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Is internship salary negotiable?

Nathan Parcells
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Published on March 25, 2015

Absolutely.

Most companies view interns like any other position they are trying to fill.  They want the best talent at a reasonable price.  Most companies will set an initial salary that is competitive in order to attract the applicants they want.  Ultimately, their program will be limited by their overall budget, but almost all companies can find additional funding in a pinch to hire the students they truly want.


A few considerations:

  • Some companies may be highly bureaucratic and not want to “unfairly” compensate interns at different wage levels.  In this case, they likely will not hold it against you that you asked for a higher salary but they may not provide one either.  This is more likely at larger companies for whom being flexible isn’t worth it.
  • If you negotiate the right way it will almost never be held against you.  In fact a lot of companies will see this as a strength, and so even if they do not have the budget to afford the increase you are asking for they will see you as a more professional and desirable candidate.
  • Negotiation is best done over the phone.  If you have an offer and you’d like to ask for a higher offer, tell the employer you had some follow-up questions you wanted to go over.
  • It helps a ton to have another offer to base your request off of.  The formula provided by Neel is a great route to go.  “You offered me X.  I really like your role.  Another company I am also interested in offered me Y.  I’d really like to work for you all as I think it is a better culture fit, is there any way you could also offer me Y?”  Expect to either get Y back, something between X and Y or an apology as to why no increase can be made.
  • The odds of this backfiring are very slim, but it could happen.  There is little reason for a company to not at least allow you to accept their original offer.  The only instance where this is not the case is if the common has a culture built on a high degree of respect, and it was expressed to you that the salary is incredibly high and non-negotiable.  In this rare instance, in can be construed as disrespectful not to accept an offer as is.  The other outlier scenario is that an employer receives a better candidate or another acceptance in the time from when you are negotiating to when you sign the current offer.  In this case they could rescind the offer as well.  Both cases are extremely rare but not unheard of.
  • Startups are highly likely to negotiate.  They have very few rules and care tremendously about talent.  SMBs are also flexible when negotiating but may be more cash strapped than other companies.  Big companies are the most likely to have budget and many will be highly concerned that you might accept a role at a competitor, but some do have internal restrictions on intern salary.
  • Enjoy your negotiation!  It is a great skill to have and learn early.  Don’t negotiate just for the sake of it, but if you feel like you deserve a higher salary than this is always worth doing.
Nathan Parcells

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