Once you craft a perfect resume and a kickass cover letter that you’re sure internship coordinators will love, it’s pretty common to send the two out as bait to several potential companies to ensure that you’re able to reel in at least one internship. But what happens if more than one company takes the bait?
Michelle Lewis, HC's Senior Editor and a recend graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, faced this sticky situation her sophomore year. She applied for three summer journalism internships, but since she had heard about how hard it was to get an offer, she didn’t get her hopes up.
“I interviewed for one position, and somehow during the interview when the editor was giving me a tour of the office, she started presenting me as ‘our new summer intern’ ...Even though I hadn't technically accepted the position,” says Michelle.
But Michelle was so excited to get an internship offer that she didn’t bother correcting the editor—or letting her know that she had applied for internships elsewhere as well. This didn’t work out well when Michelle was offered both of the other positions that she had applied for, one of which was her dream internship.
Making the Choice
Michelle was lucky enough to know which of the three internships she wanted the most, but what if you don’t know how to decide which of the opportunities you’ve been presented with is best for you?
“If you know all the specifics about each internship, this will help when weighing which internship will be the best for you to accept,” said Colette Rodger, Manager of Internships at Penn State. “Obviously, you want to go with the internship that offers the most experience with what you want to do. Don't just always go for a big company name—sometimes it won’t give you the experience the small company can offer.”
“Another approach might be an additional call back to the prospective company to find out if the opportunity will provide you a chance to meet some of your key goals,” adds Bob Martin, the Assistant Dean for Internships and Career Placement at Penn State. “Ask them candidly if these goals are attainable, particularly when it comes to an internship. This approach may provide the clarity you need to make an educated decision on which position is the best fit for you.”
The most important thing to remember is that although your work as an intern will be beneficial for the company, this opportunity has to be tailored to what you want. It’s a big decision, so don’t feel guilted into accepting the first offer that is made to you!
“For me, I had to decide which internship would give me the most experience, and which experience I would enjoy the most,” Michelle explained.
Asking for More Time to Decide
So one of the companies offered you a position and asked you to get back to them with your decision in a week—but your dream company said they won’t get back to you for two weeks on whether or not you scored the position.
According to Martin, how you handle this situation depends on how much more you want the second internship. If you think that the two offers are pretty equal in value, but you prefer the second one simply because it’s a better-known company or it pays more, then he suggests accepting the first offer so you don’t jeopardize the opportunity.
“However, if you believe the offer on the table may not be as good as another, and you are confident that the other preferable offer will occur, simply request more time,” Martin said. “Be sure to provide them with a specific date that you can effectively get back to them with your decision.”
Turning Them Down
Once you’re able to narrow down which of the internships you want to accept, it’s time to reject the other company’s offer. Though the situation sounds too uncomfortable to handle, it’s not!
“I felt really awkward and not sure what to do, so I just called the two other publications and politely told them I wasn't able to do their internships and I thanked them for the offer,” Michelle said. “I didn't give more details than that. I thought it would be awkward and maybe rude to tell them that I was actually interning with one of their competitors.”
According to Martin, even though she felt awkward, Michelle handled this situation well. “It’s important to professionally decline the opportunities you do not choose to accept,” he said. “Follow up as soon as possible so that the internship location/employer can offer the position to their second candidate.”
Remember that just because you were offered a position at the company, that doesn’t make you obligated to accept the offer. Don’t feel guilty because you’re making a choice that’s better for you in the long run!
You Accepted… But Then Got A Better Offer
You were so excited to get an offer at all that you accepted it on the spot. After you tweet the good news to all of your friends, you get an email from your dream company that you’ve been offered a position there, too—and you want that position much more than you wanted the first one you were offered.
“If you accepted an offer, and now your number one choice calls you and wants you to intern there, you cannot just call or e-mail the company that you already accepted the offer from and leave them. That is not professional,” Rodger said.
The only way to help in this case is to call the company you already accepted an offer from and be truthful with them. Let them know what is going on and see if they will allow you an out from the offer.
“If not, you need to let them know that you will fully commit to the internship,” Rodger said. “Then you will need to contact your number one choice and see if you can be considered for another internship for another semester.”
Don’t Burn Any Bridges
You told the internship coordinator that although you are incredibly grateful for the offer, you are unable to pursue an internship with them at this time. Now you just need to make sure to maintain a positive relationship with the company after you turn them down.
This step may seem superfluous—since you are interning with another company, maybe you don’t think that leaving the company you turn down with a good impression of you is that important.
However, there’s a possibility that in the future you may fall back into contact with this company, whether for a career or another internship, or that you may want to work with a company that they have close ties with.
“You simply don't know when you might be knocking on their door for your next internship or full-time position,” Martin says.
Make sure that you let the company know that you regret that you aren’t able to accept their offer at this time, though you hope to have the chance to work with them at some point in the future.
“Follow up with a thank you letter and ask to stay in touch,” suggests Martin. “Every employer appreciates a conscientious, professional candidate. It may help in creating a lasting impression that you handled the internship or career search with poise, confidence, and professionalism.”
Though this whole process seems daunting, keep in mind that you’re lucky to have the problem of too many internships rather than none at all. Most importantly, remember that an internship is an opportunity for you to gain the kind of experience that you think is necessary for your future career, and you should be 100% on board with whatever internship you choose to accept—so choose wisely!