Switching Companies: Should you accept a return offer on your internship?

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Switching companies

After my completing first internship/co-op,* I rejected my return offer. It was a scary and challenging decision, but I learned from the experience. Learning when and how to switch companies can be an important skill, even for students and interns. Unfortunately, switching companies can be scary for people who struggled to get an internship offer: it’s like, will I get another offer? I wish I knew—and genuinely embraced—that it is often easier to receive interview requests after completing one internship or co-op. 

* In most cases, internships and co-ops are synonymous. They are used synonymously in this article.

United States: standard year levels in Bachelors of Science programsInternational universities
FreshmanFirst-year
SophomoreSecond-year
Junior Third-year
Senior Nothing or fourth-year
Year-level conversion chart

Disclaimer

Although this post offers insight on how others have acted in negative situations, I haven’t had any negative experiences in my employment history. Thus, I recommend seeking advice elsewhere if you are dealing with a specific problem; my post covers broad advice, mostly from security professionals I’ve met at my university or conferences. P.S., this post was created for a career services activity at the Rochester Institute of Technology. :) 

Data

According to the 2019 Student Survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), “more than half of all graduating seniors who applied for a full-time job—53.2 percent—received at least one job offer. Within this group, 57.5 percent of students who had an internship and 43.7 percent of graduating seniors who did not have an internship received a job offer.”

In addition, the students with at least one internship prior to graduation are significantly more likely to receive multiple job offers for positions after graduation. Students with at least one internship received approximately 1.17 job offers, whereas students without an internship only received around 0.98 offers (16 percent fewer).

Other data:

When to switch?

General advice

The most common sentiment I heard was that, in general, you may want to consider other opportunities if you dislike the culture, leadership, work, or pay and benefits and cannot negotiate or change departments

Experiences 

One of my mentors recommends switching companies to gain diverse experiences, like working for a startup or other verticals. Although I agree with the sentiment, it is important to consider financial freedom and internal opportunities.

Financial freedom

It’s a valid reason to switch companies if you have the financial freedom to gain new experiences. Financial freedom is important because some companies do not pay for relocation, housing, etcetera. Many students still have educational expenses, loans, and other bills. If that is you, use websites like levels.fyi to find internship programs that will pay for your internship-related expenses. 

Although some may disagree, I decided to prioritize my financial well-being to manage debt. Diverse occupational experiences can come later. 

When should you stay?

Staying is probably a great option if you like your:

There is a balancing act if you feel meh about one or more topics.

Changing departments

If you want to work on a different team, learn a different skill set, or dislike your manager, you can switch teams or departments. Changing departments may save you the stress of interviewing.

Pay and benefits

If you dislike your pay or benefits, try negotiating by obtaining and citing job offers that will pay you more. It shows the organization that you are a competitive candidate worth keeping and that you can leave if they don’t increase your pay.

Note that the same strategy often works with benefits.

Negotiation resources

I recommend reading these in the following order:

University resources

RIT students and alumni may utilize the university’s career counselors for salary negotiation meetings. I recommend checking if your university offers anything similar.

Culture

About half (49%) of American workers say they are very satisfied with their current job. Three-in-ten are somewhat satisfied, and the remainder say they are somewhat dissatisfied (9%) or very dissatisfied (6%). Job satisfaction varies by household income, education and key job characteristics. And the way people feel about their job spills over into their views of other aspects of their lives and their overall sense of happiness

How Americans view their jobs by Pew Research Center

One aspect of job satisfaction is work culture. If you dislike the culture at work, examine if the culture stems from your team, the organization, or both. If you dislike both, consider if you would be happier elsewhere. Additionally, remember that if you don’t enjoy spending time with your team, they are (most likely) the people you will interact with most. 

However, if you enjoy your team but dislike the organization’s culture, that choice is nuanced and one this blog post can’t answer.  

