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I'll be finishing up in my internship soon and I am not interested in a return offer. Problem is, the CEO is a family friend and I don't know how to tell him that I'm not interested in receiving a return offer or doing any further remote work when I return to college. Primary reason is that this particular line of software development does not interest me at all and I often find myself bored and unchallenged at work.

My bosses seem keen on taking me back after college. This has been clearly expressed.

Just to clarify on the question a little better, I'm wondering how I can convey that I do not want to work here. I don't like lying (by telling him I want to do XYZ when I really don't know yet), and I certainly don't want to tell my CEO/family friend that I think his company is boring to work with.

UPDATE: Because I know you all love updates/follow-ups (myself included): I talked to my manager about finishing up, and it went well. He basically said I could do whatever I like and offered that I could work from home/college whenever I wanted. So even though I'm not sure what I'll do yet, I will still have good ties with the people here.

Even though I wasn't a fan of the work, my manager/boss are some of the nicest people I'll probably ever meet in the workforce. Thanks for all the advice, and I hope this question helps someone else out in the future!

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    Are you sure he's going to make a return offer? Has he already? Or you're not sure but would like to be sure he won't try to? – sh5164 Jul 7 '17 at 12:39
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    You shouldn't lie. Especially not to a family friend, because you'll have to see that person at family events in the future, whether or not you ever work with them again. You can be vague, though. You can literally say "No, I'm not interested" btw. Or "this particular industry is not for me." Or, since you're still in school you could even go with "I'd like to explore other avenues.". – Steve-O Jul 7 '17 at 12:52
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    Have in mind that boring job is better than no job. Do not burn this bridge :) – PTwr Jul 7 '17 at 14:06
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    @PTwr I don't see how that's relevant. Deciding not to continue with a company after an internship isn't "burning a bridge", and it doesn't preclude the OP from getting another, better job. You're essentially recommending they settle for what they're given, for no good reason, which is ridiculous advice for a person starting their career. – ell Jul 7 '17 at 16:45
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    @sgroves That's not what he's recommending at all. – Mast Jul 8 '17 at 13:17
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As an intern, you don't need to explain anything that indicates you find the work unsatisfying. In fact, I suggest you not do anything but express gratitude for the exposure and make connections with people.

If they approach you about doing remote work while in school, it's easy to defer:

I really don't have the time and energy for extra work this year, I really need to focus on my studies

Of course, don't apply there directly next summer or when you graduate. If, they approach you:

I appreciate the offer, but I'm looking to add diversity to my experience right now.

That's it.

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    The part about diversifying you experience is great, hadn't though of that. – BlueBarren Jul 7 '17 at 15:08
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    @Dukeling Internships and early career jobs are all about exploration and finding out exactly where one fits into their chosen field. Many times that translates into trying a bunch of different things (I.e. Diversity of experience) Not everyone is so fortunate as to know exactly what they want to do while they're in school, perhaps you are/were. The OP is fortunate enough to have choices and should use them wisely. And, yes, tact is important, while the OP may not like that work, there's no reason to be an ass about it, makes it hard to get references for the work they do want – DLS3141 Jul 7 '17 at 17:02
  • express gratitude for the exposure and make connections with people -> don't be a kiss-ass. – Alexander Jul 7 '17 at 17:55
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    @Alexander there's a huge margin between being polite by expressing gratitude for an experience and kissing ass. As an intern, discovering that something is not for you is as valuable as discovering that something is for you. Thanking someone for that opportunity to learn is just professional, not ass-kissing. – Paul Jul 7 '17 at 19:54
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You should be grateful. I'm not saying "Take the offer!", but be grateful to have received it and show this in your response. Something like:

Thank you so much for the offer. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Company xxx, but having had exposure to this line of software development I have realised that it is not for me.

Do not mention that it bores you, or that work was boring, especially to family (family friend).

Perhaps throw in what you plan to do:

I plan to pursue a career in insert career here, and I thank you for taking the time to teach me the skills I will need to succeed in this industry.

