What To Put In a "Desired Salary" Range Field for an Internship

Salary Mar 30, 2021
The average salary for an intern in the U.S. is $30k/yr, but the range can be from $20k to $40k and over, so it’s best to research the organization and sector, as well as critiquing where you might fit in that range.

What to put in a “Desired Salary” field for an internship can be a surprisingly daunting and complex task, as is any conversation regarding money.

Based on various job boards and aggregators such as Talent.com, Indeed and Glassdoor, the average annual salary for an internship is around $30k/yr, with low salaries just over $20k and higher-paid internships from $40k to $45k.

If you're looking for a UK internship, the money is pretty much the same.

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The actual range for an internship will greatly vary, depending on where you are working, the scope of the internship, the industry, the sector, and even your own personal circumstances.

Where you are less certain of the range, it is acceptable to say as little as possible when it comes to filling in the “Desired Salary” field.

You can even indicate your openness to a salary range with:

  • I’m flexible”, or;
  • I would be happy with the proposed salary

The benefits of this approach show you as being flexible and receptive to what salary is on offer, as well as being interested in the opportunity, not the money.

The cons would be that you are indicating vagueness about your application, you're likely leaving money on the table, and you won't be able to negotiate much after.

Why such a wide salary range?

Like fingerprints, internships are unique.

Interns are remunerated differently depending on the level of internship, the length of the internship, the industry they work in and the sector (for example private firms versus non-profits versus public services, and so on).

On the lowest end of the scale, internships that pay the least mirror the lowest-paying industries, such as internships in retail or hospitality.

Conversely, professional or financial services firms, and big-name tech companies offer huge intern salaries, sometimes far above what a regular worker might earn.

There is also the question of internship length and level. Many students might be required or choose to take part in multiple internships throughout their studies.

The scope of these internships might increase, and the length may vary.

Salaries will do likewise.

Pay disparity is so vast that even two internships for the same role in the same industry, but in different companies, might offer extremely different salaries.

The key to understanding and keeping one step ahead of these variances is to do your research before you apply and base it on the length and type of internship.

You can get basic salary information from Glassdoor, but detailed information is better and will help you fill in the “Desired Salary” field much more accurately.

Internship salary information might be readily available from career counsellors, friends  work in the company or industry you are looking, or through networking.

Why it is best to be flexible with your salary expectations

Although there is nothing wrong with being ambitious, it's important to be aware that at this stage in your career you do not have much bargaining power. The competition for the best internships far outweighs the competition for the best interns.

Based on this, it should come as no surprise that the vast majority of interns will not be highly paid… this is often your first rung on your career ladder after all.

An internship is a chance to build an amazing relationship with a potential future employer, to show them what you can do and do whatever you can to set yourself up for the future.

The primary goal of an internship should not be to make money, and no matter what you will earn, you will not be buying a new car or a new house at the end of the contract.

If you are perceived as a candidate who is solely motivated by money, this will jeopardise the chances of you getting the job or, assuming you have already got it, sour the professional relationship between you and your employer.

Economic outlook is a consideration to make though. Many employers are freezing planned annual wage increases and salary ranges are becoming more compressed.

Internship roles often bear the brunt of this as these salaries are quicker and easier to freeze than, say, the salary of an experienced worker with many years’ service and proven professional talents which he/she might take elsewhere.

Interns must be aware that this behaviour is endemic of modern organizational compensation planning. The above is not to say that you should abandon hope.

Many employers, especially those in financial or professional services, will still pay top dollar for the best interns. Other companies will happily increase their salary offers for candidates who can demonstrate they are a good culture fit.

So, if you think that this applies to you, and believe that there is a chance to get a little extra money, then do not be afraid to reference this in the “Desired Salary” field.

After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get!

How do I influence my position on this range?

There are two main ways you can go about setting your own ‘value’ in the "Desired Salary" Field for an Internship. First, there are personal factors.

