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I had cold emailed an organization a couple of months ago in May to ask for an internship, and while they did not have openings then, they did contact me this February about an internship offering, and how to apply. It is my dream internship, and I botched it by not sending an application. Their initial email was sent over a month ago. It's not that I forgot, but I have not been in a good place mentally and could not, although I tried, finish the job application form and writing samples.

How should I frame the apology? Should I say I had a medical/technical/family issue? I really want to try for an internship there, I'm better now and I'm sure I won't mess up again.

  • Keep in mind that a good apology requires a number of things. You must know the person and how they were harmed. In this case, you know neither the person or how they were harmed, so you can't offer up the best of apologies. So, just do your best. And remember, applying for an internship isn't the same as landing the internship, so odds are you've lost less than you feel you lost. – Edwin Buck Mar 11 at 14:08
  • There's rarely a good reason to apologize in business. It's business, not personal. – user91988 Mar 11 at 19:58
  • It won't help to apologize if you are solving the problem. – Denis G. Labrecque Apr 10 at 18:56
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Just apply without any excuses - if they still want you as an intern you'll be fine, if they don't (because the position is already filled or because you ghosted them) an apology (especially medical/family) wouldn't change anything according to my experience..

And a technical excuse such as 'My computer broke down' or 'I forgot the password of my mail-account' wouldn't go well either.

As @EdwinBuck mentioned in his comment, you could apologize for replying late, but don't offer any explanation. This way you it would come across more polite since your reply was expected a month ago.

In case you find yourself in the position where you want/need to apologize - for example when the company asks you why you replied so late - don't lie since that can certainly backfire. Try to be sincere and try not to go into details and keep it simple:

'Thank your for the opportunity to apply for this internship. Unfortunately I couldn't reply earlier since I was tied up due to personal matters and I want to apologize for my late reply and any negative impacts that might have caused. '

Since you mentioned only 'personal matters/reasons', the interviewer/HR should respect your right for privacy and shouldn't dig any deeper.

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    won't it be considered rude to reply a month later without any apology? – C M Mar 11 at 13:40
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    @CM You can apologize for replying late, but offer no explanation. That way you have your polite check box marked. Seriously though, if you don't get to apply to the position, odds are it's because you missed an internal deadline at the company. Internships are typically set to school calendar clocks, and deadlines to have the positions filled include buffers to accommodate the company's policies and internship handling hire paperwork. Don't feel bad if they don't respond positively, they might have already selected their candidates. – Edwin Buck Mar 11 at 13:45
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    @iLuvLogix I don't mind at all! :) The only issue with such blanket apologies is that the might lack sincerity; but, how sincere can you truly be with a near stranger? You need to find some common ground first to make sure your words are received as you intend. – Edwin Buck Mar 11 at 15:36
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Since the question was clarified in the edit of "how should I frame the apology" I'll answer with my stock answer for apologies:

  1. Acknowledge your actions you're apologizing for clearly.
  2. Offer up a short, unambiguous apology for that item only.
  3. Avoid words that weaken your apology, like "if".
  4. Avoid justifying your behavior with explanation.
  5. Show you recognize the impact on the person you're offering your apology.
  6. Indicate that you will not repeat your behavior again.

Combined, these help frame a sincere apology. I suggest you craft an apology with your own words, as any borrowed apology runs a huge risk in being detected as not authentic.

I'm sorry I didn't respond sooner, I know the lost time makes my application more difficult; but, would it still be possible to apply? If so, I assure you I will provide all paperwork in a timely manner.

That's all it takes.

Now here's an bad example

I'm sorry if I have been out of touch, but I was having a difficult time with some turmoil in my life. If it's not too much of a bother, can I still apply?

Note that this apology contains all of the errors.

  • Vagueness in the action (I didn't respond vs I've been unreachable).
  • Failure to apologize for the action, as the action is not "owned" by you.
  • Inclusion of the word "if"
  • Justification of behavior (I was having a difficult time)
  • Lack of acknowledging the impact on others.
  • Failure to indicate you won't repeat the action.

With this approach, the position might still no longer be available, but at least the apology won't be the reason you fail to get it.

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  • I learned a long time ago that I sucked at apologies (in my early 20's) so I did what I typically do. I bought a book and read it. It is surprising how many people apologize ineffectively; but, better apologies do get better results. They just don't always get the desired result, so be prepared. – Edwin Buck Mar 11 at 14:02
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    +1 for all the details on how to sincerely apologize effectively! – iLuvLogix Mar 11 at 14:14
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    @iLuvLogix Thank you for the kind words. – Edwin Buck Mar 11 at 15:42

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