Battling fears with switching companies

This section concerns fears of job insecurity for those completing their first internship and various worries occasionally felt by incoming freshmen and sophomores. I also discuss feeling indebted to companies, struggling with interviews, and finding disability resources. If these situations do not apply to you, please skip to the conclusion.

Was this your first internship?

My advice about switching companies may put you on edge, especially if this was your first internship experience. During my freshman year, I applied to around one hundred roles, and I only received a few responses. Thus, deciding to reject my return offer was scary: what happens if I don’t receive an offer from another company?

Even in industries with hiring booms, job insecurity is still a fear. Please consider if your worries are realistic based on your industry, your previous experience, and the quality of your resume.

When I rejected my return offer, I knew cybersecurity was in a hiring boom. However, I remembered how much I struggled to get interviews. I didn’t know if my resume was impressive or if my previous experiences were impressive. 

Thus, it felt risky to reject my return offer.

It gets better

I know it’s hard to embrace now, but you will have an easier time the second time. For reference, I got seven offers my sophomore year (from August to December 2021), and the only thing that changed on my resume was that I had a co-op. For those who are curious, I received:

  • 1 MANGA 
  • 1 Big 4 
  • 2 Government 
  • 1 Startup 
  • 1 Security company (large)
  • 1 Computer turned consulting company (non-MANGA)

Incoming first and second-years

If you are an incoming freshman or sophomore, you are the exception, in a good way. Most internship opportunities are for incoming juniors and seniors; companies care about converting students to full-time employees and that is easiest to do with students closer to graduation. 

The average conversion rate for interns climbed by nearly 20%—jumping from 55.5% reported a year ago to 66.4% currently, according to results of NACE’s 2021 Internship & Co-op Survey Report

Intern Conversion Rate Climbs, Fueled By Jump in Offer Rate by Mimi Collins at the National Association of Colleges and Employers

Students earlier in their academic careers have more time to explore different areas and companies, so there is often less incentive for these students to intern at the same company. Companies may view this as risky in comparison to students later in their academic careers, who will soon need full-time employment. 

Thus, please be proud of your accomplishments. Your first internship is usually the hardest to obtain. Searching for a high school or freshman co-op and having it be your first work experience are independently challenging problems. You managed to achieve both. 

Feeling in debt to your employer or coworker

Employers pay you because they value your skill set or potential skill set. You work for money or experience. It is a mutual relationship, often represented, not determined by human bonds. In other words, while human bonds can ultimately make work a much better experience, at the core, it is a transactional relationship.

Thus, your manager or coworkers might be sad you left, but in most circumstances, you do not owe them anything. Thus, if you can receive better pay, treatment, or experiences elsewhere, there is no shame in leaving. If someone shames you for leaving, they’re probably jealous.

Struggle with Interviews?

In an ideal world, your interviewing ability should not prevent you from switching jobs, but that often isn’t the reality. Although I haven’t tried many of them, there are technical and social interview practice opportunities online. Note that your alma mater may offer mock interview services.

Disabilities

Additionally, if disabilities interfere with your ability to interview, consider communicating these issues to the hiring organization. Many larger companies have a form or email to request accommodations during interviews. If you can’t find where to request accommodations and do not feel comfortable asking the recruiter, try asking anonymously on Reddit or other career forums. Unfortunately, the organization might not have the proper resources or staff to treat you fairly.

Support for accommodations will always be challenging, especially because you may face discrimination by disclosing you need them. However, there are resources to help navigate this process.

Resources

Here are some resources I’ve found useful:

Conclusion

Overall, I hope you found this article about switching companies helpful and the linked resources meaningful. Switching companies is a big decision, and I understand the stress and fear while navigating that process. Remember, it is often easier to obtain offers and interview requests after your first internship or job experience. Best of luck!

If you found this post useful, I recommend reading RIT Students’ Guide for Scoring an Internship Your Freshman Year and some of my other career-focused articles. 

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Portrait of Olivia Gallucci in garden, used in LNP article.

Written by Olivia Gallucci

Olivia is an honors student at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She writes about security, open source software, and professional development.