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I'm applying for an internship to a big-name company and have an interview next week. I'm a junior in college and this would be my last internship before I graduate. This would be a great place to work, but it's not my first choice. I want to work for another company that would better prepare me for that part of the industry, and that company doesn't start considerations until March.

How do I tell the first company that I need 6+ months to decide, without compromising my position there?

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    Good luck! Perhaps consider a 6 month internship? "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." – thursdaysgeek Oct 2 '13 at 20:47
  • Oh sorry, I should specify that I'm still in school and this is my last summer internship before graduation. – Caleb Jares Oct 2 '13 at 20:48
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    Hey Caleb -- great question! I touched up your title and question just a bit to get you better answers. Feel free to edit yourself if you think I messed something up! – jmac Oct 3 '13 at 3:01
  • My daughter lost out on that so-desired internship with a specific big-name company because she tried to do just this. Large companies are not going to wait for your schedule to accommodate their plans. And because there is so much interest in working for them, they can make these arrangements that far in advance and choose from the largest pool of applicants. – Debra Oct 13 '13 at 17:57
  • BTW, this was thought-provoking re. the idea of accepting an internship and then reneging -- something I'd never recommend! See businessweek.com/articles/2013-06-28/… -- a bit overblown IMO, but worth thinking about. – Debra Oct 14 '13 at 0:44
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Executive Summary

You can't.

Sometimes you can't have your cake and eat it too. You can always ask if you can wait six months to make a decision, but only if you're willing to have them say no.

Exploding Offers

Lots of companies take advantage of interns. They use pressure tactics like exploding offers to lock them in to positions which don't even pay market salary for their effort. This is an unfortunate situation, but not uncommon.

At the same time, 6 months is a lot of time. If the company has a lot of interest in their program, they would rather fill the slot sooner rather than later. If they do give you 6 months because you're a superstar, there is the very real possibility that the other company will find you a superstar as well, and you will take the other offer anyway.

In the meantime, they have to find a candidate who will wait 6 months for their decision. Good candidates will be able to find a solid offer, not one that is a 6-month 'maybe' so they will lose other good potential candidates that way. From the company's perspective, 6 months is a huge investment to make in a maybe.

What 6 Months Signals to the Company

When you say, "I would like to wait 6 months to make a decision" you are telling the company:

  1. Your offer is a backup offer, not my first choice
  2. I am waiting on better offers, and will take them if I get them

As you can imagine, most companies will not be so content to wait 6 months for a candidate who regards them as a safety net.

Alternative Solutions

Disclaimer: I am not saying that this should be done, only that they are options. Decide what to do based on your own sense of ethics and your own goals, not because someone wrote something on the internet

One thing you can do is to look at the current offer (the contract) and see what it says about withdrawing from the internship. If there are no penalties, then you can sign the contract and if you end up getting the other position, you can break your agreement with the first internship. This may create some bad blood with the first company, but it will give you the most flexibility with your options:

  • If you don't get the second offer, you have an internship and nobody is the wiser.
  • If you do get the second offer, you can make the decision which to go with.

The other option is to be completely honest with the company. Something like:

I have promised to apply at another company as well, but their evaluation process doesn't start until March. If you can hold the offer for me, that would be great, but if you can't and someone drops out of the process in March, can you give me a call and let me know?

There is a good chance that other interns will also tentatively accept the offer and then turn it down if they get a better offer. By being up front with the company, you may be able to set yourself ahead of the other candidates, and give yourself a better chance of getting a call if they have slots to fill on short notice.

This will give you a bigger risk of ending up with no internships, but it also shouldn't cause bad blood with the company.

  • Yeah, but I would also assume that you weren't looking for interns in october for a position that starts in may/june @Joe! I think that companies that start off so early may be just trying to pressure people in to commitment before they can see what else is out there, and may not be the type of companies you would want to work with long-term anyway. But it depends on the person and the company I suppose! – jmac Oct 3 '13 at 10:59
  • Totally agreed @Joe, that's why I didn't make any judgment in the answer. – jmac Oct 3 '13 at 12:53

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