A bird in the hand worth two in the bush?
February 11, 2014 2:19 AM   Subscribe

Two weeks ago, I had an interview for an internship with a huge organization that does exactly what I want to do, got a Masters in, etc. I was offered it and accepted on the spot.

Last week, I had an interview with a much smaller organization that wants to take me on on a freelance basis.

The internship is unpaid. The smaller organization is well-paid. I haven't signed a contract with the internship organization yet, but I am meant to start this Friday. I've signed a confidentiality agreement with the smaller organization, bu not a contract specifying terms of employment yet.

I'm quite frankly, not in a position to do yet another unpaid internship, so it seems like the obvious choice for me is to tell them I can't do it; although the thing that is making me hesitate is that it's this huge organization that I feel might be able to open doors for me in the future. But is this stupid? Should I just tell them I can't do it?

If so, how do I do this? I've never accepted a job and then turned it down before, and I don't know what to say on such short notice.

posted by Enchanting Grasshopper to Work & Money (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The internship is unpaid.

Fuck that shit.

Tell the large company thanks, but someone offered you a paying job, so you're going with that.

However, if you have a situation where the possibility of future opportunities can pay your rent, utilities and other bills, go with the larger company.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:29 AM on February 11, 2014 [10 favorites]

I should probably have included this:

The smaller organization said they can't take me on until I finish the internship- it's 3 months; so I could go join them after the internship is over.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 2:33 AM on February 11, 2014

Wait, so what's changed here? Were you in a position to accept the unpaid internship before this other offer (which will only really be an offer once you finish the internship) appeared?
posted by third word on a random page at 2:58 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd communicate to the larger company that the sticking point is money. See what they can do to resolve that problem. Perhaps there is a solution in there that you don't imagine right now. If they don't budge, then it says a bit about the desire they have for you to work for them, and it may help cement your decision.
posted by 0 answers at 2:59 AM on February 11, 2014

Take the internship for three months. In three months, get ready to go to the larger company and let the internship company know you've been offered a paid position elsewhere. If they can beat it, stay.

To me, internship "experience" is just an indicator to a paying company of how long you'll put up with bullshit and being underpaid for hard work, so it's really not in you benefit to show you're willing to tolerate indentured servitude for more than a few months.
posted by mibo at 3:51 AM on February 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

What mibo said. Take the big company internship, be great and make connections, and then resign with regret 2 weeks before you start the freelancing gig.

However, you sound quite young and freshly minted, so I just wanted to say: don't rely on a freelance gig scheduled to start 3 months from now. Things can change, budgets come and go, and more than one person has been burned in situations like this. Keep looking while interning.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:23 AM on February 11, 2014 [12 favorites]

Take the internship and continue to look for other work. They won't blackball you if you quit on them because you need to eat.
posted by Etrigan at 4:25 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

So let me try to clarify what you're saying:

- You accepted an unpaid 3 month internship with a large organization that you think will be beneficial to your future career, but you don't think you can afford to actually do it because it is unpaid. You want to know how to back out of it.

- The smaller organization's future freelancing offer is irrelevant to the question except for the fact that it is well paid and they will take you on once you finish the 3 month internship at the larger org.

Since the internship is in your field and you think there are connections to be made, I would try to find some way to make ends meet for 3 months and line up the paying job to follow if you can. It doesn't even seem like there will be any faux pas as the internship has a scheduled end date in 3 months. You shouldn't have accepted it if you couldn't afford it, but you really shouldn't back out of it after accepting it unless the situation's truly dire, because that'll make you look bad in front of the folks you thought could be great networking connections in your field.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:27 AM on February 11, 2014

@ treehorn+bunny

No, the smaller organization wants me to start freelancing tomorrow. When I told them about the internship they said I would have to wait until after it's over, as I can't work with them even on a part-time freelance basis while working elsewhere.

