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Tired of unpaid internships? Here's how to negotiate pay.

Approximately one million internships in the U.S. are unpaid. Research also suggests that the majority of unpaid interns are women.
A woman signs contract.
A woman signs contract.ljubaphoto / Getty Images

Thursday is National Intern Day, a day that some employers might take to social media to thank their interns and buy them lunch. But let’s be clear the best way to show that you appreciate your interns is to pay them.

In our current workforce, approximately one million internships are currently unpaid. New research also suggests that the majority of unpaid interns are individuals who identify as women. A 2021 research study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), found that women who recently graduated with their B.A., typically earned 18 percent less than male counterparts. A starting salary of $0/hr, only further exacerbates the gender pay gap.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. As the nation’s leading organization advocating to end unpaid internships across all sectors, we have tips and strategies that you can use to help negotiate your unpaid status.

1. Negotiate for pay before accepting an offer

Don’t be afraid to talk to your prospective supervisor about your expectations before you start.

A few years ago, a student reached out to us about their internship on Capitol Hill. They were concerned their original stipend was not enough to cover living expenses. We helped them draft an email to their internship supervisor, reiterating their excitement for the opportunity, and clearly laying out some of the costs which would be incurred for them to take on this new role.

While the intern was nervous about sending the email, the end result was a positive: they received an increased stipend. Consider this an important lesson: you don’t know until you ask!

2. Show your employers the value that you bring (and have a clear ask in mind)!

For those who are further along in your internship journey,, reflect on what you’ve already accomplished to date. Keep a catalog of your day-to-day responsibilities, and compare them against other paid entry-level positions. This helps you make the case that your skills have monetary value.

And if you’re looking to move into a full-time role? You can point out that you already know the ropes of the position, and you’ll be helping the organization save on hiring and onboarding costs.

Bottom line: it always helps to know the wage you’re working towards, so you can ensure it aligns with your local market and field. Don’t know where to start? Try Glassdoor to get a feel for your area and sector.

3. Team up with other interns, when advocating for pay

There's always value in teaming up with your fellow interns. And when it comes to pay? Even better. Working together helps ensure transparency and pay equity. When everyone knows what everyone else is making, you’re helping to level the playing field.

By joining together, you’re also bolstering your credibility. You’re showing that you’re not the only one who is willing to advocate for pay. There is strength in numbers.

We previously helped an intern at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), write a petition explaining how the organization’s unpaid internships would disproportionately impact working-class youth. The intern convinced twelve of their peers to sign on to the petition, and a day later: the DCCC announced they would convert their unpaid internship program into a paid program.

Strength in numbers.

4. Discuss the possibility of being hired on as an employee, after a successful internship

Before completing your internship, consider talking to your employer about the possibility of being hired on as a full-time employee. You’ll be surprised at how receptive your employer might be. After all, they know that you know the company’s daily operations, and you already have a proven track record of success..

By negotiating early, you can reframe your internship as a mutual investment in your training, leading to a greater likelihood of your employer investing more time and resources into your internship experience.

5. Look for allies and new opportunities as leverage!

If you’re finding your employer less-than-enthusiastic about any of these proposals? Don’t worry! There are other options on the table, including using new opportunities as leverage.

Start by connecting with your local workforce development board or career services provider at your school. CareerOneStop is a great place to find local resources. If you do receive a new paid offer, you can present this to your employer – e.g., you can say that while you have a new paid opportunity, you’d love to stay at your current position. But only if you’re offered pay.

It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Negotiations are challenging, especially when you’re advocating for yourself. Women especially, have been conditioned to shy away from self-promotion. But when you come into it armed with facts and a clear vision of what you’re bargaining for, studies confirm that you’re more likely to succeed.

If you need additional tools to help you on your journey of advocating for pay, start by checking out American Association of University Women’s free resources, as well as Harvard Law School’s strategies for narrowing the gender gap in negotiation.

Carlos Mark Vera is the co-founder and executive director of Pay Our Interns, an LA/DC-based non-profit advocating for the end of unpaid internships across all sectors. McKinzie Harper is deputy executive director of Pay Our Interns.