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I have interned with the same small software company for two consecutive summers. I was offered a full-time position with them for next summer, after I graduate with my bachelor's degree.
They are asking that I give them a response within two weeks maximum. It was made clear to me when I started my first summer of internship that the company stresses "long-haul" relationships, where the expectation is that I work for them on completion of school. There is no contract or anything like that obligating me to do so.
My internship projects consisted of mostly web development, as that's what they needed at the time and I didn't yet have the skills for working with their main software. This is my passion, and it is through these internships that I learned most of my knowledge of web development. The position I am being offered (the only one available), however, is for lower-level software development, which I am not as interested in.
My preference is to use my senior year and the expansive resources of my university to find a job that really suits my interests and makes me happy, and fall back on them if I happen to realize their environment is what I really want. I haven't interned or worked in any other programming environment and feel too inexperienced to just accept this offer without knowing what's possible. I want to tell my potential employer that I want to see my options and not be put into a contract so quickly. I don't think this will be something they are expecting. How do I inform them without turning them off from wanting me?

  • What happens if you accept the intern position but then, a few weeks before you start, tell them you won't be joining? – Terence Eden Aug 11 '14 at 16:08
  • I'm sorry - edited to clarify. I've already completed two internship sessions with them. I just finished last week. They offered me a full time position for after this next school year. – amess Aug 11 '14 at 16:14
  • "fall back on them" Who's them - the company that offers you the position? – Jan Doggen Aug 11 '14 at 18:45
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You can ask for anything with the caveat that they company can decline your request and that it may even damage your relationship with that company.

You're kind of dancing around saying this directly, but it sounds like what you really want is to be able to keep this company as a 'backup'. In other words if nothing more interesting or or profitable shows up then you would like to have this job. Unfortunately this isn't something companies like to hear. No one wants to be the backup plan.

In much the same way you may want to use them as a backup plan, they want to use you as a sure thing. They want to sign you up as soon as possible both to fill any jobs they may have and also to snap you up before another company, potentially a competitor, does so.

With that stated plain let's talk about what is realistic. I can't think of any job that's going to give a fresh college graduate a year to consider whether or not they want to accept a position. Consider it from their end. They have a position for you, they have a team who needs a new person. There is a world of difference between "we have hired a new person for your team but they start in June of next year" and "well we might have hired somebody but we won't know until June of next year". They seem similar, but you really don't want to work on the team that would do the latter.

What is realistic? What are your best options?

Ask what their hiring cycle is. Say something like "I'm actually not sure what my next step is out of university. I might be interested in graduate school(note, this is potentially a white lie, more on this in a moment). Do you have another hiring cycle in the spring that I could be involved with that would give me some time to consider my future?"

Now two things here. Even if the answer is "Yes, we have a hiring cycle in the spring and we would love to talk to you again then", this does not mean you are guaranteed a job. This doesn't mean you'd be on the same team, this doesn't mean you'd be on the same product or technology and this certainly doesn't mean you'll for sure, 100% have a job at that point. If you go this route you will face additional competition, a lot of grads are looking in spring, and your internship experience may or may not be weighted as heavily.

The second thing is that little white lie. Some folks are opposed to lies. To them I say "Huzzah." In my experience no one wants to hear they are the backup. Maybe you are considering further schooling. Maybe you're not. Maybe you'll take 10 minutes on a Saturday in December and go "hmm... Do I wanna go to grad school? Nah." But this is saving face for both you and the company. You're not burning bridges and they don't have to hear they were second choice. They know you will be shopping around, they know you'll be looking at other offers. It's just that neither of you will say that directly...

You have other options of course. Ask to have a more reasonable time to consider(a month isn't unreasonable for most companies) or turn them down with your stated reasons above and see if they counter offer(I would be a bit surprised if they did).

There is nothing wrong with wanting to see what else is out there. However, you're not going to be able to hold onto an offer as a backup. More importantly than 'is there better out there' are the answers to the questions:

  • Is it a fair offer(are the wages in line with the area and industry?)
  • Do you like the work?
  • Do you like the company and it's culture?
  • Could you see working there for a few years to build a base of experience?
  • Do you like the area/geographical region?
  • What would make a 'better' offer and can you negotiate this with the company?

Full disclosure. I accepted my first job out of college in October the year before I graduated. It was a great offer, I liked the company, I thought the work would be interesting and I liked the safety and comfort of knowing I had a job lined up on graduation. I know plenty of folks who went both ways - accepting early or waiting to see what else came up. Most of the time both folks ended up pretty happy (though, of course, some of the folks who waited for something 'better' ended up in something objectively a little worse.) It's really up to you and your priorities on how important this particular offer is.

Editted to add Do not accept the offer and then turn it down if something better comes along. That is a fast way of getting a nasty reputation in the industry.

  • Thank you for your answer. You explained your point well. – amess Aug 11 '14 at 21:49
  • I would agree a "white lie" is better then the honest truth if your conclusion of the author is correct. I also agree that accepting the job now then changing your mind would burn bridges. Its important to point out. Its easier to get a new job when you have a job. The author can accept the job then after a period of time move on. – Ramhound Aug 12 '14 at 12:05
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I want to tell my potential employer that I want to see my options and not be put into a contract so quickly. I don't think this will be something they are expecting. How do I inform them without turning them off from wanting me?

You don't want them, so I'm not sure how much it really matters if they no longer want you.

You have indicated your reasons for not wanting to accept their offer very eloquently in your question. If you just convey the same ideas to them when you say "I really appreciate your offer. I've learned a lot, but for these reasons, I have to decline...", it will come across as a very professional response.

Basically, you are saying "Thanks, but no thanks" in a polite, respectful way.

I would suspect that they will accept your response, and move on to other candidates. But that's really what you want anyway, right?

And if you still want to be considered if your Senior Year changes your mind for some reason, you could always ask "Can I still contact you in the future, if my plans change?" and see how they respond.

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