3 answers

How do I go back on an internship offer I have accepted?

Asked Berkeley, California

A few months ago I accepted a part-time summer internship, however since then I've been offered a much more desirable full time internship, how do I contact the original employer and let them know I will no longer be able to work for them? #internship

3 answers

Jared’s Answer

Updated Palo Alto, California

I've been there. It happens. Sometimes you reneg on an offer from an employer. Sometimes an employer rescinds an offer they've made to you. It's something to avoid if possible, but it happens. (Also: Congratulations to you on getting not just one but two internship offers!)

There's no good way to reneg on a commitment, so if you're going to do it, do it with as much professionalism as possible: tell them quickly, with clear and decisive language, while acknowledging and apologizing for the effect it will have on them. If there is something you can do to help them mitigate the negative effects, offer that. Either way, prepare for some blowback.

What I don't know about your situation is whether or not this is something that's going to negatively affect the company you're renegging on. If not, then probably it's as simple as just emailing them to tell them. However, if the company is going to be negatively affected (like if they need to go out and spend more time doing intern recruiting), then you're probably going to need to acknowledge that right up front and it might be wise to prepare for some pushback. If they express that they will have to go back to do more recruiting, you may want to decide whether or not you are comfortable spreading the word about the opportunity with your network of peers. That's up to you.

Watch out for them trying to pressure you to take the internship anyway. If they do that, please make sure you're doing what you believe is best for your future.

The thing that might go wrong here is that your reputation could be negatively affected. You don't want people to say "Don't give her an offer. She might decline it." Before you've even started your career, that's pretty unlikely. The worst case scenario is probably that they reach out to your school to complain. It's possible. But unlikely. I'm not saying this to scare you, but rather just to plant the seed of what the possible downsides are, so you can recognize it if it comes.

Either way, I'd say that this is definitely to be avoided in the future. If it happens once, that's fine. But if it becomes something you do more than once or twice over the arc of your career, it could have reputational impact for you if the industry you're entering into is small and well networked.

Last comment on this one: it's really important that you make the absolute most of the internship you WILL be doing this summer. The best way to make this uncomfortable situation disappear is to do a fantastic job of performing extremely well in your summer internship. Go above and beyond. Double and triple check your work. Communicate openly and often with your supervisor. Etc. Good luck with your internship!

Here's an example note for you to consider (you should edit this heavily to match your situation and your voice):

Dear ___,

I have had a major change in plans for this summer and I will no longer be able to join you as an intern. <<<Insert an explanation here if you feel comfortable doing so>>> I'm telling you as soon as I learned of the change, and I'm very sorry for the inconvenience that this change may cause. I am at the start of my career, and still learning much, but I do understand that this is not an ideal situation. I hope that we can remain in touch and possibly work together in the future if opportunity arises. If you need to attract other intern candidates, I'd be happy to pass out a link to any future job posts or internship posts you might have to my peers if you would like that. If you would like to discuss further by phone, please let me know. Sorry again for the change of plans.


<<your name>> 

Source: I also once renegged on an offer that I'd previously accepted. It had a negative effect on that company, and to this day it still bugs me. Also, now I'm an employer, so I have that perspective as well.

Jared recommends the following next steps:

  • Read 3 questions on CareerVillage about how to do well in an internship
  • Show up on day 1 of your internship with a one-page worksheet titled "what a wildly successful performance for me as an intern looks like" and ask them to sit with you to fill it out together
Thank you, this was very helpful!

Tom’s Answer

Updated Seattle, Washington

Hi Emily. I hope you have a few weeks before you were to start at the first intern spot. If so, extraction is a piece of cake. If you were supposed to start tomorrow you are toast. Kidding. Worse things have happened. Roll with the punches if needed.

Here's how to get out of the first one with grace. I'd send a written letter attached to an email, saying perhaps something in this vein (your own words): "I've accepted a different internship that is a much better fit for my career directions. I feel I'm may be letting you down and if so I apologize. It meant at lot you thought enough of me to offer me the internship. With a few 'thank you's for considering me, etc. 'Boom you are out.

They will understand. And if you want tell them we visited since you wanted to learn the best way to leave an internship, go at it. Shows professionalism even as you leave. Good chance they'll remember you. And if possible try to stay in touch with them anyway. You never know.

Good luck!

Thank you so much Tom!

Cristin’s Answer

Updated Portland, Oregon

Hi there,

My name is Cristin and I am a university recruiter and I've run several internship programs. I get candidates who renig on their offers from time to time and a good recruiter should know that this is something they will encounter. So a couple of things to do is thank the company and recruiter. Tell them that you value their time and the company but that you've found an opportunity that aligns with your career goals. The recruiter should come back and try to gain more information on the opportunity that you ended up taking - they will want to know the company, the title you were give, why it was a better match, and how much it pays. You should feel comfortable giving them that information. They aren't going to call the other company and yell at them, but they will use it to make their offerings more competitive and all of that is VERY valuable information.

Another thing to consider is if the first company is somewhere you might want to work in the future. If you've accepted the offer and you are close to the start date then you will want to consider the strain on that business and avoid burning any bridges, you made a commitment and chances are they've already started investing in your experience and training. However, if you are giving them ample notice then they should be more than understanding.

Also, you can always recommend a replacement. If you have a friend who you think is AMAZING then attach their resume and let the recruiter know you've talked to your friend about the role and he/she is very interested in chatting. At least the recruiter knows you are out there advocating for the company even if you aren't going to be joining them.

Thank you!