Career paths

Externship vs Internship: Which One Is Right For You?

Although they have similar names, externships and internships are different in nearly every way.

Although they have similar names, externships and internships are different in nearly every way. From duration to content to how you should behave, these two programs operate on very different playing fields. We're unpacking all of this and more, so you know everything you need to about externships vs internships.

Basic definitions

What is an externship?

An externship is essentially a short-term job shadowing program. It is designed to expose attendees to a specific company (work environment, culture, etc) or field of interest. To make the most of these experiences, be sure to observe closely, ask questions, and think critically about whether the role or company is a good fit.

What is an internship?

An internship is a hands-on program, designed to provide students with direct experience in a career field. Interns usually receive job training, build upon their skill set, and complete impactful projects. If you find the right program, it will provide valuable experience in your field of interest and give you the opportunity to help a company grow. To make the most of these experiences, be sure to make meaningful connections, exceed the company's expectations, and learn as much as possible. 

What to expect

These programs have very different structures and goals. Read more about the duration, pay, content, and outcome of externships vs internships. 

How long is it?

Externship: These experiences are fairly short, averaging 2 days-2 weeks in duration.

Internship: These experiences are at least a month-long and can last up to a year. Average internships will fall in the 8-12 week range. 

How much will I get paid?

Externship: In most cases, nothing. Depending on the company, your expenses may be covered (travel, lodging, etc), but you will probably not make a profit.

Internship: Just about anything. Internships could be unpaid, offer school credit, a stipend, or a very comfortable wage. This depends on the industry, company, and location of the program.

What will I do?

Externship: These programs are designed to explore a specific career path or company. Therefore, they tend to look like advanced job shadowing-- you'll observe the day-to-day activities at a company, ask plenty of questions, and even engage in professional development sessions. 

Internship: Whether they're full time or part-time, most internships are designed to provide valuable work experience. Learning is hands-on and you are expected to contribute your knowledge, apply and build skills, and help the company grow. This is a rare opportunity for real-world experience, so stay engaged and work hard-- it may even lead to a full-time job offer!

Could I have a future with the company?

Externship: Possibly. Some externships are designed as introductions to a company, and may end with an interview for an internship or full-time role. However, most externships are geared towards industry exposure and role-specific knowledge, not recruitment. While a future with the company isn't out of the question, a direct path to employment is not often provided.

Internship: Probably. Companies want interns who will make a positive contribution to their work and culture. If they don't think you'll be a solid fit, they likely won't give you an internship in the first place. Many companies also offer expedited interview processes to ex-interns, or even full-time jobs (depending on intern performance and company policy). If you 

How to find one

Since these programs are so different, you need a different approach to locating (and landing) each of them. Read more about which you should apply to and how to find the right opportunity.

Who should apply?

Externship: These can be geared towards high school students or college students, since their primary purpose is industry or career introduction. Externship programs are typically marketed to a specific demographic, so double-check for age requirements before applying. 

Internship: These are primarily geared towards college students, especially those entering their junior or senior years of undergraduate. Most employers will list preferred majors, years, and qualifications in the job description, so determining if you're the right fit is pretty straightforward.

Where do I find these opportunities?

Externship: These learning opportunities can be difficult to come by. Here are a few places to start: 

  • Your University. Some universities have formal externship programs, where current students are matched with alumni in various industries. Ask your university career office if this is an option for you.
  • Company websites. Check out individual company sites to see if they have formal programming. This may require some soul-searching (and some research) to determine which companies, industries, or career paths you're interested in. 
  • Your network. Many individuals can find informal job shadowing opportunities by connecting with the right people. Create your own externship by connecting with someone in a role of interest and asking to shadow them. This is particularly effective if you have a mutual connection who can vouch for you (parent, professor, ex-colleague, etc). If not, you may have some luck connecting via LinkedIn. 

👉 Struggling with LinkedIn? Learn how to optimize your profile and get noticed by recruiters.

