Negotiating as an Intern

We’ve all heard or read about the so-called “rules” of negotiating on the job. But somehow interns get the shaft on this area of advice, and not only when it relates to pay, but to soft benefits and logistics like the number of hours worked. Some might say that interns have no business negotiating with a company or organization.

However, with employers depending on the work of interns more than ever, and often to replace the work of laid-off employees, it’s important for interns  to be aware of what they can expect from these companies when putting in their time, even if it is unpaid. So take a page from the Beastie Boys and fight for your rights as interns! This guide outlines what is generally on and off-limits for negotiation during the interview process to make sure the experience will be benefitting your budding career while also meeting the company’s needs. You know, like what an internship is meant to do.

Your time: One of the first things you’re likely to look for in any listing is the number of hours they expect you to be at work on projects, either in or away from the office. Sometimes there is a finite number but often employers list a wide range of hours depending on the type of internship, the season, and other outside factors. Interns can expect this number to fluctuate hugely, and of course, getting approval for putting in a few extra hours per week is never a bad thing. But the employer should not expect you to devote 30 hours a week if you were told 20, maximum, at your interview. To avoid an uncomfortable confrontation, be sure to discuss the specifics for time during your interview, and confirm again before accepting an offer. Also, be explicit about your current schedule. If there is one week you know you will be swamped with big exams or papers, ask if it will be possible to adjust your schedule and make up the hours later. The same goes for any pre-planned vacations or additional time you’ll need off. Letting them know in advance cuts down the inconvenience of having an intern absent when they’d planned on having your help and demonstrates your responsibility and organization.

Soft benefits (e.g. bus passes, lunch vouchers, tickets to events, conferences or trainings): Sometimes companies will offer these up front, particularly when the internship has specific technical requirements and is housed in a large urban area. If your commute to the office will be considerable, it’s not too much to ask if they’d be willing to provide you a monthly bus pass, or even to cover a portion of your daily trip. Other living expenses or stipends might be open to negotiation if the recruitment is broad and applicants are from out-of-state. And if you are aware of upcoming conferences or training opportunities you’d like to attend that have definite applicability to your work and advancement in the internship, let them know. Many companies are given discounts for sending interns to these events or have access to scholarship opportunities that individual applicants do not.

Referrals, letters of recommendation, or course credit (if applicable): For any successfully completed internship, these things should come standard from all employers. Always. If you think you might have been unfairly denied the full terms of your internship, you may consider reporting the company to your local Department of Labor office.

Tasks and projects: While you’ll likely be presented with a set list of tasks during the interview process, you might also be able to get yourself onto a project or team that wasn’t initially intended for an intern, but might be perfect for you. Just as in full-time employment, making well-rounded use of your talents and keeping in communication with your supervisor as they take shape is a huge, blinking sign to employers that says, “Hire Me! I’m serious about this!” Ask your supervisor to sit down for a mid-point review and point out the challenges you’ve overcome. You should also note how your achievements indicate your talents in certain areas that you may not have been tapped for yet. Keep in mind that they’ll still probably expect you to do the work you signed on for, so anything else you take on might be additional. Ultimately, your strong performance dictates your level of involvement and may be the key to getting to work on projects you want, an extension, and possibly a paycheck.

Karina Briski has been in the world of 9-5′s for nearly two years and has taken numerous internships with nonprofits and small social enterprises in her off-hours to keep the creative juices flowing. She’s in the process of moving from Seattle to New York City this month to put her intern skills to the real test. She also writes a bunch about anything that comes to mind, and her work can be found in various corners of the web, including on a blog that she sometimes forgets about updating. She shares most of her important news via Twitter


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2 comment on “Negotiating as an Intern

  1. Pingback: Negotiating internship terms, plus a quiz - Eye of the Intern

  2. Pingback: Negotiate a Better Internship! | The Savvy Intern by YouTern

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