Summer Internship Indecision
March 18, 2011 8:57 AM   Subscribe

How bad is reneging on accepting a summer internship offer? Your advice please!

I'm sort of in a pickle.

Recently I accepted a summer internship offer (at a rather large investment bank in NYC) with full intentions of participating in their program. They sent me the offer letter, I signed it and sent it back to them. The offer letter specifies that either party may terminate the internship at any time for any reason.

Two days after I accept the offer of LargeInvestmentBank, another internship I had previously applied & interviewed for extends an offer to me. This is also a financial institution, regional, not as large as LargeInvestmentBank, but has a long history and good reputation. At first I thought, oh, I already accepted the other offer, so I'll just tell them I can't go. Before I can do so, my interviewer calls me up (multiple times), tells me he was very impressed with me, and promises that he would make it a worthwhile summer if I would join his group.

As a result, I am now very anxious, and seriously indecisive about this.

Pros of LargeInvestmentBank:
- Location (I like NYC. A lot.)
- Salary (double that of the other offer. Money is definitely not the main concern, but as I hope my good performance might earn me a full time job offer later, I am worried that my internship salary may be indicative of my full time salary.)
- Size (I'm still unsure that I want to continue to work in this field later. People have told me that it's good to start with a large company to get the feel of the work.)

Pros of OtherOpportunity:
- The people (Interviewer specifically asked for me, and seems enthusiastic about working with me. We've had really good communication so far. By contrast, communication with LargeInvestmentBank has been spotty. Though to be fair, the communication at LargeInvestmentBank has been with HR, and my interviewer there is actually quite helpful the two times I've talked with him.)
- Size (group is small, so probably better chance of actually making a difference.)
- Work (The work is more complex than the other internship, and this work is directly related to the main function of the institution. At LargeInvestmentBank, I'm working on something peripheral. The work is actually above the level of work typically given to interns. Though at this point, I'm not really sure if I want to later go into this field at all, so I don't know how much weight this carries.)

The people at OtherOpportunity knows my situation. Someone there I've talked to tells me that it's not unusual for someone, even after accepting an internship offer, to say that they can't come because of A, B, C. I'm not sure how true that is. This is actually my main concern. I tend to be someone who keeps their word, even if the offer I signed isn't absolutely binding. If it wasn't for the fact that I already took an offer, I think I might have went with OtherOpportunity.

I'm reluctant to go back on my word with LargeInvestmentBank, but I feel sort of guilty, as my interviewer at OtherOpportunity has put in serious effort with keeping in touch with me, have been effusive with praise&how much they want me to join them this summer, etc.

Please help me resolve this situation gracefully. Is it acceptable to tell LargeInvestmentBank that I no longer wish to participate in their program? If so, how? If not, how do I sincerely convey to my interviewer at OtherOpportunity my appreciation for the opportunity he is offering, even if I will not be going?

(Anonymous because it is a delicate situation.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total)
//The offer letter specifies that either party may terminate the internship at any time for any reason. //

You already answered your question. You are not the first intern in history to get multiple offers. I would guess it's fairly common for the top candidates. Politely decline the one you don't want (in writing) and enjoy 80 hour weeks in the investment banking field ;)
posted by COD at 9:06 AM on March 18, 2011

You should choose the firm that has the values and the work that you most appreciate. Do not be swayed by reputation and big names. Be polite and gracious (but not long-winded!) and decline the offer if you prefer the other offer.

Also don't worry so much! Sheesh! First of all, this is your life, do what you want with it. And also I will tell you a secret: saying no to people only makes you more valuable to them.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:10 AM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't feel that it is possible to give you a good answer unless we know the nature of the jobs.
posted by demagogue at 9:33 AM on March 18, 2011

I will say: if you feel strongly about the nature of the work at one place or another, or very very strongly about the people you have met so far -- that is definitely one of the most important things to consider. However, it is not uncommon to "schmooze the summer students" very differently than the actual work environment, and you don't know yet what you will actually be doing. I guess what I'm saying is: CompanyBrandName and TwiceTheAmountOfPay are somewhat more objective characteristics.

However, if it's something like back office IT support at LargeBank vs. equity research at SmallInstitution, well then...
posted by demagogue at 9:41 AM on March 18, 2011

Yes - we really need to know more about the jobs.

If they are both front-office jobs you really should take the internship in NYC.

If you do choose to back out of the NYC job the only repercussion will probably be exclusion from full-time hiring at that bank. Also if you did this through your schools career center they will probably be pissed.
posted by JPD at 9:42 AM on March 18, 2011

My sister faced a similar dilemma, and went with the internship at the smaller firm. She's 3 years post-graduation now, and is a senior manager at said smaller firm.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:53 AM on March 18, 2011

Mod note: From the OP:
"Sorry for not including this information before: my internship at LargeInvestmentBank is for a technology analyst position, my work with OtherOpportunity is in a group that does risk analysis/management. At LargeInvestmentBank I would be placed into a group, based on my preference and which group needs people. (I would prefer quantitative analysis over algorithms). I would prefer work (both in terms of this summer and later) that is strongly mathematical in nature. My interest is more in the math, and less in the finance, and I'm not entirely sure that I want to continue straight down the InvestmentBank path at this point. If it matters, my undergraduate education is in applied mathematics."
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:11 AM on March 18, 2011

You're getting a hard sell job from otheropportunity. They're doing a great job to sell you but it really doesn't mean that the work you will do at largebank will be less important or challenging. Generally largebank means huge huge tech division with an enormous variety of roles and positons. The idea that a tech position will be peripheral to the work of the intitution is quite likely misguided, the work to do risk analysis requires probably at least twice as many techs as analysts for anyone doing it well.
That being said, if you're ok with the likelihood that you won't be able to interview for largebank again next year, go nuts if the other opportunity is really your desire.
posted by ch1x0r at 10:23 AM on March 18, 2011

It's not a big deal. Things happen. Choose the one you want, and be as polite and professional as possible in declining the other. Just make sure you don't burn any bridges this early in your career.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:26 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Apart from the fact that OtherOpportunity is recruiting you hard, would you actually prefer to be there? If you would, go there. But if things are basically equal in your mind, you might as well stick with LargeInvestmentBank.

One thing: there's no need to feel guilty about turning down OtherOpportunity, if that's what you decide to do. The fact that they're recruiting you doesn't mean you're obligated to accept!
posted by J. Wilson at 12:51 PM on March 18, 2011

By "technology analyst", I assume you mean "An Analyst-level position in the Technology" division, or something similar, rather than "Someone who does research on the technology industry". In which case - do you know what sort of thing you will be working on? Large investment banks can have gargantuan IT departments. You could wind up solving really interesting problems like "how do I get realtime market data out to X traders here and Y traders on the other side of the Atlantic without overloading anything", but they might be primarily interesting engineering problems rather than interesting mathematical/quant problems. This can vary a lot depending on the group. In your position I would be trying to find out as much as possible about the specifics of what I would be doing.

If you're worried about burning bridges, if the contract specifically says that the contract can be terminated at any time by either party then I don't think it should be a huge deal to politely decline, particularly if you explain that you had a more attractive offer.

If you're worried about how it looks on the CV, I think it depends what you wind up doing. Personally I tend to be more impressed by CVs which state concrete deliverables delivered, rather than vague wording about "worked in group X on thing Y", regardless of the field they were in, but then again I've never seen anything in a candidate's CV that they couldn't potentially sway me on in an interview.

(I have been known to work for financial institutions of nontrivial size.)
posted by doop at 7:29 AM on March 19, 2011

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