Externship: What it is and how it differs from an internship

Choosing a career path is an undoubtedly challenging task for just about anyone. Many struggle to reconcile their true passions and interests with the pressure to succeed and fear of failure. As we learn and grow, our priorities and goals often change, making settling on one career path all the more difficult.

While the names may feel familiar, there is a big difference between an internship and an externship. Externships—job shadowing programs that allow young professionals to follow experienced employees in the workplace—are incredibly beneficial for individuals struggling to identify a career path because they offer a glimpse into a career before investing time and financial resources in the application process.

Externships provide an opportunity to gain experience in a particular field or industry and help participants access networking opportunities and gain insight into industry culture.

Payscale is here to help you understand what an externship is and the advantages of pursuing one for externs and businesses alike.

What is an externship and what is its purpose?

An externship is a temporary hands-on learning opportunity that usually involves shadowing, or observing, one or several professionals during their typical workday. Externships are short in length, ranging from one day to a few weeks, and available in a variety of fields.

So, do you get paid for externships? Unfortunately, most externships are unpaid, instead providing experience and a so-called “resume boost.” If an externship does offer pay, it’s usually trivial or intended to cover the cost of transportation or meals. It’s common for graduate students to perform externships before committing to a career path, and some receive course credit for doing so.

Externships are low-stakes but come with a high reward. Externs are able to gauge what it’s like to work in a specific role at an organization without having to adhere to a demanding work schedule, perform strenuous work, or sign a job contract.

A successful externship has the potential to result in an offer of employment down the road (although that is more common with an internship). These opportunities also create the potential for valuable networking connections, and invaluable clarity regarding future career goals.

Benefits of externships

Externships are a great way to get an understanding of roles, organizations, and industries without too much commitment, both from externs and employers. Here’s a quick overview of some of the main benefits of externships.

A short term commitment for everyone involved.
An externship probably won’t take up your entire summer vacation. As a result, you have more time on your hands to explore other interests, accomplish certifications, work a paid job, or complete a rewarding internship. The supervisor and the extern tend to benefit from the spare time an externship allows.

An insider’s look at a day in the life of a company.
Observing a career employee in their daily routine provides you with an authentic glimpse into the ins and outs of a certain role or organization, including work culture, scheduling, and more.

Plenty of networking opportunities.
One of the most underrated benefits of an externship is that it connects growing workers or students in need of career support with seasoned professionals. The extern and the program leader or supervisor are likely to form a working relationship that may be difficult to acquire outside of an externship. However, an extern also has the opportunity to connect with other people working for the business, too.

Flexibility and less commitment than internships.
The brief exposure to an organization or industry that an externship provides to a budding professional is the perfect way to test drive an emerging interest without making a longer, riskier commitment. Gap years, internships, and entry-level jobs are other ways to gain experience, but they are less flexible and require more commitment.

What do externs do?

Most externships involve several basic responsibilities. For starters, externs often receive the opportunity to tour the organization’s office or the department where they work. Sometimes, an extern is awarded the privilege to sit in on non-confidential meetings with their supervisor in order to learn how the business operates, how staff makes decisions, and how team dynamics play a role in the office.

On a day-to-day basis, externs shadow a supervisor as they perform daily operations and tasks —observing a professional’s job duties serves as a unique chance to learn more about the ‘real-world’ applications of business outside of the classroom.

Throughout an externship, businesses often encourage externs to ask questions in order to gain a deeper understanding of their role, what it takes to break into the field, and what challenges and advantages come with working in the select industry. Like any career development program, an externship is whatever you make of it.

How long can an externship last?

Externships range in duration. Some last for just one day, while others last weeks. Generally, most externships are short-term, making them more suitable for school breaks than longer programs like internships. If an extern is completing their program for school credit, the duration may last up to the full length of a term or semester.

What are the differences between an internship and an externship?

An internship is a several-month-long paid or voluntary position with a business for someone seeking to learn more about a profession and industry through hands-on experience. Although the concept of an internship is similar to an externship, the two come with different responsibilities.

