Options are your friend. Even if some of them are options you don’t plan to take, it’s good to have them, if nothing else than for leverage with other options you do want.
When it comes to jobs, educational experiences, scholarships, internships, or other programs and opportunities, don’t back out until you’ve taken it all the way and either gotten an offer or not. It’s really common for young people to blast out applications for several things, and then simply not followup on those they decide they’re not likely to seize. This is a bad practice for several reasons:
1. You don’t always know that it’s an opportunity you don’t want until you see the official offer.
You may feel sure that job you applied for is not one you want after all, so you ignore the email asking to setup an interview. The thing is, you may find through the process that there are other opportunities at the same company, and you could very well end up with an amazing job you didn’t even apply for. You don’t know unless you see it through.
2. You don’t always know the bridges you’re burning.
If you pull out of an opportunity before the end of the process – especially if you do it by simply ignoring correspondence and not actively communicating you’re removal of yourself from consideration – you may burn some bridges with those reviewing you. You may assume you’ll never interact with them again, and you don’t need them because you just took a different opportunity, but you might be wrong. It’s a small world, and you have no idea when and how you may interact with them again. If they’re miffed that you didn’t follow through, they’re less likely to do you any favors, tell you about other opportunities, or spread the word to their network. If, on the other hand, you nail it all the way through the process and decline an actual offer with clearly communicated reasons, if they’re impressed they’ll still be rooting for you.
3. You’re missing out on valuable experience.
Why pull out of the process before even taking an interview? A lot of people do because, frankly, they’re scared. They’re scared of the interview (especially for something they’re not sure they would accept anyway), and they’re even more scared they might get rejected. Overcome it. The experience of doing stressful interviews is great, and sharpens you. The experience of being rejected for something you applied to is also good. Get comfortable with failure. Learn to not rely heavily on external approbation for your confidence. If it’s an opportunity you weren’t planning to accept anyway, who cares that you got rejected? Don’t let fear of failure make you pull out early. That’s a worse kind of failure – failure to even give it a real try. Take every opportunity to prove yourself and get as far as you can. It’s valuable experience.
4. You could be giving up valuable leverage.
If you have multiple opportunities or offers in front of you, you can use that to show your desirability and negotiate terms for the ones you like best. Pulling all your irons out of the fire but the one you really want is not a great idea (unless they are really distracting you from your goals, in which case deliberately pull them out and communicate that you’re doing so). If you’ve got an offer you like, or are close to getting one, knowing you have several other options on the table is good for you and increases the chances of better terms.
Make it a kind of challenge or game to get as far as you can and impress everyone you can with every opportunity. I’ve had a number of job and other opportunities I was pretty sure I wouldn’t end up taking, but by seeing the process through and treating it seriously, I impressed some people who ended up being valuable additions to my network. In some cases I was able to recommend other candidates for the job, which built a lot of social capital and later came back to benefit me.
I don’t mean to imply you should string people along. Be efficient and succinct, and when you know for sure you’re out, let people know. But don’t be hasty to determine you’re out until you explore as far as possible. The worst thing you can do is simply become unresponsive when you decide you’re not interested in an opportunity. That’s a fine way to treat a telemarketer, but not a professional connection.