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I had been talking to company A about doing an internship there. I had several concerns regarding the assignment but I needed it fast, so I applied anyway and got accepted. I agreed to start the internship but did not yet sign a contract. After a few weeks, it became clear that they refused to sign the university's contract, which I had explained to them before is a prerequisite for starting my internship. After e-mailing back and forth, We still did not manage to find a solution.

A few days later I received an offer from company B. I went for an interview and got informally accepted. Company B's assignment was better fitting and they agreed to sign the contract without any problems. At the beginning of the next week, I managed to settle the contract issues with company A but still decided on company B. However, I had already agreed to start my internship at company A.

Since I had not yet gotten formal confirmation from company B and did not want to risk ending up without an internship, I decided to only cancel company A when I received confirmation from company B. I only got the confirmation from company B on Friday and I was supposed to start at company A the next Monday. That Friday, I e-mailed company A, cancelling my internship. I received a heated reply for cancelling last-minute and they even e-mailed my university supervisor. Can I expect bridges to be burnt or do I still have a chance of ever applying at company A? How could I have handled this situation better?

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    So until the Friday before you were supposed to start you still didn't have a formal confirmation? Seems very unprofessional by them, so: Why would you want to work there? They behaved unprofessional (refusing to sign some formal contract, heated replies), so you should be happy you know a place were you do not want to work, ever. – dirkk Feb 14 at 12:04
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    @dirkk Sorry, I think I didn't explain it properly. I received confirmation from B on Friday but was supposed to start at A on Monday. I received the confirmation from B after about 1 week, which is ok imho. It is true that A behaved unprofessionally, but at the same time, I was the one who cancelled last-minute and I may want to give applying at A another chance in the future. – Bruno Feb 14 at 12:28
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    Did you ever sign the contract with company A? – mhwombat Feb 14 at 17:23
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    @mhwombat No, I never signed any contract with company A. I initially agreed to intern at A but had yet to sign an agreement. – Bruno Feb 14 at 22:21
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    @Bruno you had signed nothing, 3 days before the start of the internship? – Mars Feb 15 at 0:34
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I would say you reacted well to ensuring your job security and what's best for you.

You however have most likely burnt most bridges at Company A depending on what you meant by 'heated reply'. But would you want to reapply at company A anyway if you're at the place you'd prefer to be now?

Company A have already shown some major red flags and you haven't even started. You dodged a bullet.

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    It was quite evident from their reply that they were disappointed and annoyed by me cancelling this late. I only applied for an internship this time and may want to give applying at A another shot when I graduate. They are highly respected and have the reputation of being a good employer. If I decide to apply again, I will definitely think twice. – Bruno Feb 14 at 12:38
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    It's their own fault. Focus on impressing Company B, improving your skills and working on your professionalism. They might keep you on and it might be right for you. You'll lose nothing by reapplying to Company A in the future. They can't turn you down for previous encounters. If they mention it you can explain the confirmation took too long and you needed to be sure. – Twyxz Feb 14 at 12:40
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    Up-voted. However, it is possible that bridges were not burnt completely. Also, it is possible that the company A has a "problem" with the university, not with the person. Maybe there are not so many red flags, except one (which is unacceptable): no contract. We cannot be sure of some things, since a lot of info is missing. – virolino Feb 14 at 12:55
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    Tnx @Bruno. company A has a policy of not signing agreements with external parties - sorry for the political incorrectness, but this policy is stupid. You are an external party (until the contract is signed). Their customers, their suppliers, government agencies are external parties. Company A has contracts with all of them. It does not matter how you define external party, you cannot have a policy like that as a company. I would understand if they did not agree with terms of the contract provided by the university - but that would be a failure of the negotiations, not a policy. – virolino Feb 14 at 14:22
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    @virolino, my guess is that Bruno means "third parties", ie parties "external" to the direct agreement, rather than parties external to themselves. You're totally right that this would otherwise be a stupid and impossible policy to have. – Dancrumb Feb 14 at 16:45
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You can expect your bridges to be extra crispy. You acted in bad faith and broke your word.

Now, the real question is "Will this follow me".

To some degree, yes. How long and how far is anybody's guess, but our actions do not exist in a vacuum. Many industries draw from a surprisingly small pool of people. I have seen the same people over and over and you wouldn't believe who knows who.

If they were sufficiently angry, someone may have put a note "Do not hire" in their systems that will make it fairly certain that for the next few year, your chances of working there are null.

Given that they contacted your university, yeah, I'm fairly certain they've documented it somewhere.

