You are here: » » » How should I turn down an internship?

How should I turn down an internship?

May 26, 2011

Alex Braun,
By Alex Braun

It’s a good problem to have. You find out you’ve been accepted to an internship you would have been happy with three weeks ago, but now something bigger and better has come along. So how do you break the news to the other employer?

President Obama rejects a basketball shot

Not all rejections need to be as harsh as this presidential veto. (Photo: The White House)

First things first: You DO have to break it to them. Leaving an employer hanging isn’t just rude – it can cost them expensive work hours and make a number of people seriously bitter.  You’ve given these people a lot of personal information when applying, and odds are, someone can use it to blackball you. You don’t want to take that risk.

Here are three more tips for gracefully declining an offer.

#1: Be respectful.

It doesn’t matter if the interview went awkwardly, you were asked unfair questions or you even suspected the whole setup was some kind of scam. Suspicious employers should be reported to the proper regulatory body (or flagged, if they list on, but you should never be disrespectful or outright accusatory towards them. It’s a small world out there, and you never know who knows who.

#2: Be kind, but firm.

It’s OK to approach this “regretfully,” “unfortunately” or armed with some other adverb of mild sorrow to demonstrate that you care about the employer. It’s a nice gesture to wish them luck and leave yourself open to being contacted or consulted for future projects. But you must make it clear that you’re turning down the position that was offered. If your communication is ambiguous and you have to do the “breaking up” later, it promises to be significantly messier.

#3: Be brief.

Although you do need to inform the employer of your choice, there’s no need to get melodramatic and outline the entire history of whatever caused you to make this decision. (Hi, Lebron.) To be perfectly frank, the employer doesn’t care. They just want to know whether they can expect you at work next Monday or not.  The more you say, the more likely you are to say something that gets taken the wrong way.

Always, always thank the employer for the interview. If you can refer another qualified candidate for consideration, that may also earn you a bit of karma.

But above all things, move on. An employer shouldn’t be able to make you feel guilty about turning down a position you never committed to, even if they hadn’t made contingency plans. As long as you handle yourself professionally, any tension should be soon forgotten.

Agree? Disagree? Have any personal stories or additional tips? Leave me a comment.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Brendon May 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Where is site with all of the flagged internships?


Alex May 27, 2011 at 9:02 am

Hi Brendon,
When you flag a posting, we check up on the internship and attempt to verify that it is legitimate, but we don't publish a list of all the internships that have been flagged before they have a chance to defend themselves. If we find evidence that a flagged internship posting is abusive, we simply remove it from our system.


Kat May 27, 2011 at 10:03 am

Alex, I couldn't agree more! That's great advice. A few years ago, I actually HIRED a recent graduate for full-time employment and she DIDN'T show up on the first day! I tried calling her because I was worried she may have been in an accident. I never got a response from her. EVER. It was unprofessional and rude. I had to start the process all over again because I had already turned down my 2nd and 3rd choices too. Lucky for me, I found a wonderful assistant after that fiasco. Blessing in disguise?


John Carson March 13, 2013 at 12:14 pm

The Lebron James Analogy was LAME/WEAK just plane horrible!


Leave a Comment