You received an offer a while back for an internship. It was a pretty good opportunity, with a decent employer. You felt under some pressure to commit – it was the only offer you had at the time, after all – and the company made clear it wouldn’t keep the offer open forever. So, you accepted it. Now, though, another opportunity has come your way – one you like a lot better than the first one. What to do?
Can you renege on your acceptance of the first offer? Well, that’s certainly an option. Should you, though? That’s more complicated.
The fact that more and more students find themselves in this position shouldn’t come as a surprise to employers, since they are largely responsible for creating the conditions that make this sort of dilemma more likely. In the headlong rush to secure top college talent, employers have driven recruiting timelines earlier and earlier. Today, interviewing for summer internship programs at leading banks and investment firms commences as much as a year or more in advance of the internship actually beginning. Offer recipients feel understandable pressure to accept offers quickly (‘encouraged’ now and again by a variety of somewhat coercive tactics from employers). Is it any wonder that at some point in the year between accepting the offer and joining the program, some number of students have cause to second-guess their decisions?
Going back on your commitment to join a particular employer – even as an intern – is not something to be entered into lightly. You will certainly put yourself out of favor with that firm, more or less permanently. And you may do harm to your nascent reputation in the industry in question – assuming you remain in the same general area. Moreover, many colleges and universities – especially in the United States – tend to frown on these sorts of decisions by their students. They feel that students reneging on accepted offers in this fashion harms the school’s reputation with the employers they count on to hire their students, or with alumni (at those employers) that they rely on for donations. Accordingly, some schools even impose sanctions on students who renege.
As a student, therefore, an ounce of prevention in this context is worth a pound of cure. No matter their enthusiasm to secure your signature, leading employers understand that top students have options, and they will tend to respect your prerogative to explore them. Employers will generally be willing to grant you time – within reason – to fully explore the opportunities potentially available to you, provided:
- You are clear and transparent with them about what you’re doing and your decision-making timeline
- You remain responsive and communicative throughout the time you’re deciding on your offer (going ‘dark’ breeds mistrust and is never a good idea)
- If you really don’t intend to accept the offer, you let it go so someone who really wants it can get the seat instead
- Don’t drag it out for an excessive period of time, because this signals to the employer that you’re just not that excited about it, and that will get your relationship off on the wrong foot if you do ultimately decide to come.
As an employer, I want someone to accept their offer because our firm is where they really want to be – not because I pressed them to decide before they were ready. We thought long and hard about you. We expect you to do the same about us.
Jonathan Jones is the head of investment talent development at Point72 Asset Management and a former senior recruiter at Blackrock and Goldman Sachs.
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