Now, over time, people will forget, but I would caution you not to make a habit of breaking your promises, because while people will forget ONE bad move, people will note a pattern.

How you could have handled it better

You should have done any of the following.

  • Been up front with A that you were waiting to hear back from B
  • Told B that you had an offer on the table from A and let them know you had to get back to A by [date]
  • Held off accepting from A until you heard from B
  • Gone to A once you agreed to.

Would some of these cost you an opportunity? Probably. But remember, you're building a career, and sometimes short-term gains need to be sacrificed for long term benefits.

Reputation is everything A good rep can open doors, a bad one can have them shut before you even approach.

Be honest, forthright, and honorable in all your dealings going forward.

  • Do not make agreements or promises unless you intend to honor them.
  • Once you make an agreement or promise, honor it until or unless the other party breaks their end or releases you from your obligation
  • It's far easier to live up to a good reputation than to overcome a bad one.
  • If you are known to be trustworthy, you will be trusted.
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    +1 especially for the second half of this answer, on how to handle such situations better in future. – PLL Feb 14 at 16:15
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    One more item for the "handle it better" list: make it clear earlier to A that no internship will be accepted without the university's signed paperwork. If A doesn't want to deal with the university, that's fine, but it sounds like the student cannot spend time on an "unapproved" internship, making that a deal-breaker. That probably wasn't something that should have been the topic of a prolonged back-and-forth. – chepner Feb 14 at 17:30
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    The trick is I'm having a bit of trouble seeing when exactly "company A" should have been informed, given that the waiting for "company B" only started after making the informal (non-signed) agreement to start the internship. Would it have made sense to have notified, perhaps abruptly, the company A on the spot the instant that the offer from B was given? – The_Sympathizer Feb 15 at 12:29
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    I don't see how OP acted in bad faith, at all. He wanted to work as an intern, but the company refused to sign the papers necessary for this to work. Without a contract you have nothing, and OP obviously had to accept the backup plan. Then when company A comes back and says "oh wait, we fixed it" it's already too late. OP could not have done anything. Are you reading the same question or was it modified after you answered? – pipe Feb 15 at 14:40
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    @RichardU Company A offered to sign the papers, but they had yet to sign. This was supposed to happen on the first day of the internship. The business day before the start of the internship, I received confirmation from B and cancelled my internship at A. – Bruno Feb 15 at 19:30
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If Company A is a large company, it is possible that they have a legal department that handles all legal agreements, including standard internship paperwork. Hiring managers may not be allowed to sign any agreements. It could have been that your internship contract from the school was in process of being reviewed. Of course, it would have been nice of them to tell you exactly what was causing their delay.

Since their signing your school's agreement was a condition of your internship being acceptable to the school, it should not be surprising that you would have to pull out at the last minute if it was not signed. But it apparently was a surprise to them, based on the response you received.

So, yes, the bridge is burning. They're as much to blame as you are. But there might be a chance to salvage it. You can respond to them and indicate that since the internship agreement was required, and they would/could not sign it, you could not start your internship with them. In the meantime, you found a company that could sign the agreement, and so you chose to go there because the timing of your internship is important. It's up to you to decide whether you think a response is worth trying. I recommend a phone call, if possible, rather than email. People are different when there's direct interaction.

There is one thing you could have done earlier that might have helped the situation. You could have made it clear to them that without a signed internship agreement, you would not be able to start with them. That might have prepared them a little better for this eventuality.

People remember. You may never get a chance again with this hiring manager. But you might have a chance in a different department if they're a large company. If they're a small company, you just have to remember that there are lots of places you can work that will be just as good for you as this place might have been.

Good luck with Company B. Give them your best and learn all you can from them!

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    Thank you for your answer. Company A is a large company and, so I was told, has a policy of not signing agreements with external parties, such as the university. They have their own contract with the student. I made it clear to them that the university's contract needed to be signed, which they kept refusing. Of course, this did not leave a good impression. But in the end, they agreed to sign, so I could have chosen for A but I didn't. I kept A as a 'back-up' until I received a confirmation from B so that I wouldn't risk ending up without an internship. – Bruno Feb 14 at 14:35
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    @Bruno in that case, then I would assume you have burned the bridge. There are plenty other companies you can work for in the future. – Kent A. Feb 14 at 14:37
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    Bruno - you should take the fine advice and explain your actions to the people at Company A that you came in contact with. Send letters, call, whatever. That will minimize any bad feelings. This sort of thing happens all the time. As long as you explain and have no bad feelings about it, it should not raise any bad feelings on the other side. Also - why not mark Kent A's answer as "correct". – Baruch Atta Feb 14 at 16:28
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    @Bruno You didn't keep A as a 'back-up,' you accepted A and then bailed for B. If you didn't sign, you have no legal worries, but that makes no difference towards your professional reputation, the reputation of your university, or the people who got rejected from A because A chose you instead – Mars Feb 15 at 4:05
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I think you acted unethically towards company A.