  • Do you think it might be useful to rephrase the "but" out of the first block? I am thinking something like: "I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Company xxx, and that is why it saddens me to have discovered this line of software development is not for me." – wwarriner Jul 7 '17 at 14:09
  • @starrise - I don't think "but" vs "and that is why" makes much of a difference in tone or politeness. Just my opinion. – PoloHoleSet Jul 7 '17 at 14:11
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    I would simply omit the words "but having had exposure to this line of software development I have realised that it is not for me". Everything else is perfect. – Fattie Jul 7 '17 at 14:30
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    @starrise - I would say further, just say nothing about it. If you're going to marry Jane it's absolutely pointless telling Sally that "you suddenly realized you don't love Sally", or making any comment at all about Sally to Sally. You simply state "I am marrying Jane" and then add sundry expressions of thanks/etc to Sally for her time. – Fattie Jul 7 '17 at 14:32
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    We now know how to get out of both marriage, and, interrnships! Phew! :) – Fattie Jul 7 '17 at 14:33
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I don't think it would come across particularly well if you try to decline an offer you haven't received yet.

If you receive an offer, you can simply:

  • Thank them for the offer itself, as well as the internship they've given you.
  • Decline it on the basis of wanting to explore other opportunities.
    If pressed for more details, you can simply say the work isn't for you and/or mention something specific you want to work with in your next role.

Avoid saying that you're bored or unchallenged, as all this can really do is burn bridges. You should generally try to avoid pointing out negative aspects of a role.

If it's the specific role you have a problem with, but there might be other opportunities at the company that interests you, you can e.g. say you're looking for a role with more {stuff} and ask whether there are perhaps any opportunities with a heavier focus on that at the company. Even if they have such a discussion with you, you shouldn't feel pressured to accept a role you don't want to take - a discussion is just a discussion, there shouldn't be an assumption of you accepting an offer at the end of it.

Keep in mind that "boring" (or "interesting") and "challenging" are both highly subjective and generally not constructive or meaningful - what would make more sense is asking for a role with a heavier focus on algorithms, which involves more new development (as opposed to maintenance) or which allows you to play with the latest technologies / libraries in the industry (which would be a few examples that comes to mind regarding software development).

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Alternative approach

Although you have asked how to decline a return offer (diplomatically!), other answers address this point quite succinctly so I won't retread old ground. I know this isn't strict SE convention, but I want to approach your problem from a different angle - the cause of wanting to decline.

You've said "I often find myself bored and unchallenged at work.".

Have you considered it might be possible to ask to be assigned more challenging work?

I often find some employers are recluctant to hand me challenging work initially when I first start because they're worried I might get overwhelmed (even though I pick up processes extremely quickly), and in your case, as an intern, it might be as you were new to the processes they didn't want to throw you in at the deep end. Asking for more challenging work might be a way to solve this.

On another note, you can make tedious work challenging by trying to devise a way to automate it. I classically follow a rule of thumb to avoid being bored at work: if it's tedious and repetitive, try to automate it, and if it's not, solve it.

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    This. OP has not even considered this aspect. – Lanet Rino Jul 7 '17 at 17:16
  • That's exactly right. Share your exact concerns so they can be exactly addressed. Particularly with a family friend. – Wildcard Jul 8 '17 at 4:39
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I would thank them for the offer and explain that while you are genuinely grateful for the opportunity (which I presume is the case) it is not the line of development you intend to pursue after college, so for the time being you wish to focus on your studies and only pursue opportunities relating the specific line of development you are focused on breaking into in the long term.

  • Right. You quite simply state "I am now in another field". It just couldn't be simpler. It is inconceivable you would comment negatively on the experience at First Company. It just doesn't make any sense - don't even raise the topic. – Fattie Jul 8 '17 at 18:24
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You don't need to tell them that you're not interested in an offer before you've even received an offer, so you shouldn't tell them. I guess your thinking is that you're saving them the effort of deciding whether or not to make an offer to you, and how to make that offer. This is not a significant optimization to the process. The fact that your bosses seem keen to have you back means that they won't need to spend a lot of time on that decision.

Telling them you don't want an offer you've not even received makes you look presumptuous. You're also giving an implicit negative opinion of the company and its employees unnecessarily. There is no advantage to you at all in expressing this opinion unless you have to, e.g., to decline an offer. Maybe you'll be lucky and not receive an offer for some reason – then you'll never need to tell them you don't want to work there.

The only exception to this is if you're talking socially with the CEO and they bring up the subject. If they mention that they're thinking of making you an offer, then it would be reasonable to say that you're not interested in working for the company, in whatever polite way avoids saying, "Sorry pal, but your company is boring." ("I'll be too busy with my studies", "I don't want to commit to working for any particular company until I've had chance to find out what my options are", whatever.)

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