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I'm in a similar situation as this person: Can I terminate an accepted at-will internship before it starts?

I am currently doing an internship at a large company, and I have received a offer for an internship in the same department (under the same manager) next summer. They have given me only two weeks to decide whether or not to accept it.

I'm only a junior in college, so I would like to 'shop' around more before committing to this company again. The deadline makes it a bit difficult for me to make a fully informed decision, because I obviously don't have offers from other companies yet, since they start recruiting in the fall. And yes, before anyone points this out, I do view this company's offer as a backup -- I'm not dying to work for them again (unless I don't get any other offers at all). And I know companies don't like to hear that they are a backup plan. I don't dislike the company; I just feel like at my age/level, since I don't know what I want to focus on yet, I want to try new things.

My question is: how can I minimize damage from retracting my acceptance of their offer? Would I be be better off just declining the offer in the first place and taking the risk of not getting a better internship? I like my manager and he seems to really like me too; I don't want to damage my relations with the company badly.

  • What are your reasons for not wanting to return? Do you dislike the company, or are you looking for something that aligns better with your career goals? – David K Aug 19 '15 at 16:15
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    Related: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/45056/… – David K Aug 19 '15 at 16:25
  • I don't dislike the company; I just feel like at my age/level, since I don't know what I want to focus on yet, I want to try new things. – ZebraSocks Aug 19 '15 at 17:02
  • Minimize the damage by not causing the damage in the first place. Don't accept the offer. Decline and tell them you are interested, but simply can't commit this far in advance. – stannius Aug 19 '15 at 19:17
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I would just say what you said here:

I just feel like at my age/level, since I don't know what I want to focus on yet, I want to try new things.

That is a completely valid feeling to have and any reasonable company would understand that. You can talk about how you like working at the company, how the team is great, how you learned a lot, etc. But otherwise, keep it short and professional. You're not their first intern nor their last. They get it.

Edit: Missed the part about accepting the offer. I would not accept unless you planned to stay. That likely would burn the bridge. Also it is unethical because you are holding an internship spot that could have gone to someone else. Unlike regular positions where they could re-open the position if you back out, internships are time gated and thus you really are taking a position that can't be given out again.

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If not damaging the relationship with the company is important to you, then I would be honest and decline up front. Particularly in internships, there should be no hard feelings in saying that you want to try new things or find a company that better suits your career goals. The entire point of an internship is to expose you to the real world and learn what you do - and do not - like to work on.

However, there would likely be some charred (though probably not burned) bridges if you accept an offer and then decline for another company later. I understand the desire to have a job locked down in case you need it, but it is still very early in the recruitment game and you should have plenty of other opportunities. When you talk to your boss, you could even ask if he would be willing to be a reference for you.

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Unless within two weeks you are able to feel really comfortable with the idea of an internship at that company, don't accept the offer.

Develop a 5 or 10 year plan to make it easier. Then decide based on the experience they provide, and how those experiences in that internship will help you achieve those goals. Just remember, it's just an internship - you have plenty of time to get your dream job. Right now you are just gaining experience in fields that interest you, and gaining references.

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