What Is An Externship? (And How To Get One)

By Chris Kolmar - Jan. 13, 2021

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When you’re looking to take your textbook knowledge and apply it to the real world for professional experience, you probably immediately think of getting an internship. While internships can be great ways to build your resume and get real experience in a company, did you know that externships can get you similar results in different ways?

Everyone knows what an internship is, but externships can be just as beneficial for your career and even fit your path better. If you’re a college student looking to deepen your classroom knowledge, an externship opportunity might be just the thing you’re looking for.

No matter what field you’re in, what major you’re studying, or how your semester schedule looks, there’s an excellent externship opportunity out there; you just have to find it.

To make things easier for you, we’re going to take a look at what an externship is and how it’s different from an internship so you can decide if it’s the right professional opportunity for you. We’ll also give you a few tips on how you can land one, so keep on reading.

What Is an Externship?

Like internships, externships allow you to work with a company and learn about how they do their business in an intern-like role. In an externship, you can expect to align your studies closely with the professional experience that you gain.

Externships typically take place during the academic term alongside your courses. Since they align with your academic schedule, you can sometimes get an externship as part of a class or through your college.

Externships have a much stronger tie-in to whatever you’re studying, and they try to supplement what you’re doing in the classroom as you work on real world problems with a company.

Every externship looks different, and it’s up to you to either find one that fits your needs or negotiate with a company. Usually, an extern will focus on shadowing professionals or sitting in on corporate functions.

You might also be asked to handle a project and have a specific deliverable by the end of your work with the company. There are many different ways to create and execute an externship, so feel free to shop around and find one that fits your needs.

Externships tend to be more flexible and malleable than their internship counterparts, making them a great way to get professional experience in any situation. They tend to be less formal, meaning companies don’t usually set up externship programs in the way they would have an internship program that recruits each spring and works with students each summer.

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Since externships are more flexible, you can work with your potential supervisor to find a program that works for both you and the company. You can negotiate the timeline, decide what you’ll be working on, and adapt the externship to complement your learning.

Internship vs. Externship: How Are They Different?

While internships and externships seem almost identical at first glance, there are a few key differences that set them apart. Take a look at these differences so you can decide whether you want to pursue an internship or externship opportunity:

  • Time of year. Externships tend to take place during the academic year, so during the fall, winter, or spring. Internships are usually summer programs, so if you’re looking to get professional experience during the school year to line up with your coursework, externships can be a better option.

  • Duration. While internships are usually more formal months-long programs during the summer, externships can be anywhere from a day to an entire semester. If you have constraints that would prevent you from committing to an internship for a few months during the summer, externships can be much more flexible.

    You can arrange any timeline with an externship, so you can squeeze in a week of shadowing or a month of experience as it fits your schedule.

  • Format. Internships can be highly structured, like at big corporations where they have a robust internship program preset and repeated each year. While this might be beneficial for some people, others might prefer flexibility or less responsibility. Interns usually work alongside employees and help them advance the company’s work and interests.

    Externships are more experiential and can provide an opportunity to see a company from the inside and observe, which is great for people just starting out on their professional journey.

    You can use an externship as a chance to explore a field or a company, but internships are more about building substantial professional experience and work history in a particular field or industry.

  • Flexibility. Externships tend to be less rigid than some internship programs, so you have the chance to work with a company and design your perfect experience.

    Whereas internships might have you working at a desk and attending meetings, you could create opportunities to shadow key figures in a company, attend conferences, or practice important tasks of employees in an externship.

  • Pay. Something that’s always on students’ minds is finding a great opportunity that pays well while providing a chance to learn and grow professionally. Internships can be paid or unpaid, but externships are usually unpaid.

    Internships typically require more work from the intern since they work alongside employees to achieve company goals, but externships are more of a shadowing opportunity.

    You normally aren’t expected to make significant contributions to the company during an externship, so they’re usually unpaid. That’s not to say that externships aren’t useful, since you can gain experience you wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else and help you decide whether you want to pursue that particular career path.

  • Depth. Externships are great for students who want to try out many things instead of dedicating a whole summer to interning at one company. You’ll get great beginning exposure to a company, industry, or role as an extern, but you won’t get as much in-depth understanding and practical training as an intern would.

    Think about what your goals are in pursuing a professional opportunity before chasing down an internship or externship.

  • Experience. Usually, externships are meant to coincide with whatever theoretical or classroom knowledge you’re learning in school. This means that they’re an excellent opportunity to test out your lessons in real-time in the real world.

    On the other hand, internships are less about what you’ve learned in school and more about the professional and personal skills you’ve developed. You can practice and gain more hard and soft skills as an intern typically than as an extern.

While there’s significant overlap between internships and externships, their fundamental differences make it essential to choose which one is best for you. Ultimately, it comes down to what your needs and experience are.

Landing an internship without any exposure to a profession can be difficult, but having related externship experience helps you stand out to a company when you apply for an internship.

Remember that just because you choose one now doesn’t mean you’re excluded from the other in the future. Externships are an excellent way for high school students or college students in their first year to learn more about a profession or a field before they choose a college or declare a major.

Starting with a few externships to narrow down what role you want or what industry you want to work in can make your internship search easier in the future. Externships also fit in easily between the end of the school year and the start of your internship, so there’s always a way to make them work together.

How Can You Get an Externship?

Since externships tend to be less rigid than internships, there are more ways you can go about landing one. If you decide to seek out an externship opportunity, these are a few good places to start:

  • Talk to your professor. If you’re very interested in one of your classes, talking to your professor about how people use what you learn in the classroom in the real world is a great start.

    You can learn more about what kinds of industries, professions, or jobs require the knowledge you’re learning and see if your professors have any connections.

  • Career services. Visit your school’s career center to see if they have any opportunities for you. Often local companies or alumni of the school post professional opportunities for current students.

    If you don’t find any existing roles, ask for an alumni directory and find someone who works in a field you’re interested in. You can reach out to them and ask about creating an externship opportunity.

  • School clubs. Sometimes the clubs at your school, especially pre-professional ones, have contacts or opportunities available to students. See if any relevant club knows about externship openings or professionals who would be willing to take on an extern.

  • Networking. The best way to land an externship (since they’re so informal) is to get networking. See if your parents have connections to people in roles you’re interested in, or reach out to people on professional sites like LinkedIn. You should be able to find people who are willing to create an extern role and mentor you.

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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