Whereas an extern observes one established industry professional, an intern typically completes more involved, entry-level tasks in an independent program through the organization. (However, it’s important to note that interns are not entry-level employees.) Externships are usually shorter than internship opportunities, which is why they’re so commonly sought after over breaks from school.

Below, we’ll delve into the key differences between an internship and an externship.

  1. Duration
    Internships are extensive programs that tend to last weeks or months, coinciding with summer break or the school year’s schedule. They are full-time or part-time. Externships, on the other hand, are a briefer time commitment. Externs usually work anywhere from one day to eight weeks.
  2. The condensed nature of an externship allows students to complete several at once, during the school year or during a shorter period of time off, such as winter break, to compare and contrast different roles, organizations, work environments, and industries to determine which is the best fit for their career path.

  3. Structure
    Externs experience many different parts of a job in a short amount of time. They are presented with unique opportunities for learning, including shadowing a supervisory professional, attending meetings and conferences, and collaborating with a professional team.
  4. Interns, on the other hand, perform more routine daily tasks over a longer period of time. For example, interns may undertake entry-level projects of their own. While these experiences are both training programs in a sense, internship programs typically involve more real-life practical experience.

  5. Depth
    Overall, internships are more in-depth than an externship program. Internships involve a substantial, comprehensive level of engagement for a longer period of time, whereas externship experiences offer a brief, observational experience that paints a more generalized picture of an industry or profession.

    Due to the difference in depth of each type of opportunity, externship opportunities are well-suited to help a student decide whether to hone in further on an industry or profession by performing an internship, while internships are better suited to help students understand whether a specific job or organization is right for them.

  6. Compensation
    Payment for externships and internships depends on organization policies. There are different types of compensation offered to interns—some are paid, while others are voluntary or for college credit.

    Paid internships are typically more intensive than unpaid internships. There are usually certain requirements that internships must fulfill to be paid or worthy of school credit for college students, such as additional coursework. Externships are almost always unpaid due to their short time frame and more-limited depth of responsibility. Some externs earn academic credit like interns do.

  7. Employment
    Both internships and externships are valuable opportunities that prepare students and aspiring professionals to select a career path and find success. Participating in either an internship or an externship, or preferably both, raises the chances of finding employment soon after graduating. As for whether internships and externships are considered forms of employment: some internships are, but externships are not.

A final word

Externships are a mutually-beneficial arrangement. Interns get to explore career options and gain valuable insights, and organizations have special access to potential talent and an opportunity to support the next generation of young professionals.

More specifically, externs have the opportunity to gain first-hand exposure to an industry or profession, interact and build connections with professionals in their prospective field, acquire an in-depth understanding of the inner workings of an industry, develop vital professional skills, and enhance their resume. These opportunities may help externs to make informed decisions about their future, gain mentors and references, discover future opportunities, and become stronger communicators.

Organizations that offer externships benefit from exercising an effective talent acquisition strategy, building their reputation with schools and community members, sharing industry expertise and best practices, and receiving new perspectives in the office. These benefits serve to create a pipeline for internships and employees.

FAQs about externships

Can an extern get hired from an externship?

Yes, it’s possible for an extern to get hired. While the short, observational nature of externships makes a job offer unlikely, there are always exceptions. If an extern demonstrates strong skills and a proactive attitude and meshes well with the organization’s culture, they stand a chance. Several specific factors affect the likelihood of a job offer, including the extern’s performance, networking and relationships, and immediate job openings.

Unlike internships, externships usually don’t offer payment to students. Most externships focus on providing students with valuable experience and exposure to a field or job. The main goal of an externship is to help a student decide whether or not to pursue a potential career path.

Within the medical field, there are both externs and residents. An extern is a medical student who participates in a short-term learning program or helps in a hospital or medical facility to learn about several different medical specialties. A resident is a graduate of medical school who holds a degree and is undergoing specialized training in a chosen medical specialty using their license to practice medicine under supervision.