How much should you pay an intern? Part 1.

Before you start reading this – would you mind doing me a favour and, based on your current knowledge or gut feel, think about what you believe is a reasonable salary range for an intern, and keep this range in the back of your mind while you read this post. 

The topic of “how much do I pay an intern?” has hands down been the most commonly asked question since launching Trusted Interns.

Granted, it’s most often an unknown for small-to-medium business owners who are new to the topic of bringing an intern into their team. They’ve maybe identified that there are benefits to hiring interns and they’re keen to get going.

As an expectation manager, let me first say that this is a conversation so multi-faceted that I can’t guarantee you’ll get answers relevant to your organisation or use case by just reading this post. If you aren’t fully satisfied and you have extra questions, you’re welcome to slide into my calendar and let’s have a chat (or wait until part 2 next week).  

Ok so, what do I answer when asked: “How much do I pay an intern?”

I first ask a lot of questions. It’s all about marrying of skill, expectations and resources. When we started, I gave the best common-sense advice I could leveraging the insights I’d gained from previous experience. Now, we have almost 12 months of data across 100s of jobs loaded onto the platform that we can assess. Whilst this sample size is by no means statistically significant, it’s data nevertheless and absolutely helps brings credence to our advice. 

First off, a couple of ground rules: 

There is no one-size-fits-all salary for an intern.

There are a few variables that you need to consider, some of which I’ve listed below. 

You get what you pay for.

Now I don’t say this in a cynical sense, but it really is the truth. The competition for talent is real and you need to know that if you’re paying at the bottom end of the spectrum, you’re going to get the bottom of the barrel.

Variables to think about:

1. Your industry. 

Retail is different from marketing which is different from engineering. Not just from the obvious functional point of view, but an economic point of view. Talent in the retail sector is saturated and demand-driven whilst talent in the technology sector is scarce and supply-driven.

Logic dictates that those in higher demand (or lower supply) will earn higher salaries. 

2. The job at hand. 

What are you expecting the intern to do…?

Market your product/service online or collect data on existing marketing efforts?

Build you a website from scratch or administer content on an existing website? 

Advise your clients on the products that you sell or develop new products to sell?

Capture your bank statements or balance your books? 

Different jobs = different value adds = different compensation structures.  

3. Your expectation. 

Do you want graduates with degrees or bright minds with short courses? 

Do you want the top achievers or the rough diamonds?

Too often I’ve spoken with employers who are conditioned to wanting a ‘graduate’ with ‘at least a diploma or degree’, but then they tell me they’re hiring for a social media or digital marketing intern.

In this day and age, you can recruit smart individuals with a matric plus a few online short courses and they will be very solid additions to your teams and they’ll cost less than those with a 3 to 4-year qualification under their belt. 

The higher the qualification = the higher the salary expectation. Great beer is better than cheap champagne.

4. Your reasoning. 

Are you hiring for extra hands on deck, to build future pipelines or to ‘give back’ and provide the experience?

If you’re looking to build future pipelines of junior/senior talent (like us, we only hire interns and grow them up), then it makes sense for you to pay higher-than-the-average because you want to find the good eggs and make sure that they’ll stay.

5. Your funding. 

Are you paying for the interns yourself, or have you received development funding from one of the SETA bodies or similar? 

Many organisations can’t afford to bring interns into their teams but have the resources to provide the training, so they get funding from a government or developmental body to pay the intern’s monthly stipend. These range from R3500 to R5000 per month and are often supplemented with a top-up from the employer.

6. Structure of employment. 

Is this genuinely an internship (short term work experience opportunity) or a full-time gig?

Disguising a full-time role as an internship is not cool, and not a sustainable way to grow a reliable and powerful talent force. 

Manage your own expectations and pay your staff accordingly. 

7. Your reciprocation power

Value exchange does not have to be wholly monetary. The more you can give in experience, networking opportunities, personal development, growth, etc, then technically the less you could pay in a salary. And don’t try fluff up the extraneous value-adds to get away with paying less – it won’t serve you in the long run. 

So as you can see, it’s complicated. 

In the next part, I’ll show actual data from a variety of jobs in different industries to give you a gauge on where you should be aiming for. 

If you’re super eager or you have more questions, feel free to book a call with me here.

I have limited these calls to 15-minutes each so I can have as many of them as possible. If you need longer than that, I’m more than happy to book a proper coffee to carry on chatting. 

Good times. 

P.S. Remember I asked you to think about what you thought was reasonable to pay an intern? Please quickly drop me an email and give me those two numbers (minimum and maximum). I’ll include this in next week’s data blog! 

Related Articles


Free Job Listings for Youth Month