I didn't get a return offer and that's okay
Internships, much like every other new experience, start off with the same kinds of hopes and intentions. You come in eager to meet new people, build cool products, and learn new tech. This summer was especially exciting: I would be working in a new place with electrical engineers on a hardware-related project. In all honesty, when I landed in Seattle sleep-deprived and lugging all of my suitcases, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Little did I know what would happen twelve weeks later.
After weeks of work and meetings and setbacks and breakthroughs, this was the final decision I got from my manager on my return offer.
Please don’t misunderstand my intention with putting this out into the world. This post is not an attempt to wallow or rant. I’m not going to badmouth anyone or anything—in fact, I have no desire to. Instead, this is a reflection on my time at Microsoft and Seattle, as well as reassurance to any aspiring engineer on the career grind. Everyone talks about how they win in their internship experiences, but very few people are open about where they end up falling short.
So you didn’t get a return offer—now what?
1. Take a second to breathe
When I heard I wouldn’t be receiving a return offer from Microsoft, it was as if a pit of ice had formed in the bottom of my stomach. They’re the words every employee dreads, and especially considering that I had the summer of my life and would’ve wanted to return no matter what, it was truly crushing. The message was ultimately delivered by my recruiter, who tried to distract me afterwards by talking about my experiences at Microsoft and in Seattle.
All I wanted to do during that thirty minute meeting was cry in my car.
Unfortunately, it was still the middle of the work day, so I didn’t have time for that. In fact, I had to deliver a presentation one of to the corporate Vice Presidents of Devices, so I ended up pushing that fateful meeting to the back of my head so I could focus on putting the finishing touches on my PowerPoint slides. I was able to compartmentalize enough to give a confident and clear presentation, lifting my spirits a bit.
After work, I went to a baseball game with one of my housemates and let it all out: my questions, frustrations, disappointments, anger. I know myself—if I had kept all of those emotions inside, it would’ve soured my final week at Microsoft and turned my perceptions of my internship towards bitterness. It’s always been important for me to share my emotions, so I made sure to take time for myself to do so.
Don’t let anyone tell you to toughen up when you yourself feel emotionally wrecked. That’s not their choice to make: it’s yours. Cry, scream, go for a run, eat a pint of ice cream, go to the movies—do whatever you need to in order to let out those pent up feelings and feel whole again.
2. Do some digging
I never saw it coming. This news hit me like a brick, and not only was I hurt, but I was confused. In my mind, I had been clear about my project; I had given regular updates on what was working and what wasn’t, always let my team know what I ultimately wouldn’t be able to finish, and was constantly learning new technologies and documenting my findings and frustrations for those who would follow.
The original reasoning I heard for why I didn’t get a return offer was headcount. “Headcount” is a term for the number of people a team or organization can afford to hire. I was told that the team wasn’t sure whether or not they would have headcount and, if they did, they would want someone with more wifi experience. In my mind, that was valid—team sizes change, and with limited financial resources, it’s important to ensure you hire someone who can actually do the work you need them to do.
However, that was preceded with calling me a great engineer, fantastic communicator, and effective collaborator. I heard those compliments and believed that I would get a return for a different team, that my strengths had been recognized and Microsoft would want to retain me for another internship in Devices.
As you read above, that wasn’t the case—I wasn’t given an offer—so I was confused. Whenever I received a rejection, I try to walk backwards in time to see if I made any slip-ups in order to improve myself for future application processes. You can imagine how difficult that it when all you receive is positive feedback until the final recruiter meeting.
It was awkward and difficult, but I sent a message to my manager to schedule a meeting with him. He replied immediately, meaning that one second I convincing myself to have a hard conversation with my manager and the next I was walking to his office and questioning why I was even doing this.
I explained my perspective on the situation—what I had experienced during my internship and how I didn’t understand the reasoning for my return offer decision—and he listened patiently the entire time. I’m quite thankful to have had a manager who was so open to listening to something as uncomfortable as your inter asking why she wouldn’t be coming back to the team.
That meeting allowed me to see what he thought of my work during the internship and how he interpreted it all. There were discrepancies between what I thought and what he thought, which sometimes was frustrating, but it showed me how valuable effective communication can be.
This wouldn’t be the last time I met with him during my final week. Those meetings were no less weird than the first, but lifted the curtain a bit more each time. He was sympathetic, indicating multiple times that he didn’t want to make this decision and additionally trying to find another team to take me on for another internship. He acknowledged my work and repeatedly emphasized how good of an engineer I was, but stressed how the project scope wasn’t met as effectively as he would’ve wanted.
Ultimately, these meetings ended up being some of the most difficult yet eye-opening conversations of my entire life.
Let’s rewind to the end of May: I was fresh out of junior year and hopping into a plane to travel to the other side of the country. I was joining Microsoft as an electrical engineering intern for my first taste of the hardware world. New names and faces and building layouts were constantly swirling through my mind, accompanied by worries of impostor syndrome and not making friends and getting bored with my work.
Classic new internship jitters.
Despite all of the negativity my brain conjured up to throw my way, my introductory weeks at Microsoft went smoothly! (In fact, you can read about that first week here).
