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    Intern 101: How to Negotiate your Salary

    Hi Archinect,

    A new intern recently asked me if he should negotiate his salary when offered a job even if he has no professional experience. OF COURSE! YES! Even if you have zero experience, you should always discuss your salary with your potential employer. Not having experience doesn't mean we don't have to pay the bills, so we should always ask for what we deserve and never work for free. I am not particularly an expert in this field, but I put together a little list based on my and other's experiences.

    1. Know your skills
    If you get to the point of negotiating salary, they probably already want to hire you. Before knowing what you are worth, you need to know why they want you. As an intern, do you have better computer skills than other candidates? Do they have to send you to training? They probably already have an idea of what they want to pay you, so knowing how beneficial you are to a firm will help you figure out what they might offer you.

    2. Research!
    Always research what the salary range is in your city for your job title. A lot of websites like have salary information that you could use to compare similar firms in the same area. Ask your friends if they have worked in the same firm or other similar firms. Your archie friends are not only great to party with, but are also great sources to your job search.

    3. Never say "I don't know"
    When I first started interviewing for my first job, I was very very bad at negotiating. Whenever they asked me what my salary requirement was, I would never give a definite answer and just said I was not sure since I was new. That was totally a BAD idea. It showed that I wasn't prepared enough to know what I am worth, and that I really had no experience in this industry. Plus, I always feel terrible about it afterwards.

    4. Give a range or a number?
    After a while, I got more comfortable at interviews (it really does take practice), so I would give a range of what I think my salary should be. Just make sure that you will be comfortable with the lowest range you give, in case they really do give you the lowest offer. For my second job, I finally was confident enough to give a definite number. In general, a 15-30% increase from your old job is the norm. I gave a ridiculously high salary requirement as an intern (30%), but the firm was willing to negotiate with me to 20%, which is what I actually wanted. But always remember to take benefits into consideration. Sometimes a day off to go travel or rest worth more than a few more dollars!

    5. Smile
    To me, this is the magic factor. Negotiation is never a pleasant thing to do. Especially if it's face to face, smiling can help show your confidence, and make both you and your employer more comfortable during the process. And always remember to SMILE even if you are unhappy with what they offered. You can decline the offer, but in a professional and pleasant way.

    After talking to many interns like us and other experienced professionals, I have found out that it's more important if you like doing what you do at a place that you like. But NEVER WORK FOR FREE!

    What other tips do you have for the new interns? Have you negotiated your salary for your first job?

    Thanks for reading!




    • ssudarsanam
      Feb 18, 13 4:04 pm

      Hey Joanne! A good post and quite some useful information there especially for people like me who have absolutely no idea. How would you suggest an international student should go about finding internships/jobs? Any ideas or suggestions?

      Frank MoradiellosFrank Moradiellos
      Feb 19, 13 9:21 am

      really good post!

      Feb 19, 13 10:54 am

      Nice post.  It's also good to know what benefits are worth (how much would your health insurance be if you paid it yourself -HMO vs HD/HSA plans; 5 or 10 days vacation vs combined sick days/vacations) and expected number of work hours (40hrs work weeks vs 60 vs 80 are very different and most firms are up front about how much their employees work - it's also something I'd ask current employees, ask to speak with someone outside of the interview).

      @ssudarsanam: shoot for the bigger firms (they are more used to the process) if you need a visa - and understand that it takes them time and money if they're pulling one for you.  It can help if you offer to take it on yourself (which takes about a $5k fee to get legal help).  In some ways it's good to be upfront about it, but could be a hurdle and you might want to let it come out during the negotiation phase.

      @ssudarsanam: Thanks! I am not an international student, so I don't really know the answer to that. But based on my other friends' experience, I agree with 3tk that you should shoot for bigger firms that have the funds and time to go through this process for you. They also need to sponsor you for a certain period of time (two or three years?) once they commit. So make sure you really really want to be in that firm, or you will be stuck for at least two years. That's also a good topic for a blog post!

      @Frank: Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it.

      @3tk: Thanks for the great ideas. Speaking of work hours, asking if they pay for overtime makes a big difference too!

      Feb 21, 13 12:00 am

      Indeed. Great Post Joann.

      @ssudarsanam I agree fully with 3tk. I am was an international student, and started with a smaller firm (on OPT from my F-1 student visa) that I was unhappy with and after a lot of hard work started as an intern at a mid-sized firm and the visa conversation was painless. A word of advice though-- try to see if you can meet the requirements under an O1 visa as opposed to the H1B; it's a lot more flexible in terms of professional maneuvering. ;) Good Luck!!

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Documenting the life between our graduation from architecture school and becoming a licensed architect. They say it's the journey that matters, so here we are experiencing the joy of being a great intern. All full posts are available at

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