Negotiation for Interns

Before you begin your internship, you should ask yourself what it is you want it to achieve. Once you know this it is easier to identify what you might need to negotiate.

If you’re looking for general negotiation tips and guidance, see our other article.

When embarking on an internship you may be:

  1. Going into an established internship scheme, where the company has laid out the conditions and expectations of the working relationship.
  2. Initiating an internship on your own initiative. This gives you a blank slate to begin negotiations from, but conversely, may mean that the company are inexperienced in having interns. So, although there is more scope to create your own working conditions in this second scenario, do make sure that you are thorough in agreeing terms.

Some of the common things you are likely to need to negotiate during your internship might include

  • Pay
  • Length of the internship placement
  • Working hours
  • The work that you do and experience and skills you will gain
  • Expense reimbursement

If you are applying for an established internship, there should be a job/role description advertising the internship that outlines the expectations of the organisation and the benefits that the internship provides. Most of the points above should be covered in such a description. You are likely to need to negotiate if anything is not covered, or is unclear.  Sometimes, circumstances change during an internship (a member of staff might leave, which might impact on your work tasks or working days for example). In these cases it may be necessary to (re)negotiate things with the organisation you work for.

When to negotiate

There will be some things that are non-negotiable (either for you or the company) and these need to be discussed either before you apply or at interview. Other things may be more appropriate to discuss once offered the internship or once you have started the role (e.g. getting mentoring with a specific person).

Don’t be shy about being upfront from the start. It’s better to be clear about your expectations from the beginning and if you handle this negotiation properly you will have already demonstrated your professionalism and initiative to your host organisation.

Your internship could already be perfect, but if not, you’re going to have to negotiate to improve things. It’s important to look after yourself; no point in ending an internship with nothing but resentment.

Before you start

Preparation is vital, so make sure you have done your research into the company or organisation you will be working with and what they are offering. The following are things you might like to negotiate before you take on an internship role

  • Pay and expenses: are you being paid? If not what other benefits can you negotiate?
  • Contract: you should have one. Read it (this may sound obvious but you shouldn’t assume it will be okay; you need to check it thoroughly). Make suggestions for amendments if you think they are necessary, before you sign anything.
  • Working days and hours: it’s the nature of many internships that often you’ll be doing other things at the same time, be it earning money from another job or developing your practice. Everyone is different and so it makes sense that some people will need more flexibility than others. Always talk about flexibility as a positive thing, after all, it could be great for the organisation if they do lots of events or have a varying workload. Don’t presume anything is written in stone, if you can manage two days per week around your part time job, for example then say so. If you can’t manage six months, suggest a duration you feel comfortable with, which could be extended.  It’s better to be clear at the start than to be seen as unreliable later on.
  • Roles and tasks: during the planning of your internship is a great opportunity to ask about spending time in specific departments or shadowing key people. A good internship will involve a plan of work highlighting the skills and areas of knowledge you will cover.  If a plan is not in place, ask for one.

During your internship

If circumstances change (e.g. You need to change your working days, you have to leave the post early etc). Perhaps one way to present this is an exchange, e.g. I can’t work Mondays any more, but I thought it might be useful for me to come in on Saturdays instead, to help with X.

In-kind support: Even if organisations may not be able to pay you a full wage, they may be resource rich and this is where you may be able to get extra value from your internship. Things that may be valuable: free publications or tickets, food allowances, mentoring, flexibility (around your other commitments), training (whether it is excel, final cut pro or a more casual conversation on how to organise events, fundraise etc) and networking. This list could be endless, get creative with it and never presume anything about what is, or may not be on offer. These things could possibly be discussed during interview, but it may be easier to negotiate once you are in the role and have a better understanding of your organisation.

You want to suggest your own project/event/task:  Do your homework and present a clear idea stating what you want to do, why you think it would be important/useful, how it will enhance your internship, timescales etc. Have examples ready of how you’ve managed tricky situations or have demonstrated some clever thinking in the past, giving evidence that you are capable and reliable. If an idea or request is rejected, try and find a compromise rather than giving up entirely.

Identifying new opportunities: As above, if there is something you would like to try or another person you might like to shadow, present the case for it, how it would be useful and ways in which it might happen.

Mentoring and support: You might find during your internship that you would like some feedback or a discussion to reflect on your progress. Ask if you can timetable a short meeting for this.

How to negotiate

Both negotiation and internships are about mutual benefit, so asking for things shouldn’t feel like a one-way street. Rather than assuming the worst, remember that something may have been overlooked rather than deliberately neglected. The key thing is maintaining a good relationship and that both parties feel satisfied with the outcome.

Some general ideas about negotiating

Particularly when you are starting out a junior level in an org as an intern, it’s easy to feel like the organisation is holding all of the bargaining chips. You have skills and experience that have value to the people you’re interning for. Being the least experienced or youngest person at a place (even if this just your perception) can be intimidating, so try to remember your value at all times.

  • Arrange a meeting with the person you need to negotiate with so that you have uninterrupted time and private space in which to talk.
  • A more casual approach might involve just opening up a conversation; ask questions around the specific topic before suggesting something related.
  • Think through the possible outcomes before any discussion takes place.
  • Prepare with more than one option, so you are able to suggest alternatives.
  • Avoid straight Yes or No answers so you can open up discussion.
  • Be tactical but avoid tactics, attempts at blatant manipulation or insincere flattery will be very transparent and likely to annoy!
  • Be prepared to compromise and remember that everyone needs to feel satisfied with the outcome, not only you.

Record things

After any discussion, it’s important to clarify what has been agreed. Repeat what has been discussed at the end of a conversation and offer to put all that in an email afterwards so you both have a record of your agreed course of action and relevant time scales.

They might say no

If that’s the worst that can happen, then you may as well ask. Your internship provider will be investing time and resources in you and they will have limits, so do be prepared to compromise on some of your requests (but not to the point where you feel unhappy). The negotiating process is also another opportunity for your employer to evaluate your capabilities, so even if you don’t get exactly what you wanted, it’s still valuable.

Other resources

Forums/groups of other interns:

  • Interns Anonymous, although this blog is coming to an end, it provides a valuable archive of others people’s experiences and problems of internships
  • Carrotworkers’ Collective: a group of current and ex interns based in London who regularly meet to discuss working conditions and free labour. See their fantastic counter-internship guide before you begin an internship.
  • Precarious Workers Brigade

Futher reading on work conditions and negotiating:

Article by Emily Speed

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