How to Negotiate Salary at a Part-Time Job

by Staff - Original publish date: January 21, 2015

While conducting my full time job search during a down economy immediately after graduating from college, I took a part time job working at a Staples office supply store to earn some extra spending money. It was there that my older co-worker Steve gave me some interesting career advice.

As we closed down for the night on a Wednesday, we talked about our weekend plans. I told him that I was a little bummed out that my friends were all getting together on Friday night, but that I had to work, and then I was working again all day Sunday and wouldn’t get to watch football. Meanwhile, he said that he was going away for the entire weekend to catch a music festival.

Then it hit me and I said, “Wait a minute. I just realized you’re never here on any of the weekends when I’m working. How do you get our manager Susan to leave you off the weekend schedule?”

He replied, “It’s easy. When I first met with Susan about the job, at the end of the interview when I was pretty sure she was going to offer me the position, she asked if I had any final questions or issues. I told them her I was in a band, and we always practiced on Friday nights, and we usually played gigs on Saturdays, so I wouldn’t be able to work on weekends. So she knows not to schedule me on those days.”

“Oh cool,” I said. “What’s your band like? What kind of music is it? What instrument do you play?”

“Well... ummm…” Steve stuttered.

I was confused.

He looked over his shoulder and turned back to me and quietly said, “Well to be honest, the band really hasn’t played a lot of gigs lately. In fact we’re not really practicing much at all. But a few years ago when I was in a band and playing a lot, that was definitely the case. It was great to not have to work on the weekends. So ever since then, every part time job I’ve had, I just tell them that I’m in a band that practices every Friday and they never put me on the weekend schedule.”

That’s the day I learned that even at a part time retail job, certain parts about an offer are negotiable.

To be clear, Steve was being slightly deceptive and I never recommend outright lying to your employer, but if something is important to you, you’ll never know if it’s an option unless you have the courage to ask. In this case, it wasn’t about the money – we were both making the same amount, which might have been about $6 an hour back in the ‘90s, or $6,000 a year, part time, before taxes. But for a young guy in his early 20s, negotiating the ability to hang out with friends on the weekend vs. spending your Saturday night selling toner cartridges is a huge win.

I recently mentored a college student for a day and I asked her what one of her negotiation questions might be, and she said, “Can you negotiate salary at a part time job just as much as with a full time job?”

My advice to her would be to look at it in terms of salary, and “everything else.”

In terms of negotiating salary, the first key is looking at the structure of the job. If it’s a retail job like the one I just described, with dozens of employees being hired on a regular basis, then it’s going to be more difficult to stand above the pack. It’s the same thing for a structured internship or management training program where everyone is getting paid the same.

However, if it’s a unique position or you can bring a very specific skill to the job, it’s often in your best interest to ask. You might say something like, “I’m so excited for this opportunity to intern at your fashion company. In terms of your salary offer, since I’ll be coming in with a BFA degree in photography and specific experience working with top fashion brands, I’m wondering if you have any flexibility with that number.”

The place where you might have a lot more leverage is “everything else.” For a part time job, there are a lot more moving parts, such as which days of the week you’ll be working, what hours you’ll be in their office, and which projects you’ll be working on. Additionally, since a company often knows that their entry-level pay might not be much, sometimes they try to make things up with additional perks. Inquire about meals, public transportation or parking, working from him, mentorship, additional training, and discounts at gyms, partner companies, events, or memberships.

While that internship at a fashion brand might not be able to raise their rates, if you’re getting access to shows, discounts on clothes, and can expense cabs home, those perks can add up. Most importantly – especially early in your career – experience working on great projects, networking with the right people, and building your portfolio should be your top priority. And if you get weekends off to see your favorite band, even better.