Internship: Internship programs, on the other hand, are pretty easy to locate. There are countless resources to find the best internship for you. Here are a few places to start:

  • Your University career office. Many colleges offer career fairs, company meet and greets, or other opportunities to meet recruiters and learn about programs. Even during Coronavirus, check with your school about virtual opportunities to connect with companies.
  • University-sponsored job search platforms. Most colleges have connections to comprehensive, student-geared platforms like Handshake. You can be confident that companies on these sites are looking for current students or recent graduates, which eliminates all the postings with crazy experience requirements. These jobs are also less likely to be fake, an issue that arises with many online job boards.
  • Other job search platforms. If you navigate these sites properly, they can be excellent resources. LinkedIn is a great resource for finding real/reliable jobs, but lacks some useful filters (like paid vs unpaid). Indeed has more postings than just about any site, but that also means a higher volume of fake postings. Depending on the industry and company size you're targeting, and the factors you prioritize in a job board, there are a ton of options available.
  • Your network. If you're looking to work for a start-up or small company, or one without an internship program, reaching out to folks in your network never hurts. Find someone at the company you're interested in and, if possible, have a mutual connection put you in contact. If you don't know someone who can connect you, reaching out on your own may still be effective.

👉 Read Next: Is Handshake the best way for students to find jobs?

How to make the most of it

You got into an externship or internship program, but you don't know how to make the most of it. Read more about the steps you should take to have an enriching experience.

How to have an amazing externship experience...

Watch closely. Externships are all about learning through observation. Pay close attention to the way coworkers interact, the way roles are structured, and the culture/values of the company (both stated and implied). 

Take notes. Keep track of the things you observed. If you're paying close attention, there will be a lot to remember, so jot down notes for future reference.

Engage with employees. Meet and chat with as many people as possible. Establishing rapport is important (to make the interactions feel less formal), but ask questions about their experiences at the company as well. Interacting with employees will help you learn about working there and understand how you would fit into the company culture.

Reflect on your observations. After all is said and done, think about the people you met, the things you learned, and the environment you were a part of. Consider both...

  • The roles you're interested in: would you be comfortable and happy working in this position?
  • The company as a whole: did you enjoy the team, culture, and organization?

By doing this kind of reflection, you can learn a lot about yourself and what you want. Since externships are meant to explore companies and career paths, this reflection also ensures the program fulfills its purpose.

How to have an amazing internship experience...

Give it 110%. Every single day, come prepared to apply your knowledge, build new skills, and contribute meaningfully to the company. Say "yes" to new responsibilities and show that you're eager to learn and grow.

To summarize: go the extra mile. It will open you up to new experiences and put you in a great spot for a full-time offer. 

Take initiative. Interning is all about seizing opportunities for growth. If you see a chance to take on a project, make a connection, improve a process, or launch an entirely new idea...go for it! Develop a proposal or plan, if necessary, and take the leap. By taking initiative, you present as a creative, future-oriented individuals with an interest in their company. You show that you're willing to improve yourself and the organization, which is something employers value. 

Learn as much as possible. Learning shouldn't stop after the training program. To make the most of this experience, seize every opportunity to learn about the company, the role, your coworkers, and the opportunities for growth you may have. Another important way to learn: ask your supervisor for feedback on a regular basis. This will teach you to handle criticism, grow your skills, and become a better employee.

Make meaningful connections. This one almost goes without saying, but it's important to develop relationships with those around you. Fellow interns, team members, supervisors, and employees from other departments can all contribute positively to your experience. By forging these connections, you'll have more fun during your internship and expand your professional network.

Keep track of what you accomplish. If you follow the above advice, (hopefully) you'll be able to accomplish a lot. Keep track of the experiences you have, projects you work on, deliverables you meet, and lessons you learn. This list will help you

  • Reflect on real-life experiences in a meaningful way, and
  • Benefit you in interviews down the line. 

Final thoughts

Although internship and externship programs are very different, they both provide incredible opportunities for learning and growth.

During an externship, you have the chance to observe a work environment first hand, chat with employees, and determine whether a career or company is for you. During an internship, you can build valuable skills, meet new people, and have a meaningful impact on a company.

Whether you choose to pursue an externship, an internship, or both, you can create an experience you'll never forget.

👉 Made it to the interview? Congrats! Check out recent interview questions at top companies.

The information provided herein is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide tax, legal, or investment advice and should not be construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation of any security by Candor, its employees and affiliates, or any third-party. Any expressions of opinion or assumptions are for illustrative purposes only and are subject to change without notice. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results and the opinions presented herein should not be viewed as an indicator of future performance. Investing in securities involves risk. Loss of principal is possible.

Third-party data has been obtained from sources we believe to be reliable; however, its accuracy, completeness, or reliability cannot be guaranteed. Candor does not receive compensation to promote or discuss any particular Company; however, Candor, its employees and affiliates, and/or its clients may hold positions in securities of the Companies discussed.