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Should I mention how little pay I would work for?
January 5, 2013 3:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm willing to work an internship for little or no pay. Should I mention this fact or would it come off as desperate and unprofessional?

There is a small, local software company in California that I'm really interested in working with. I have also applied to other companies, but this one is particularly interesting to me. I'm in a fortunate position where I can afford to work for little-to-nothing, I have a light college load in computer science, and I really want the experience. I do believe I meet the qualifications for a position.

I figure that an extra person at low monetary cost might be appealing to a small company. Should I include this bit when reaching out to them, or would it come off as desperate or unprofessional? If I do mention this, how could I best bring it up?
posted by WCF to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Send them a formal email stating your interning with them. Explain your interests, and your current course load. Say you were looking at their website and didn't see an intern position available, but wanted to check and be sure.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:49 PM on January 5, 2013


It is extraordinarily uncommon for students in engineering professions to work as unpaid interns, especially in California (which has strict requirements for unpaid internships). To be honest, as an engineer, I would not consider someone looking for an unpaid internship to be acting professionally. It would be clear to me that they do not value their own time.

As a practical matter, it costs money to employ anyone, even without a salary. If a company has work for an intern to do, the company has money to pay that intern (or else the company is insolvent). If the company has no work for an intern to do, then the intern is not worth hiring at any price, as the intern brings no value to the company.
posted by saeculorum at 3:54 PM on January 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


I admit that I'm not in your field, but are internships in that area/with that company usually paid? You may want to do some research before you offer up something that may not matter or devalues your work. Either way, I don't think that in an introductory email/phone call, especially when/if there's as yet no official position available, one should talk about dollars and donuts right off the bat.
posted by sm1tten at 3:54 PM on January 5, 2013


I don't think you need to come out and state that you can work for low/no pay; the word "internship" pretty much is code for that. And as with regular job inquiries, usually salary isn't something you would discuss in your cover letter or initial correspondence with a company, so I don't think it's necessary to bring it up when you first contact them.
posted by kitty teeth at 3:55 PM on January 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


You're in a fortunate position to also work for pay. You should approach a company with tremendous interest and a description of your position and qualifications. See how they respond. If they tell they'd love to hire but can't afford to do so at the moment, then ask if they have any internship opportunities. Re-iterate your interest.

People get hired because they're a good fit, not because they're cheap for the bottom line. Telling someone you'll willing to work for free is not a negotiation tactic, it is a form of groveling. You are unnecessarily setting a tone of low confidence.

Furthermore, in some work cultures, being the young guy who does excellent work and is willing to do work for free will lead you down the road of unrewarded perfectionism. If you do agree to an internship, make sure you establish an end-date. Let them know that then you will be looking for paying work, or focusing on school or what not. This will save you an awkward conversation down the road about getting paid should you want to stay, and gives them an opportunity to keep you on board with financial compensation if they really think you're worth it.
posted by phaedon at 3:57 PM on January 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be honest, as an engineer, I would not consider someone looking for an unpaid internship to be acting professionally. It would be clear to me that they do not value their own time

This.
posted by rr at 4:17 PM on January 5, 2013


Keep in mind that your employer may not value your time if you show up for free. So you may find yourself with a job where they may throw you some tasks but not invest enough resources in helping you succeed because 'if he does it -- great; if not -- no loss to us." Or you'll find yourself with nothing to do but fetch coffee.

One thing you could do in your cover letter is to mention that you're more concerned about an internship where you work on interesting problems and get useful experience. The parallel I'd draw is that people aiming to work for a non-profit need to communicate that they believe in the mission, see their work as doing good and are willing to forgo some of the benefits of a traditional corporate job in exchange for it. So in this case, I think that if you focus on how (and *why*) you're excited about what the company does and that you'd much rather work with them than a generic job, they'll probably get the memo. Perhaps you can make some mention of understanding that as a small company, they have some limitations as far as in internship program but that doesn't detract from your interest.

In the end, the cost of an intern is probably more in the time it takes to properly supervise and teach them than in the raw salary. And it's in your best interest to make sure that the place where you intern is willing to invest time in you -- otherwise you'll have a lousy experience.
posted by bsdfish at 7:03 PM on January 5, 2013


the cost of an intern is probably more in the time it takes to properly supervise and teach them than in the raw salary

This, too. You'll need someone allocated to you that you can pester repeatedly, which will make them less productive. Overall it's not even clear that you'll be a net benefit to the company -- by the time you're fluent with their internal systems, you'll be leaving again!
posted by katrielalex at 3:32 AM on January 6, 2013


I don't think you need to come out and state that you can work for low/no pay; the word "internship" pretty much is code for that.

Not in engineering though.
posted by atrazine at 6:23 AM on January 6, 2013


Keep in mind that with very few exceptions, minimum wage laws bar for-profit entities from employing unpaid labor and calling those people "interns." This doesn't apply to engineering alone - if you're an "intern" at a production company and most of what you do is getting coffee and making photocopies (e.g., nothing of any benefit to your education in the field), you're being ripped off and the company employing you is breaking the law.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:37 AM on January 6, 2013


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