I recently interviewed with a government contractor (DoD) who have sent me an email telling me they are writing up my offer letter.

I currently have a software support internship but this new offer is for software engineering (I'm a computer engineering major), so I thought these new job skills would be important to obtain.

I received a call from the hiring manager today proposing the internship and offering $16 an hour. Knowing I need the experience I said I was interested.

However, after speaking to another intern at the company and looking online at glassdoor.com I saw that the average rate for an intern was around $20/hour.

I am a senior studying Computer Engineering with not much real work programming experience.

Should I ask for more? Is it a typical to negotiate salary for an internship position?

  • 4
    If you get a security clearance working with the DoD then that will have value in future job search and salary.
    – paparazzo
    Apr 14, 2016 at 18:45
  • 1
    While I agree with the answers below regarding negotiating, it is worth noting that DoD contracting companies have more stringent billing and accountability requirements to the government that regular private or public companies do not. So that changes the negotiating landscape.
    – cdkMoose
    Apr 14, 2016 at 19:01
  • Bear in mind that sites like glassdoor can only leverage the data they are given. In other words, the information you found there might actually be quite a bit off from reality. Further, comparing a tech internship at say Home Depot to one at the DoD is not comparing apples to apples.
    – NotMe
    Apr 14, 2016 at 22:29

5 Answers 5


Your ability to negotiate is based on how much value you can bring to the company. As an intern you don't have much negotiating power (see related question).

Knowing I need the experience I said I was interested.

This quote leads me to believe that you don't have much software engineering experience (although you might be very experienced depending on your academic and personal work).

Your negotiating position also depends on if the company has other potential interns. If the company really wants to hire you they may be flexible. Software Engineering has a lack of skilled talent which gives you some but not much leverage.

Your options

If you are confident in your ability to do the work very well; you have 2 options

  1. Ask if compensation is negotiable
    • Be prepared to justify why you are worth X amount
    • "Because that's the average" is not a compelling argument
    • If they say no, I wouldn't push them on this unless you feel that you have leverage
  2. Ask if you can revisit the compensation issue in a month or 2 after you have time to demonstrate how much you are contributing.

I was in a similar position in my first internship (although I did have previous experience); I asked #1 and it turned out that they had a process for #2 in place already.

  • Government contractors may have less flex too as the salary may be dictated by the government contract.
    – HLGEM
    Apr 14, 2016 at 18:25
  • @HLGEM That's a good point, I honestly don't know much about the DoD so I tried to answer the general question
    – Kevin
    Apr 14, 2016 at 19:09

The key points of negotiation are the scales which have "what the company has to offer" versus "what the hire has to offer". The problem you'll find is that as an intern you are, by definition, pretty inexperienced and therefore pretty low on what you have to offer at this stage in your career.

While you may wish to ask for more, consider that the company really has little incentive to pay more since finding interns is really not that difficult.


You can and should negotiate internship salary. This is very similar to salary negotiations for full-time position. Be prepared to justify why you deserve more money e.g. You're a senior and have taken more classes relevant to the position.

For US government, though, there might be set guidelines to prevent salary negotiations. I worked with NASA as an intern several times and they had strict guidelines for pay based on your year in school.


Fast forward by one year. You have a computer engineering degree, and one of two possible experience profiles.

  1. Deep experience in software support.
  2. Some experience in software support and some experience in programming.

If you are optimizing for maximum salary, you need to research which career is going to pay better in the long term, careers premised on support or careers premised on programming.

If you are optimizing for personal happiness you have to decide which line of work makes you happier. Some folks feel great about talking to people, understanding their needs, and solving their problems with existing software. Support is a great place to be and can lead to a career in product management, customer engineering, or system integration. Other folks feel great getting a tough problem and writing programs to solve those problems. Software development is a great place for them, and can lead to careers in software engineering, software architecture, and technology management.

If you want to continue your career in programming, having real-world software experience will likely make it easier to get a job. But is it worth forfeiting $4/hour in pay in your current internship to get that job? Only you can decide.


If you are a skilled person likely to be valuable to a team then salary negotiation is not only expected but may even be encouraged. If you do not negotiate your salary towards a fair figure for your talents you may find yourself underemployed with regard to the tasks allotted and may end up bored or uninterested, which is bad for any company and anyone involved. Contrariwise, if you specify too large a salary you may find yourself with tasks allotted which you cannot complete.

Do not feel greedy asking for more. You can always make the decision to give to the poor and needy, all a larger salary is doing is giving you more options so go in hard, but also be circumspect and try to be realistic about your abilities to the full extent you can. In the long run, doing so will be to the advantage of both yourself and any fair-wage paying employer.

  • Do as you feel is right, but always try to negotiate upwards while also being honest. Oct 1, 2017 at 15:34
  • I did my best. Salary negotiation skills should not be seen as indicative of any other skills, though, and should be an honest appreciation of skills and value to community as mutually assessed. Oct 1, 2017 at 15:37

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