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How can I politely decline an internship without burning bridges?

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

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Holly’s Answer

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!

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Mike’s Answer

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.

Thank you comment icon Thank you for taking the time to answer! Mia
Thank you comment icon I agree with Mike . In addition to what Mike said, you can also give them the reason for refusing at this time and mention you would like to give that opportunity to other needy person. Mohamed Rizwan
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Ollie’s Answer

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."

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Erin’s Answer

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!
Thank you comment icon 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! Alexandra, Admin
Thank you comment icon 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! Erin Ford
Thank you comment icon 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! Alexandra, Admin
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Rachel’s Answer

I am a Campus Recruiter at a tech company, and I have seen candidates accept other roles in a negative way and in a graceful way!

One thing to realise is that the company you will be declining has likely spent a long time (hours probably) interviewing you. They really want you to join their organisation as they think you'll be a great fit.

The best way to make sure you are not burning bridges is to put yourself in their shoes. Would you rather be told last minute that your candidate isnt joining (which will make it hard for you to backfill the role), or would you rather have enough time to fill the role? I agree with responses above - please tell the organisation as soon as you can to give them enough time to fill your role.

You were likely offered a role either in person, or on the phone. Although it is tempting to just send a quick email to the recruiter, I have actually really appreciated when candidates call me to tell me. This shows they really actually care about the relationship and have manners. I am more likely to be open to re-hiring that person or considering that person in future. So please do take the time to call the recruiter to thank them for the opportunity, advise them that unfortunately you will be taking another opportunity this time, but reiterate that you enjoyed the process and would love to stay in touch.

Hope that helps!
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Sheila’s Answer

Hi Mia:

First, congratulations on your opportunities - good job. You've received some good advice from the CV Prof and Erin is definitely on point. I've experienced in my lifetime declining jobs and sending the other employer a notice is something I've gone through many times. I'd like to reiterate the steps to follow. . .

1) Inform the company ASAP you're no longer interested and declining the job
2) Thank the company for their time
3) Explain why you are declining the job
4) Because you're no longer interested in the job, state that you would like to keep in touch
5) Proofread before sending and keep a copy for your lessons learned

By the way, my daughter followed these steps a few years ago when she was in college and the HR Recruiter was impressed that she sent a declination letter. I do believe you'll be remembered if you have to cross that bridge again. I wish you much success on your journey. Best of luck to you!

~ Sheila
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