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This fall, I will be starting my freshman year of college, so I applied to an internship in the city of the college. It was clear in the interview that my availability over the summer, during the school year, and during the spring and winter breaks was a very important factor. I think my ability to work full time over the summer was also very important. They'd want to keep me aboard during the school year, even if working only 20 or so hours a week, but I would have to be familiar with the systems and procedures at that point to be productive. The time I would spend working there over the summer would give me enough experience to be able to that.

Due to my being nervous and not wanting to outright disqualify myself in the interview, I neglected to mention that I was invited to (and had accepted the invitation before applying for the job) a summer program run by the school which runs through most of August and will apparently require all of my time on the weekdays.

I've been given word that the wheel has started rolling on my becoming a part of the company, so I need to decide how to tell the employer of the program I will be attending. Given the understanding they already have of my limited availability, I'm not sure how close of a call it was to decide I would be worth the hire. I feel like bringing this up now might, for an understandable reason, prevent me from joining the company. It would seem extremely unprofessional, however, for me to wait to tell them.

How can I inform my potential employers about the summer program without ruining my chances of being hired?

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    Hmm lets see... a summer program for a month or an internship that could last all through college...why are you looking to reject the internship? If the internship is paid, then that would be the best bet, in my opinion. – jmorc Jun 26 '13 at 12:21
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    I agree with @notmyrealname, you will get far more fromt eh internship than a one month program before your freshman year. I would turn down the special program and not risk the internship. – HLGEM Jun 26 '13 at 13:37
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You have to them tell ASAP - any delay can potentially do more harm (e.g. more people relying on your availability would have to reschedule/re-plan).

Phone them up and tell them the facts.
Essentially, you lied (or they may perceive it that way). Apologize for not telling them. If you are sincere about your doubts and nervousness they may understand.

The fact of the summer program alone may disqualify you, there's nothing you can change about that. Postponing to mention it will only decrease your chances, and you made that mistake already during the interview.

  • Well, an offer hasn't been made yet, so they shouldn't be relying on my availability anyway. It's my understanding that they shouldn't be making plans around me being an employer until I've accepted an offer. – mowwwalker Jun 27 '13 at 0:55
  • @Walkerneo: they shouldn't be making plans around you, but they are making plans around the position they intend to hire for. Plans which may not mesh with yours, and which you did not give them the opportunity to evaluate how and if the your plans and theirs can be made to work. – jmoreno Jun 27 '13 at 4:20
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Executive Summary

You were not 100% honest with your potential employer. You intentionally held back information. You have two choices:

  1. Apologize to the employer, tell them what's up, and pray they are much more forgiving souls than most employers would be in that situation
  2. Be prepared to cancel the summer program with the university if/when the company makes a firm offer you are satisfied with

Sooner > Later

The summer is rapidly approaching. If they are looking for an intern for the summer, and you can't fit what they need, telling them now will give them time to find a replacement. I would explain something like:

I have been given a tremendous opportunity for a 4-week program at my university from June X to July Y. I understand you are looking for someone to fill the position full-time, I will be unavailable for those four weeks. If you are willing to put off the start of the position until then I would appreciate it, but if you need to go with another candidate, I understand and hope you will consider me next summer.

If you are flexible on cancelling the other program, I would use this as an opportunity to let the company know that you do have to make a decision on what to do this summer. I would ask something like this:

I have been given a tremendous opportunity for a 4-week program at my university from June X to July Y. I would love to work with you, but am still waiting on an official offer. Could you please let me know by June Z whether or not you are interested in me for the position so that I can respond to the other offer appropriately?

Could-a, Would-a, Should-a, (Didn't)

The desire to keep your options open is a well-known phenomenon. The issue is that the desire to keep doors open often hurts you in the long run. In this case, by withholding information in the interview to prevent yourself from being disqualified, you may have poisoned the well in future summers to work with this company, and/or your option to work with the company starting later this summer.

Being honest up-front means that the employer can make a fully-informed decision on whether 2 months full-time (plus 20 hours/week over the next year) of you is worth more than 3 months full-time of the next best candidate. They can decide whether or not they want to convince you to cancel the other opportunity and/or offer you incentives to pick them over the program.

Hiding that information from them means that they didn't have the information to make the decision up until now, and when they get the information they will have fewer choices and fewer options than they would have had.

Mistakes are a large part of navigating the working environment. One of the best ways to leave a good impression is to be honest in admitting a mistake, and apologizing for it. Many young people have a habit of trying to run and hide from a mistake, and in the process just make the situation worse. This is a good opportunity to right a wrong and suck up the consequences.

Good luck.

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