How much negotiating power would I have as a full-time intern?
January 18, 2007 10:23 PM   Subscribe

How much power would I have to negotiate compensation, contract length, and benefits for a full-time internship in a highly competitive industry in Maryland? What kind of wage is reasonable for this position?

(Anonymous because my potential employers are web-savvy.)

I have a phone interview this coming Monday. Though I have about a year's worth of experience in the industry, the woman I spoke with said it's not the exact kind of experience they're looking for. She was very enthusiastic, however, about the possibility of taking me on as an intern with intent to hire.

The upside: Even if they don't hire me for good, a 6 month internship (ideal length, we haven't discussed it) should provide just enough experience to give me a chance at breaking into other positions. It also seems like a stable company staffed by decent people. The downside: it's on the opposite end of the country and it'd cost about $1850 (freight, flight, and moving assistance) to move.

I've estimated that I'd need to be making at least $8/hour to manage rent, food, monthly student loan payments, and public transportation. It'd have to be higher to save enough money to live on for a month if they didn't hire me after all, or if I wanted luxuries like, oh, a car or out-of-pocket insurance.

But I'm not sure how much bargaining power I have here. Working for me: I have more experience in this field than the usual intern, I have a college degree in a related field, I'm a quick learner and very passionate about the work, I've been making an average of $15/hour at my last few unrelated non-diploma-required jobs (albeit in a place where the cost of living is 20% higher), the company is currently trying to expand a lot, I do not need this job to survive, and as far as I can tell it's unreasonable to ask someone to shell out almost $2000 to work for minimum wage or just above it.

Working against me: It's an extremely competitive industry, there are interns at other companies who do similar work for free, it doesn't seem to be standard for any company to pay interns well or offer them benefits, their own website implies that some types of internships come with benefits and others don't, obviously they weren't impressed enough to interview me for a "real" position, and though I don't need this job to survive it'd certainly help.

So, in order of importance:
1) How much can I ask for? Should I be delighted to accept anything above $8/hr?
2) Can I request a minimum contract length? I can't move unless I'm guaranteed at least five months of work.
3) Should I negotiate for benefits? Their website implies that some interns get benefits and others do not - I'd like to at least have medical coverage.
4) Is it reasonable to expect relocation assistance or compensation?
5) Is public transportation decent enough in the Baltimore (Towson/Parkville) area that I could do without a car for a few months?
6) If I do get called in for an in-person interview, could I expect this small (200+ people but very successful) company to pay for my trip? I'd expect a company to do this for any full-time salaried position, but I'm less certain if it's standard for internship positions.

Answers to any or all questions would be very helpful. Contact me at if you have any questions or secret tips. Thank you, hive mind!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total)
Every employment situation is a negotiation. Some are short, brutish "negotiations" that do not succeed, because either the employer or the potential employee can not, or will not, show flexibility in meeting the needs of the other party. That is just as well, as it keeps the parties from entering into a situation where one or the other is likely to be quickly disappointed, and it is the norm for low skilled jobs in markets where the supply of labor is plentiful.

Classical labor market economics suggest that as either the degree of difficulty of a job increases, or the supply of suitable labor decreases, that an employer be more flexible in inducing labor to take a the job, by increasing pay, offering better benefits, or being more flexible with regard to employment terms and expectations.

You've given absolutely no basis for determining what a reasonable wage would be for the kind of work you'd be performing, so I can't comment about that. $8/hr is a lot for restaurant help in rural Maryland, but hardly anything for graphic designers in Baltimore. However, your "working against me" section implies that the availability for labor in that area for this job has forced the market rate for interns down to "free." If there are people in that area already, willing to do this work for free, and the employer doesn't feel your experience is relevant, why should they be willing to pay you, and cover relocation costs?

You have to present some value added to the proposition, over those presented by people already in the market willing to work for free, in excess of the costs to bring you, to make this a viable business proposition for your putative employer. For a short term job, your relocation expenses are a terriffic dis-incentive to the potential employer for hiring you, as at the bottom of your acceptable pay scale, they represent about 250 hours of wages, or about 6 weeks work. That's more than a 10% premium, just to get you into the market, where others are already willing to work for free. And then you'd want pay, benefits, and promotion opportunities.

Doesn't sound as if this is going to be a long, fruitful negotiation.
posted by paulsc at 1:40 AM on January 19, 2007

You have almost no negotiating power from what you've said. In extremely competitive industries where the normal route for success is going through unpaid internships, the idea that they would pay for you to come out and interview, and then pay to move you across the US, and then pay you a living wage is probably not going to happen. Not to say it couldn't, but I doubt that it will (You're not the son or daughter of a U.S. senator or something like that are you?).

The fact that you say in your extended question that if you got this internship and worked at it for 6 months, you would then be in a position to get a very good job makes it sound like this kind of experience is a) important / necessary and b) the only way to go about getting this kind of a job.

To answer your questions:

1. $8 / hr is probably the best they're going to be willing to do. If that. I might be, as you worry $0 / hour. I doubt you'll be making $15.

2. A 3 or 6-month agreement is probably standard. So just ask for this.

3. Yes. This is a possibility. But sometimes, due to the medical providers you're not covered for the first 30,60, or even 90 days. And all of the paperwork overhead is often too much work for them. You can get private "major medical" insurance. That's what I did when I interned.

4. Relocation assistance for an internship? Not unless you're interning at Microsoft (and MSFT buys you a bike, too).
posted by zpousman at 6:14 AM on January 19, 2007

Not enough useful info here for specifics, but what I have learned about negotiations from years as an employee and not as many years doing sales: you do best in a negotiation if you determine ahead of time under what condition(s) you'll walk away from a deal and stick to it.

In your case, you need to determine if there's any set amount of money in hourly compensation at which point the experience isn't worth it. That seems to be the big deal here, though you should also do a little more research on where you'd live in B'more and what it would cost you. HousingMaps is not a bad way to look about, though that's a town with a LOT of variance in where you'd want to live. I love a lot of it but there's at least 25% where I wouldn't reside at any price.
posted by phearlez at 8:47 AM on January 19, 2007

Doesn't sound as if this is going to be a long, fruitful negotiation.

I have to agree with paulsc. The "cool jobs" sectors (graphic design, music industry, etc) has a glut of people willing to work for free to get their foot in the door. If you want to make this work, see if you can get a part-time job to help pay the bills while you make your bones at this internship. If they pay you at all, I'd frankly be shocked. Many places of this calibur depend on free labor of this sort.

Fresh out of college, I interned at a record label that was half comprised of interns, many of which not even doing it for college credit, that would put in work in exchange for schwag until the label offered them a job out of the goodness of their hearts. My internship supervisor worked for free for 7-8 months just to get a crappy paying basement job in the mailroom.

If this is a means to an end, go for it. Good luck!
posted by dr_dank at 9:06 AM on January 19, 2007

In my experience in a variety of fields, most internships are unpaid. You may have to adjust your idea of what is reasonable to what is reality.

That said, it can't hurt to ask, but you should probably assume there are a dozen equally suitable candidates not asking for a penny in relocation or compensation.
posted by mzurer at 9:12 AM on January 19, 2007

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