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Background: I work full-time as a software engineer and I go to graduate school doing a Ph.D. in computer science part-time. I work full-time so I can support myself and pay bills. Working as a Ph.D. student means that I can teach or research but it doesn't pay much. The pay is almost nothing. So that's why I work full-time and go to school part-time.

Interview: I have been interviewing at company X and they gave me a very generous offer. I am being very underpaid at the place I currently work at but I have a lot of freedom so I can use the time to work on school work. But I am 85% to 90% done with my Ph.D. and I feel like I can get much better jobs upon graduation. I am literally writing my thesis and papers so I present my findings.

I interviewed with 8 engineers and the 9th person I interviewed with would be my manager at company X. She kept saying, "we don't have challenging problems to solve that requires a Ph.D. student", "why a Ph.D. student would want to work at a company X" and etc. Very discouraging remarks. I felt like I was trying to convince them why they should hire a Ph.D. candidate instead of hiring a junior developer.

The HR person has been very friendly and they spent a lot of time on all the interviews and I feel bad rejecting the offer. I don't know whether I should be honest saying "the manager was very discouraging and I feel like she was under pressure hiring me". They tried every interview challenge but they failed to find something I couldn't do.

I am not sure how to reject an offer. I have never done that before. If I am honest with HR will I burn the bridges behind me? I don't think I would ever want to work at this company but I live in a small city, so who knows. How to reject an offer?

Tl;dr Their offer is very generous but it means I lose my time flexibility and I feel bad rejecting their offer. The manager's remarks didn't help. Maybe I shouldn't have wasted their time so I am feeling very bad.

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  • Are you looking for a specific outcome (or perhaps there's an outcome you're looking to avoid)? Questions asking us to make a choice are considered off-topic. We can help with a specific goal or help you with how you should make a decision. – BSMP Dec 17 '20 at 20:39
  • I am going to reject the offer but should I be honest with HR person saying the manager's remarks were discouraging or how to politely decline the offer? – Node.JS Dec 17 '20 at 20:41
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    Right, but you haven't given any criteria for the choice. Are you just asking about business norms? Is it important to you that the company knows the manager's remarks or are you wondering if there's an obligation there? Something else? – BSMP Dec 17 '20 at 20:43
  • Also, you didn't waste anyone's time so don't worry about that. – BSMP Dec 17 '20 at 20:44
  • I am not sure how to reject an offer. I have never done that before. If I am honest with HR will I burn the bridges behind me? How to reject an offer? – Node.JS Dec 17 '20 at 20:45
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Their offer is very generous but it means I lose my time flexibility and I feel bad rejecting their offer. The manager's remarks didn't help. Maybe I shouldn't have wasted their time so I am feeling very bad.

You didn't waste your time at all. You spent it effectively and at the end realized that this was not the job for you (waste of time would have been not realizing this and taking the offer, and changing your mind in the first weeks of employment).

Also, you should never feel bad to reject an offer, if it's not what you are looking for. It's your time and your career. Of course, always keep it professional and as polite as possible.

Besides, being honest and being polite are not mutually exclusive things; you can do both.

To be honest, I feel you have nothing to gain by stating that the manager was the discouraging factor for your choice. In fact, in comments you state that such was not the only reason, as you also would be sacrificing time flexibility.

Thus, I suggest you politely decline the offer without mentioning the discouraging manager. What's actually more, you don't have to justify why you are declining, you are not forced to do so. A way you could phrase it would be:

Thank you for the offer. Unfortunately I'm afraid I won't be able to take it, as it's not a good fit for my current situation.

If possible, I'd like to keep in touch with you for when my situation is more adequate in the future.

Thanks, [signature]

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Don't be discouraged by the manager's comments. I suspect they are simply concerned you might view the position as a short-term stop-gap until you can finish out your Ph. D. and get a better paying job. They are presumably reluctant to commit time and money to getting you ramped up on the organisation, their product, their processes, and codebase only to have to start all over again if you leave after 6 months with your Ph. D. under your arm.

Everybody knows, if you really want the job, the correct answer to "Are you likely to leave after 6 months?" is "Of course not" - even if that's exactly what they have in mind. So not asking that question directly combined with being a touch blunt is intended to put pressure on you to convince them. It's a much more effective way of getting an honest answer. It also gives them a fair idea of how you react to pressure.

I'd have thought it's a fairly common interview tactic. In interviews, when a candidate answers a question as to how they would solve a particular problem, I will describe a less good solution and tell them it's a better approach. I know their answer is a good one - but now I'm measuring their confidence, communication skills, personality, approach to conflict and many other things.

I've been on the receiving end of it too. I once had an interviewer deep dive into a project I had worked on previously. He focused on performance, load balancing, total users, concurrent users, number of rows in database tables etc. For every answer I gave his reply was more or less "I don't believe you".

Don't be too hasty to reject the position. Did you enquire about flexibility to complete your qualification. There has never been a better time with so many companies working from home. Even if they don't offer than kind of flexibility in the long term, they may be willing to in the short term.

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    This was exactly my thoughts as I read this, the interviewer is testing your commitment to this particular role so yes you do have to convince them to hire a Ph.D. candidate because that's what you are! – Alan Dev Dec 18 '20 at 15:35
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It sounds as if you have the same problem as most of the engineers and developers I work with, total lack of self-confidence.

Just remember that THEY are the ones that want YOU. You are under no obligation to make them feel good about the fact you don't want to work there, or even give any reason as to why.

The interview process is as much about you finding out about the position and the company as it is about them finding out about you, and it turns out that in the final stage of the interview, you discovered that you would not be a good fit for the role and that you will very soon be overqualified for it (providing you pass your course).

The way I would approach it would be to call the HR person, explain that you're grateful for being selected but on reflection the job isn't a good fit for you. Most HR people will end the call there, thank you for your time and hang up the phone. They need to hurry and try to get in contact with their second or third choice, so don't have time to talk to you really.

If they do press you for a reason, then tell them openly: The hiring manager said that there aren't any challenges that require a PHD student or graduate in the role, and you're looking for something to challenge you and where you can apply what you've learned.

Easy, no bridges burned.

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So it sounds like the manager was trying to get you to convince them to hire a PhD student, and you were able to successfully get them to hire a PhD student instead of a junior developer. So what's the problem here? They asked you to convince them, you successfully convinced them, problem solved?

The only thing you should work out with this company is whether or not you'll be able to complete your PhD while working there. You should explain to them you've been working on your PhD for a long time, put a lot of work into it, etc, and it's very important to you to complete it. Especially if you're as close to finishing as you say you are (like < 1 year it sounds like) they should be pretty amenable to allowing you to finish. If not, you can tell them you're interested in the company but need to finish your PhD first and you'll call them when you're done your PhD and to keep the offer on the table for you until then, and see what they say. If they say yes, then that's great you can finish your PhD and you have a job set up after, and if not, well then you have a legitimate excuse to go your separate ways that you don't have to feel bad about.

But in any case, the interaction with this hiring manager as you described doesn't seem like a problem to me. Even if she was hesitant to hire a PhD student, you seem to have been able to convince her that you were worth it, because you got the offer, so just take it.

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