(Factors which you impose upon yourself)

For example, if you have few financial outgoings, do not have far to travel, or are based at home, you might choose to put yourself at the lower end of the salary range, or even write something like “would be happy with fair market rate”.

If you adopt the wholesome and altruistic values of being completely motivated by the chance to work for your dream organization, whatever they may choose to pay you, then you might also want to suggest a figure on the lower end of the range.

This approach is attractive to some recruiters but a turnoff for others, as the risk is that such statements in the “desired salary” field can be perceived as naïve.

Another personal factor is knowing if you have a way of being referred to the organization you are interested in interning with.

This often gives you a foot on the ladder in terms of applications and affords you the inside scoop on salaries and the expectations of recruiters.

This might seem a little underhand but in general, the realities of recruiting is that connections and ‘ways in’ are often advantageous to job applicants.

In guiding you on evaluating these personal factors, consider how meritocratic is the organization that you are applying to.

Private companies – especially financial services – will be far more meritocratic than non-profits. Many jobs will pay more in certain cities or locations.

For example, London in the U.K. offers an inflated ‘living wage’ which reflects the high cost of living in the city. The most challenging part of this exercise are the competency factors.

(Factors that are imposed on you, directly or indirectly)

These can be related to attainment, such as grades, educational institution, and membership or involvement in any extra-curricular activities or volunteering experience (which should all be included on your resume). Previous work history might also be considered.

Moreover, you must be able to demonstrate to the recruiter that you not only have the ability to do the job, but also possess the passion and drive to exceed expectations for your chosen organization or industry. And finally, there is your personal brand.

This is the sum of your values, appearance, communication skills and other intangible qualities such as behaviours and body language that will be picked up on by whoever sees your application or meets you face to face.

Those with a solid, positive, and well-defined personal brand are more likely to be able to command higher salaries. Take some time to self-assess all these factors.

If you firmly believe that you have a great deal to offer the organization, then you would be more than credible in requesting a salary at the higher end of the range.

Personal factors can drive competency factors and vice versa. If you know your value and are confident in your abilities, try setting a higher ‘market rate.’

If you have done your homework, networked, and know how much the internship pays, then you can set a highly accurate position in the “Desired Salary” field with little or no worries about what will come of this section of the form.

Factors influencing your internship salary position:

Personal factors 

Competency factors

Expenditure such as paying rent, mortgage or being able to live at home.

Level of education or attainment, grades, and reputation of educational institution. 

Commuting time and expense.

Extra-curricular or volunteering activities.

Location of the role, such as in cities, where living costs are higher. 

Work history or previous internship experience. 

Willingness to forego a higher salary to be offered the internship of your dreams.

Academic or work references. 

Networking or having a ‘way in’ to the organization. 

Organizational fit. 

Investigating how meritocratic the organization is.

Your personal brand. 

Your internship salary isn't set in stone

Although there is a reasonably clear salary range for internships, the gap between low and high salaries is wide. To understand where you might fit, you first need to carefully and thoroughly research the organization and the individual internship you are applying for.

You must also critically evaluate your personal circumstances, as well as your competencies and qualifications. After you have completed this prep-work, you should have a fairly clear idea about what to put in the "Desired Salary" field for an internship.

If you are still unsure, and the field allows it, then you can write a hedging statement such as offering  salary flexibility or willingness to be paid market rate.

This approach has its advantages and disadvantages but remember that specific answers will always be better-received from recruiters. Good luck!

Originally published 30 March 2021



Frequently asked questions

1. What should I put for desired salary internship?

This depends on the type of internship, the industry it is in, as well your personal and competence-related factors which will influence your bargaining power. A good bet is to put the average internship salary, which is around $30k.

2. What is a good salary for an internship?

With average internship salaries around the $30k point, a good salary would be anything above this.  The best paying internships will offer ~$40k.

3. Is $20 an hour good for an internship?

Assuming your internship is full-time, then $20/hr would equate to over $40k/yr, which is at the higher end of what internships in the U.S. offer.

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George Avgenakis

CEO @ Loopcv

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