4 answers

How can I politely decline an internship without burning bridges?

Updated Hewlett Bay Park, New York

I'm a college student looking for a summer internship, and I believe I will get accepted to two of the internships I applied to - but I cannot feasibly do both. How can I politely decline one internship while not burning any bridges and maintaining the connections I made there? #internships #interviews #email #job-application #personal-development

4 answers

Holly’s Answer

Updated Alexandria, Virginia

It sounds like you are genuinely interested in both opportunities. I would write out a thoughtful note about why you like the organization, and explain that while you would love the opportunity, you just accepted another offer. You could also emphasize your interest by saying that you would love to work for them the next semester if that is a possibility. When I was a student, I successfully deferred an offer to another semester and the employer was happy with my interest. Best of luck!

Ollie’s Answer

Updated Boston, Massachusetts

Two offers! Congratulations! Having more than one offer gives you power. You may not be used to it. When you have power, use it gently. Because in this case, it's the power to disappoint the ones trying to hire you.

You don't burn bridges if you respectfully decline any offer of employment. Just say, "Thanks for the wonderful opportunity; I really wish I could work with you but I just accepted something else." You don't owe them an explanation of why.

If they say "keep in touch," respond, "I intend to." Then do keep in touch. At a minimum send a hand-written note thanking them for the interview and the offer. If you have another chance at an internship later and you're still interested, ask them again.

If they ask for an explanation -- "what company are you going to?" etc -- you should listen carefully to their question, then decide whether you want to answer it. If I were a hiring manager, I would say "Congratulations. That's great for you if not for us. I'm curious, where are you going to work?"

It's generally disrespecful to you if the hiring manager pressures you to change your mind. If that happens, you'll be in a tense situation. You can always say, "thanks for your interest in me, but I have made up my mind." Remember, you have some power in the situation.

You DO burn bridges if you walk off one job or internship to take another. I know you're not planning to do that. Still, don't., OK?

You want to leave your second-place hiring manager thinking of you as the "big fish that got away."

Mike’s Answer

Updated San Antonio, Texas

It is possible to refuse an internship or employment opportunity. You can do this by thanking them for considering you for the position. Then let them know that while you are interested in the opportunity that unfortunately you can not accept the offer.

Updated
Thank you for taking the time to answer!

Erin’s Answer

Updated
First off, congratulations on having this problem! Seems like your efforts have paid off, but now you have to make a tough decision. While it may seem very difficult on your end, just know that internship managers are used to this sort of thing. When we line up candidates for the position, chances are at least 1 of the candidates is not going to work out, so you won’t be blindsiding them when you have to turn it down. What makes all the difference is how you turn down one of the opportunities. Here’s a 5-step process: 1. Let the company know as soon as possible that you’re turning down the opportunity. The closer it gets to the internship start date, the more the manager is ironing out the details. You want to give enough time so that the company is able to find a new candidate to replace you. 2. Thank them for the opportunity and for their time. Reiterate that you enjoyed learning from them, and that the company and the position are interesting and appealing to you. 3. Explain (briefly, 1 sentence is more than enough) what changed. This could be anything from: - There has been a change in my academic requirements - Classes and work schedule have changed - Presented with an alternate opportunity 4. Explicitly say that you’re no longer able to pursue this opportunity, but would like to stay in touch for the future if your plans change. Be honest and appreciative, as this will keep the door open to future correspondence. 5. Before you send it, have someone else read it over and ask them if they think you’ve accomplished your goal of turning down the offer but not burning a bridge. Outside perspective is valuable. Good luck!
Updated
Hi, Erin! This is such great advice! It's certainly a sticky situation that people don't talk about much. I just had one question: have you ever had to deny an internship when you were a student, and if so, how did you handle it? Or, as an Internship Supervisor, have you successfully maintained a relationship with anyone who turned down an opportunity at your place of work? Thanks in advance!
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Hi Alexandra, I never faced this situation when I was a student, but I've had candidates turn down the internship opportunity who then interned at a later date. Those students let me know soon after my offer that they were no longer able to take on the opportunity, usually due to their course load being increased. They then let me know that they were still interested in the opportunity re-applied a few months later. To me that shows dedication and enthusiasm -- two great traits of an intern. Let me know if you have any other questions!
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Thank you so much for the quick response! I'm glad to hear those student reapplied later - that gives me some hope for if I ever have to turn down an opportunity like this, since my course load, like you mentioned, tends to change!
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