Also, neither young nor freshly-minted.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 4:34 AM on February 11, 2014

If you do decide the situation is dire and you must turn it down, I would suggest responding to the large internship org as quickly as possible with something like:

"Dear Internship Supervisor:

I was truly thrilled to receive the offer you made of the internship with your organization. It is a fantastic opportunity for me to apply my skills and to gain hands-on experience in my chosen field. When the offer was made, I verbally accepted because I was so excited about the idea of working with you. I then reviewed the financial facts of the situation more closely after returning home and realized that I simply cannot make ends meet if I do not take a paying job right now. I still would love to start with you as scheduled, but I hope you understand that I have to prioritize being able to afford basic needs. If there is a possibility of working with you for pay, I would still like to start as planned. If not, please let me know, as I regretfully will need to make other employment plans.

sincerely, Enchanting Grasshopper"

I still think it's pretty suboptimal but then again, not being able to pay the rent is pretty suboptimal too. If you have a freelancing gig you can start tomorrow (as I see you clarifying on preview), then I guess you don't have to worry as much about sullying your reputation, as long as you can knock it out of the park and get great references to use for a future real job.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:37 AM on February 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

I should add that upon reading your updates, you seem to actually have two birds in the hand and need to release one back into the bush.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:39 AM on February 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

The smaller organization said they can't take me on until I finish the internship- it's 3 months; so I could go join them after the internship is over.

No, the smaller organization wants me to start freelancing tomorrow. When I told them about the internship they said I would have to wait until after it's over, as I can't work with them even on a part-time freelance basis while working elsewhere.

Then...respectfully and regretfully back out of the internship, and start the freelancing gig tomorrow? Working for pay is more valuable right now that "making connections" via an unpaid internship. (And honestly, in my experience, interns rarely network to the extent they dreamed of, so the opportunity at the large org. is likely not all that.) Treehorn+bunny's script above is great I think.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:40 AM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

echoing everyone regarding taking the paid position, and in a smaller organisation, in a paid position, you'll certainly have more room to grow and not be taken for granted. which should work out better for your career, especially in networking.
posted by cendawanita at 4:53 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Think of it this way; you'll be teaching the large company the important lesson that if you want interns, you need to pay them, or risk losing out on talent. Clearly, they liked you; but unpaid internships need to die as a practice, and maybe this will help nudge them in that direction.

I like the letter outline above. Communicate that you were excited about the work itself, but have to prioritize you/your family's economic well-being.
posted by emjaybee at 5:58 AM on February 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ohhh, now I understand. No, back out of the internship. Screw 'em. Paid gigs beat unpaid gigs.
posted by Etrigan at 6:23 AM on February 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

To add: in my experience, big companies are places where you could end up doing scutwork for years because that's the slot your paygrade falls into. Any place that starts off getting you to work for them for free is not a place where I see a shining future; either they fill their scutwork needs with unpaid interns and then cycle them out and get a fresh batch every three months for free scutwork all around, or they'll shuffle you up to slightly more challenging scutwork at a minimal paygrade when the time is up. Companies that can get people to work for no money don't like paying people to work.
In a small company, not only will you get paid, you'll probably end up covering a challenging and exciting and varied set of tasks, wear several hats, have real responsibilities and learn a LOT.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:39 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

The choice is between paid or unpaid work in your field?? You take the paid work, of course.

The script above is sensitive and true. You did accept out of excitement, and you are backing out because you now realize your budget won't allow you to pass up the other opportunity (unless the first company can pay you.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:46 AM on February 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the feedback, and I apologize for not putting in the part about the smaller company wanting me to start freelancing right away- that was an insanely dumb detail to leave out of the question and then the follow-up. That's what I get for trying to do six things simultaneously.

This has worked out better than I could imagine. I told the smaller company I would join them instead (after receiving all the feedback here). They suggested that I ask the internship if they would let me cut back to a part-time schedule with them so I could do both. I did, and the larger org said yes (I think, because as emjaybee said, unpaid internships absolutely need to die as a practice, and I think the boss of this particular office is well aware of that, especially since I'll be replacing someone who's leaving early because he's found a paid position as well. Unfortunately the organization at large is huge and has people lining up to do unpaid internships, so the I don't know that the practice will go anywhere).

The combination of the these two jobs is a great compromise for me.

Thanks again!
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 9:01 AM on February 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

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