Let me just summarize the general high-points:
My Fantastic Housemates
I came into this summer only knowing one other person in our five person house. I was truly terrified that I wouldn’t like my other housemates, meaning that I’d either always end up in my room or never be in the house at all. Thankfully, every single one of them was an absolute gem. I never had so much fun living with people before, especially people I didn’t know until the day I moved in. Whether it was throwing a party for the ages, hiking in the great outdoors, or watching our guilty pleasure—The Bachelorette— there was rarely a time in our house where I wasn’t smiling. #215lakesamfam forever <3
My Incredible Team
Since this was be the first time I was working with hardware in a company environment, I was terrified. I had no idea what to expect and was always worried about the quantity of new technologies I had to master. My mentor, manager, and the rest of the team was always by my side, whether it was to invite me to meetings and workshops, answer my questions, or give life advice. They were the first team I had worked with where I felt like a true equal, and you don’t always get that in an internship.
The City of Seattle
When it comes to living in places that aren’t New York City, I’m incredibly judgmental. Either it’s too small or too empty, too dirty or too pristine, lacking public transportation or only having a bus system—the list goes on and on. I had heard great reviews from friends who worked in Seattle during previous years, so I had high high hopes. (to quote P!ATD). I quickly realized the hype was real, and it took many forms. Although my house was a bit of a drive from downtown Seattle, it was always worth it. There were so many museums, galleries, and national monuments to visit (and take advantage of those Microsoft discounts). Neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and UDistrict always had events going on—in fact, one of my favorite concerts *ever*, Frnk Iero and the Future Violents, was off of a flyer I happened to spot while walking through Cap Hill. Even the places that were classic tourist traps, like Pike’s Place and the original Starbucks, were fun to walk through. Coming from the city that never sleeps, I was quite impressed.
The City of Seattle: Food Edition
For my day one followers, you may remember Biteability, a food blog I ran with my best friend. Even if Biteability means nothing to you, let me get this straight: I absolutely *love* trying new foods. I used to be a picky eater, but started changing my habits in high school. Thank god I did so before Seattle, because there was so much to eat! From ramen in UDistrict to seafood on the waterfront, there was such a wide range of cuisines to choose from. I was able to try new foods (ginger beer, udon with cream sauce, raw oysters) while also experiencing new takes on some of my favorites (ice cream, pork ramen, linguine with mussels). I could wax poetic about the restaurants and food stands I was able to hit during my 12 week stint in the PNW, but I could also go on and on about those that I didn’t try, from the seafood chain Ivar’s to a little hole-in-the-wall taco stand in a gas station. All in all, my stomach was very happy.
Out and About
Prior to this summer, I had been on a maximum of two hikes. Not only are they a rare find in NYC, but I also didn’t quite get the idea of wearing yourself out by climbing a mountain all for a view you’d look at for 20 minutes. However, hiking is such an ingrained part of the culture in the PNW that I needed to give it a shot, if only to confirm that hiking wasn’t for me. Much to my dismay, I actually quite enjoyed it. My knees and ankles were screaming the whole time (especially on the slightly steep hills, which are somehow harder than near-vertical climbs??), but gazing at the trees towering above me or listening to the white noise of a creek alongside the path or standing in the middle of a basin of mountains made the trek worth it. This summer helped me to realize that America is full of natural wonders, and although you won’t catch me climbing Mailbox Peak anytime soon, I now feel comfortable penciling in hiking as a good go-to activity.
Crossing State Lines and National Borders
Having earned my driver’s license only a few days before the start of the internship, I was ready to jump on some road trips. The San Juan Islands, Portland, and Vancouver were all only a few hours’ trip away, allowing us to add a few weekend getaways to our schedule. It was so convenient to have these places relatively close by, because there was always an opportunity to skip town for a few days if Seattle wasn’t enough. Taking these trips showed me more of the PNW region (a drastically different culture from the always-moving Northeast I’m used to) and another country notch on my belt.
4. Grow, adapt, and keep on hustlin’
This is where I currently am in the process of reacting to not getting a return offer. I’ve gathered all of the information I can on what got me to this place, while balancing it out with the unforgettable memories I made. Now I know how important communication is, especially in a professional context. I learned the hard way that it’s very easy to misunderstand people, that one person’s view can differ wildly from another’s, even with the same context present.
Now that I’m in the middle of recruitment season for my next internship, I’m leaning on my time at Microsoft and the soft+technical skills I learned along the way. I’m connecting with my former colleagues, both on my team and from other departments, to make sure that relationship lasts and that they’re aware of my movements at Cornell and beyond. I’ve been crawling through job listings and career fair flyers to find new engineering positions for me, because there are so many aspects of hardware I want to dive into now. I’ve shared my journey as an intern with my friends and given out referrals for the various technical and non-technical roles they’re interested in.
I’m trying to make Microsoft into more than a few bullet points on my resume by drawing from the professional, technical, and social experiences I encountered while there. I want this internship to not only be something I made the most of while in Redmond but also a launchpad onto whatever career path I decide to pursue next. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t get a return offer, but that doesn’t mean I’m out of the running just yet; there are career fairs, company campus visits, research labs, LinkedIn postings, and maybe even Grace Hopper!
Rejection is a constant in everyone’s life, even those who are deemed conventionally successful. It’s more common than you think to not get accepted for a role, and that’s simply because people rarely talk about that which they didn’t accomplish. I’ve had many a rejection in my life, from the Big Sibs program at my high school to 60% of the colleges I applied to, and each one has taught me something new about who I am and what I want to do.
Time will only tell, but I’ve grown and will continue to grow both as a professional and a person :)