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I'm a student looking for a software developer internship at a company.

A company that I like, which I think I would fit decently in position has been in contact with me, and they've shown interest.

Unfortunately, they literally reply once a week or two, and every question I ask gets delayed to an interview.

For example, we're supposed to have a meeting soon, but even though I've told them I'm available any time at the dates they proposed, they still haven't told me what time to come or even the address, even though it's just a few days from now.

Should I take this as a red flag and just stop going forward? This seems like a massive red flag to me. Should I call them to ask? I know they're busy but hey, taking 2 minutes to answer an email isn't going to set you back significantly.

EDIT: For anyone still interested - I got an interview with them. Overall, they seemed quite competent as developers ( interview was with 4 lead devs ), but they were quite rude(eg, whenever i made a mistake with some comment or just took some time to think, one of the devs kept asking me where i got my degree). Not saying that correlated to the things in this post, just extra info for anyone interested. Accepted another offer.

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    Note that if they are setting up an interview, it's not just a 2 minute email, it's figuring out who you will work with, who should talk to you, whether they want to bother, etc. Also, what do you mean by "stop going forward"? Will you contact the company and say you are no longer interested? – DaveG Dec 30 '20 at 16:16
  • "even though its just a few days from now"... Why is this so? Have you applied as early as you could? – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Dec 31 '20 at 9:35
  • Is your graduation (or continuing study) dependent on this internship (I know this is the case for some in India)? – Peter Mortensen Dec 31 '20 at 16:14
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    Was this entirely over the course of the last month (december)? If so, it might not be unnormal. Its holiday & vacation time plus end-of-year paperwork, and you ain't high on their priority list. – Polygnome Jan 1 at 13:36
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    The interviewer insulting your education because you made a mistake, now that's a red flag. Unprofessional and uncalled-for. It is fair to presume the people they send to do interviews are indicative of the company culture. – Seth R Feb 10 at 20:46
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It's not "Just Two Minutes"

I'm going to answer the underlying problem you're approaching this. Here's your point of view, as best as I can summarize it:

"Why aren't they answering? It'll only take just two minutes to type off a response to my question"

And here's the thing you'll learn after you've spent years on the job: there's no such thing as a few-minute-task. Why? Because it takes time to context shift.

Let's say your email is going to Alice. Alice has a task that needs to be done by the end of the week: process the pay raises. So she's chugging away at that, one by one... and ding - an email comes in. It's your 'two minute email'.

So let's have her start it right now (why not? it'll only take 2 minutes!) She has to:

  • Mentally drop what she's doing.
  • Mentally context shift, "Oh, right - that's that intern that wants to get hired on."
  • Mentally refresh herself how the conversation thread is going (or skim the email chain).
  • Figure out what the response is, and possibly verify with coworkers that it's correct
  • Actually type out the email and send it
  • Drop that chain of thought about you, context shift back to the raise processing
  • Resume work on the raise processing.

That's not just a few minutes. People don't context shift that fast. Even if Alice manages to get back into raise processing within a 10-15 minutes, it'll take her longer to get back into the groove of what she's doing.

... which is why you're told: Never immediately drop what you're doing whenever you see an email come in. Instead, handle emails 1-4 times a day in lumps - because if you try to context shift 20 times while you're trying to [WhateverYourMainTaskIs], you're going to lose your mind within weeks.

So Alice looks at her email once per day. So she'd answer your request... except, well, Bob is taking vacation for the last few weeks, and Charlie is also out until the 5th. So Alice is holding down the fort for 3 people. And, well, your task is pretty darned low in the priority list (and she'd like to verify with Charlie her answer to question #3.) So it'll wait for a few days...

So as for your comment:

I just think its civil and mature that we respect each others time. A 2 minute email isn't a dent in anyone's schedule.

... absolutely agreed to the first part! But... you don't seem to realize how little you're respecting their schedule at the moment. Hopefully this answer helps illustrate it a bit better.

