Real Talk: Can I Decline an Internship Offer I Already Accepted?

Congrats! You’ve scored an internship. All those hours of editing your resume, refining your LinkedIn profile, going to mock interviews, and dressing for success have finally paid off. After numerous applications and interviews, you've got an offer that you've happily accepted.

But, let’s say you now receive an offer for your dream internship. What now? Can you — and should you — still turn down the internship you’ve accepted? It’s a tough situation. Without a doubt, it will be a process — but you don’t have to do it alone. Follow these steps to navigate your way to the right decision:

  1. 1. Ask yourself which internship would be more beneficial for you.

    This is an important question to ask yourself. According to The Balance Careers, there are different reasons as to why candidates second guess their initial decision, including landing “a dream job opportunity.” You need to think about which internship will help you advance further within your desired career field. Each internship has a distinct set of skills to teach you. Along with those skills, you will also have different mentors. Don't forget about the connections you will make in the process — where else might you meet those individuals?

    To ease the thinking process, write out the pros and cons of each offer. Not only will this list keep your thoughts organized, but it will also reveal your main priorities. You must be completely sure (like 110% positive) before making the final decision, because there’s no going back once you do.

  2. 2. If you signed an employment contract, review it again.

    You’ve come to the conclusion that the other offer is a better fit for you. The next step is to reread your employment contract (if you didn't sign one, just skip this step!). Where's there’s a written agreement, you need to know the significant details such as the timeframe of when you're still eligible to decline your internship and/or submit a notice.

    If you’re in need of guidance, feel free to reach out to someone who’s familiar with employment contracts. You can ask a parent, a business professor, or even your previous manager. Being aware of what your contract states matters because this can affect your final decision, especially when there may be legal consequences.

  3. 3. Contact your employer and inform them about your decision ASAP.

    As Lauren Berger of Intern Queen advised: “The best idea is to get back to the employer and not leave them hanging.”

    Recruiters spend so much time looking at resumes, arranging interviews, and choosing the right candidate. Thus, notifying them sooner is the polite thing to do and will also give them time to find another applicant fit for the position. Note that these recruiters will work for multiple companies, and therefore you could be “damaging your professional reputation” if you decide not to contact them at all. Don’t burn these bridges.  

  4. 4. Determine your communication approach.

    Candidates don't always sign an employment contract. Other times, they will simply receive a job offer via email or phone call. In a case like this, turning down the internship may be easier. How you received your offer determines how you communicate your rejection, which means you can either send an email or call your employer. Zip Recruiter provides samples for both communication types.

    If you did sign a contract, the setting will be more formal. You may be required to write a rejection letter, which should be simple and brief. Zip Recruiter also recommends, "Deliver your message in person and have a short conversation with your hiring manager." 

  5. 5. Being honest is always the way to go.

    Communication and honesty go hand-in-hand. It’s okay to explain to your employer why you’ve decided to take back your acceptance as long as you do it in a graceful manner. According to Rewire, “You can decide how honest you want to be.”

    While giving a good first impression is a must, leaving with a good impression is also important. Carry yourself with dignity. If you do give the company an explanation, know what to say and what not to say. For example, tell them that another offer has offered more experience related to your interests, but don't make a negative comment about the company and its employees.

    Furthermore, keep your explanation short and sweet. Providing too many details is unnecesarry. Be straight to the point. The company will more than likely understand your decision.

  6. 6. If you're unable to decline, make the most out of your internship.

    It's not the end of the world if you can't take back your "yes" for the first internship you accepted. This will still be a great learning experience for you in preparation for entering your choice of career field. Regardless, you'll enhance your skills as well as gain new knowledge during your internship. Ask yourself what you'd like to take away from this experience.

    Ashley Strausser, an internship coordinator, told Business Insider: "'Having a sense of of the skills and experiences you want to gain from an internship at the start allows you to be intentional in working towards your goal.'"

    Being adaptable is a crucial trait to have. Since you can't accept a different internship, be able to come into terms with what you have at the moment. Adjust your plans as needed and seize the chance to strengthen your resume, create connections, and start building a successful career.

It can be nerve-racking to decline an internship for another offer, but it can be made easier by going through a careful decision-making process.