact that you feel that you are a perfect match for the technology, and you have a degree; you may even be able to defend that you deserve a little more than the minimum salary in the range they are offering.

If it is an internship you will not be able to do much to change that. They have a need and they have a budget. If the salary you need doesn't fit in that budget bucket, they are unlikely to pay you what you would like. You would be asking them to overpay for the level of effort they are looking for. The position you want may not be open for months, or it may never be open with the company.

If the job posting doesn't clearly mention that it is a full-time paid position, then ask before applying. Or apply, and ask at the first opportunity such as the phone interview.

  • I think they might ask me to work, let's say 3 months as unpaid intern (during summer) before giving me the paid entry-level position. I don't want that at all, neither do I want to just bluntly walk out without "a fight". The reasoning of the company might be that they don't wanna pay for the training in the first few weeks/months.
    – SklogW
    Jun 15, 2015 at 22:57
  • 1
    @SklogW - Saying, "No" is the best negotiating tool you'll ever learn and is a great way to put up a fight. You don't have to be rude or get angry. Feel free to take your time when leaving. The only real justification they have for not paying an intern is if they find someone who will work without getting paid. If that is the case, it reflects poorly on any company that does that.
    – user8365
    Jun 16, 2015 at 8:58
  1. When they offer you an unpaid internship, say that you appreciate the offer, but that you were under the impression that you would be interviewing for a paid position. Then wait for their response.
  2. When they do not make an offer, point out that you can prove that you already have experience which means that you will be a productive employee from day one and don't require much training, so you believe that you deserve to be paid from day one.
  3. Should that not work, say that you depend on the income and can simply not afford to work for free for x months, so accepting an unpaid position is simply not possible for you.
  4. When that does not work out either, the last resort is to say that you believe that with your qualifications, you can easily get a paid offer from another company (or bluff that you already have one). But unless they really, really want you for the job, playing this card will be the end of the interview.

Keep in mind that the company might already have made the decision to only hire an unpaid intern for the position, so the person you talk to might simply not be allowed to offer you a paid one, no matter what you say. In that case there is just no chance to change their mind. All you can do in this case is walk out and look for another position.

  • 1
    "say that you depend on the income" Why would/should a company care whether I depend on it or not ?
    – SklogW
    Jun 14, 2015 at 10:09
  • 3
    @SklogW You could just say something like "I appreciate the offer for the unpaid internship. But when I applied I was under the impression that this was a paid position." Then just wait for them to come back to you with a real offer.
    – Brandin
    Jun 14, 2015 at 10:18
  • 1
    @Brandin That's indeed a good opener for such a negotiation. I added it as point 0 to my list.
    – Philipp
    Jun 14, 2015 at 10:26
  • @SklogW They should care, because they want you to work for them. You are in a negotiation. In a negotiation, both sides are threatening that unless the other agrees to their terms, the deal is off. By giving a good reason why you can not agree to their terms, you are showing that you are serious about that threat.
    – Philipp
    Jun 14, 2015 at 10:35
  • 4
    @VietnhiPhuvan You mean the threat of me leaving when you don't pay me? Not a problem at all. When you can not afford my salary, there are plenty of others who can - because they know someone with my skills is worth it. And we both know that all the rest of the people on your list either have no idea what they are doing or won't work for free either.
    – Philipp
    Jun 14, 2015 at 19:04

I suppose this depends on where you are going to look for job opportunities, but in my experience, the assumption on any "help wanted" ad is that it is for a full-time, paid position, unless specified otherwise in the ad. I suppose that assumption may not be valid for certain types of job, like working in a fast food place, but I think that would be the normal assumption for any technical job.

If when you talk to them they tell you this is an unpaid internship, as someone else on here said, there's no need to "argue" about anything. Just tell them, "Oh, I'm sorry, I misunderstood. I'm looking for a paid position." If they reply that they are not willing to pay someone for this job, then you politely say that you are sorry for the miscommunication and you hope they will keep you in mind when a paid position opens up. Then you shake hands and leave. There is pretty much zero point in continuing the interview. It is very unlikely that this is a negotiating ploy on the part of the company. I've never heard of a company offering a salary of $0 and then negotiating a real full-time professional salary. Sure, if they say, "Well, we do have a paid position open also ..." and want to talk further, fine.

Personally, I've been in the computer business since 1980, and I have never, ever, showed up for a job interview and had the company tell me that this was an unpaid internship. Companies looking to get interns normally clearly state that a position is an internship.

  • I have added more contect to my question. Basically I am going to apply for a paid position but I think they might ask me to do 2-3 months as unpaid intern before giving me the job and I wouldn't want to do it. Yes I'll walk out if necessary but I just would like to be prepared.
    – SklogW
    Jun 15, 2015 at 22:51
  • 1
    Same answer. You just say, "I'm sorry, but I thought this was a paid position." If they stick to demanding you work for free for whatever amount of time, you say "sorry, no" and leave. I certainly couldn't afford to work for 3 months for zero pay. I don't think many people could. There's nothing unreasonable about demanding to be paid for your work. There's no reason to be embarrassed about demanding to be paid. If there are people out there who will work for nothing, there's no way you're going to compete with that. Move on.
    – Jay
    Jun 16, 2015 at 7:18

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