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    They may also need coordinate with others if someone else will conduct the interview, who may also be someone different from the person who actually reviews your profile in more technical detail (if this hasn't happened yet). Those people may be on leave at the moment. – NotThatGuy Dec 31 '20 at 2:41
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    I definitely agree with the principle of this answer, but I think we should also factor in that the OP said "we're supposed to have a meeting soon, but even though I've told them I'm available any time at the dates they proposed, they still haven't told me what time to come or even the address, even though its just a few days from now.". In that scenario I think it is disrespectful to keep postponing a reply and Alice should drop her other work to deal with it, even accepting that it will cost more than 2 minutes. OP needs to make arrangements and not be left in limbo. – Jon Bentley Dec 31 '20 at 3:03
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    @NotThatGuy On the other hand, the company shouldn't have offered OP a selection of interview dates during the holiday period without having already checked that the interviewer is available on those dates. If there were still doubts they should have held off on offering the interview in the first place. – Jon Bentley Dec 31 '20 at 3:08
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    @AsteroidsWithWings - So your stance is "A company should quickly reply and say they'll get back to you by X date - and that if they don't, they haven't figured the basics of communication and should be avoided - look elsewhere for employment." Fair enough. Now write it as an answer instead of just arguing in the comment's of someone who disagrees with you. – Kevin Dec 31 '20 at 18:14
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    @AsteroidsWithWings - Comments are not for critiquing answers; they're for improving an answer. See: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/19756/how-do-comments-work – Kevin Dec 31 '20 at 19:29
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Should i take this as a red flag and just stop going forward?

Nope, instead you should continue trying to secure internship somewhere else until you will actually sign the paperwork. It's the same process as when job hunting, you continue looking until the paperwork is signed by all parties.

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    This cannot be emphasized enough, and, as you say, goes beyond internships. Until you have signed the contract (these days perhaps by sending back a scan) nothing is secure, no matter how reassuring and confident they are and no matter how much they say "the paperwork is only pro forma". It is not. The paperwork is there for a reason: It is a mutually binding contract which specifies the respective benefits and obligations. Don't stop looking elsewhere until it is signed. Rest assured that they will fill your position with a dream candidate in case s/he happens to cross their path only now. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Dec 31 '20 at 13:32
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica under employment at will, nothing is secure ever. You can be fired (without cause) at any time including moments after signing papers. The upside is that you can quit at any time including moments after signing papers. The upshot is that you continue trying to secure employment forever. When you start receiving salary you slow down but do not stop. – emory Dec 31 '20 at 16:54
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    @emory That's not quite true. While by default at will provides no such protection like notice period, just cause etc you absolutely can (and many people do) negotiate to have those put into contracts. – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 31 '20 at 16:56
  • You are right formally (even in Germany where the law protects employees much better than in the U.S. an employment can be canceled with 14 days notice at will during the first 6 months) -- but typically signing the contract means a decision has been made by both parties. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Jan 1 at 9:22
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It is a reddish flag

The old and worn wisdom about interviews being a two-way street applies here. As others pointed out, internships are usually a low priority, it takes time to arrange a meeting, it is a holiday season, COVID-19 complicates everything, etc. But, where does that leave you?

Let's us suppose you continue process with this company and they hire you. The primary purpose of internship is to learn. And it looks like your company actually does not know what would they do with interns. Sure, they certainly want to have some, after all other companies are doing it, cooperation with academia, maybe even some tax breaks, etc. But at the end of the day, they are either too busy or too inert to bother with you. You will sign up, and then you will wait another two weeks to actually get something to do, then they would forget about it and you would have to pull their sleeves to gain some attention, etc.

If you are looking simply to formally complete internship (requirement for you university course or something), plus make some money on the side, I would say you could give it a try. You would actually probably have a lot of free time on the "job" and you could use it to study or pursue other interests. But if you want to actually learn something, try to find smaller company with tighter budget (maybe even startup). They would usually hire junior developers and try to work them as hard as they could, which in this case could suit you fine because you would be able to gain lot of experience in a very short time. As always, choice is yours.

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In my experience, human resource departments are among the most bureaucratic places in a company, and much less enthusiastic and responsive than many others. Employment is one of the more regulated areas in a company so that not all the blame falls directly on the HR workers, but it also appears to me that it attracts people who thrive in these conditions. Be that as it may, what I have observed is that they are often slow.

Two very similar anecdotes, one personally and one first-hand account, may illustrate that: Engineering departments in two different companies (many hundred and many thousand employees, respectively) had their dream candidate to fill a position — in one case actually a very capable intern. The human resources department was informed about the candidate, everything they needed served to them on a silver platter, and still they needed 6 or 8 weeks to get the offer out to the respective candidate, by which time they had of course found something nice elsewhere.

So slow reactions by HR departments are, in my experience, common to the degree that they may impede the hiring process, even for regular engineers. If you feel it's starting to threaten the internship I think it's OK to send a friendly short email to one of the people who you'll do work for and tell them you are still waiting for an answer from them even though time is short to finalize things now. HR may simply need a little reminder to get your low priority task bumped to the top among the many other things that are on their plate.

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Should I call them to ask?

Yes.

Since you mentioned the meeting could be in a few days, it is somewhat urgent for you to get an update on the status. If you can't get a definitive answer directly on the phone, it at least signals to them that you are proactive. It also covers the case where the email has fallen between the cracks.

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