Yes, they delayed in getting you an official contract (which, no doubt, took effort on their part), but at the end of the day you signed it. Furthermore, you cancelled on very short notice when the offer from Company B came. By this point company A expended resources on interviewing you, getting you a contract and potentially notifying other applicants that they have been rejected. Company A has to restart their interview process and they will not have an intern to do the planned work (that you were going to do!) in time.

In the future, Company A may think twice about interviewing interns from your university, and they will certainly think twice about interviewing you. Although other answers say that big corporations have such a high turn-over rate that noone will remember - it depends on the company. The HR at mine is pretty static and I'm positive they remember everyone. Engineers come and go, but HR stays...

In the future, don't sign contracts you don't intend to honour. I don't recommend sending sassy replies to Company A either. Take this as a learning opportunity, and don't do this again.

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    I never signed any contract with company A. I only agreed to start my internship there but had yet to sign the contract. If I had already signed the contract, I would not have cancelled the internship. – Bruno Feb 14 at 22:29
  • @Bruno, you said I managed to settle the contract issues with company A. This can be easily interpreted as "signed the contract". You agree to work for company A without signing a contract? – Catsunami Feb 14 at 23:13
  • I understand where your confusion is coming from. I did not agree to work for them without signing a contract, but simply had not yet gotten the chance to sign it. This was supposed to take place on my first day. – Bruno Feb 15 at 0:03
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    @Catsunami : If you re-examine the post, you'll note that sie is not talking about a contract sie signed with the company but rather that the "contract issue" deals with the company not signing a contract with the University. Relevant quotes are, e.g.: "After a few weeks, it became clear that they refused to sign the university's contract, which I had explained to them before is a prerequisite for starting my internship. After e-mailing back and forth, We still did not manage to find a solution." – The_Sympathizer Feb 15 at 12:28
  • Don't know about this being unethical. Company A knew they didn't sign anything with his university. – Steve Feb 15 at 15:08
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Did you do anything wrong? - No, your interest in company A was genuine, and you worked together with them to make things work. You had every reason to withhold the information about company B coming into the picture, which happened at a time when your plans with company A appeared to fall through.

Could you have done some things better? - Maybe, it depends on whether you could have done more for the timing of things to end up being less awkward. I would generally not recommend sharing details of discussions you have with other companies, however. It's none of their business, and might even hurt your chances with them.

Have bridges been burned? - Not if they are reasonable, but maybe they aren't (as a "heated reply" seems to suggest), so who knows? Even in that case, you're unlikely to go on some sort of blacklist. The worst I would expect is some uncomfortable questions about this episode when you contact the same company again.

Is there anything you can do to minimize the fallout? - Contact them to reassure them that (1) your interest in them was genuine, (2) Company B came into the picture while it seemed things wouldn't work out, and (3) you sincerely regret any inconvenience caused to them. Since I don't think you did anything wrong, I would suggest being empathetic more than apologetic.

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It’s a definite “maybe”! The fact that it’s a big company may work your favour in that they’ll be unlikely to have people in recruiting that take it personally, so I’d be surprised if you get any issues a couple of years down the road, particularly as it’ll be for an entirely different sort of position.

Don’t fret about it, as there’s nothing to be gained either way at this point.

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Most likely, yes, you burned the bridge. Companies keep records of past hiring activity and most likely any notes entered will not endeavor to be fair to you. You might choose to not check "yes" on the "have you ever applied here" question in the future, which MIGHT lead to them not looking back, but then you'd be crossing an ethical boundary by lying. There is also the possibility that you can ask HR for your "hirablility" status and even attempt to contest it, but that's unlikely to be fruitful.

It sounds unfortunate how things turned out and that you really tried to do the right thing short of damaging yourself. Keep that concern for doing the right thing, but in the end remember it's ultimately a business deal. They are only trying to do what's best for them just as you should do for yourself. Hopefully you'll find a fit.

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As the other answers say: Yes, you did burn that bridge. But do try and salvage it by sending them an extensive apology. In it, don't try to shift blame on them, even if it might be justified. Tell them how you mishandled the situation, that you're inexperienced in the world of employment, and that you're truly sorry for any inconvenience you have caused. In the end, this might even leave a positive impression.

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