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What Is an Externship (and How to Get One)?

student in an externship looking at whiteboard with professional

Choosing a career path can be difficult and even nerve-racking when you’re applying to jobs but don’t even know what a day in the role would look like. Externships, typically short programs where you shadow a professional, can help give you an inside view of a career before you apply — as well as valuable skills to add to your resume.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

Externship Meaning

An externship is an experiential learning opportunity that usually involves shadowing someone in the workplace.

  • Experiential learning: learning by doing; a hands-on learning experience
  • Shadowing: observing an employee doing their job 

These are usually short programs that give you an inside view of what it’s like to work in a specific professional role at a company — without necessarily having to do entry-level work for the company as you might in an internship.

“Externships are a great way to test drive an emerging interest without a longer commitment,” Sharon Belden Castonguay, executive director of Wesleyan University’s career center, says. “These types of experiences allow you to get brief exposure to an organization, industry, or functional area.”

Externs might:

  • Help a professional perform their everyday work tasks
  • Sit in on a team meeting
  • Listen to a professional as they speak with a client or customer
  • Tour the company and learn about key leaders

Externship vs. Internship

Externships and internships are similar because they give early professionals real-life working experience. However, externships are generally trial, observatory programs that focus on understanding what it’s like to work in a specific professional role. On the other hand, internships are typically more in-depth, longer programs that require you to perform entry-level tasks for a company and work alongside company members.

>>MORE: Internship vs. Externship: What’s the Difference?

Externship FAQs

How long do externships last?

Depending on the program, externships can last anywhere from one day to weeks. They’re typically shorter programs that can be done over a short school break, like winter or spring break, rather than multi-month programs like internships. However, some externships for college or university credit may last longer as you work to complete your degree.

Are externships paid?

Unfortunately, no, most externships aren’t paid. However, while it isn’t common, if you complete one through your school, you may receive course credit. 

What field can I get an externship in?

Any! Professionals from all sectors offer externships. They’re often common in graduate schools, specifically medical and law schools. 

Can I get hired from an externship?

“It depends on the site,” Teri Shigeno, assistant professor who oversees externship programs at Adler University, says. “One of our sites hired a former student as a part-time director of mental performance.”

While it may be more common to be hired at the company you’re an intern (rather than extern) for, an externship can still give you valuable skills and connections that might provide you with job opportunities at that or another company.

Should I put an externship on my resume?

Yes! They may not be as long or in-depth as internships, but that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable learning experiences that teach you skills and industry knowledge. 

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You can list your externship on your resume under your “work experience” section with the company’s name, your title “_____ extern,” and the date range. If you learned any specific skills, you can elaborate on them in the work experience section (usually for soft skills) or add them to your skills section if you have one (especially if you learned any hard skills).

>>MORE: How to Write a Resume With No Work Experience

Why should I do an externship?

  • Short-term commitment: You likely won’t spend your entire summer at an externship. This can free up your time to pursue other interests, certifications, and internships, or to do one on a shorter break.
  • Insider insights: Shadowing an employee gives you an authentic look at a “day in the life” of someone working at a company. 
  • Networking: Externships allow you to connect with the person you’re shadowing and the people you meet at the company.
  • Flexible: Unlike internships, which may be more structured with deadlines, meetings, and guidelines, externships generally have flexible hours and work requirements.
  • Decide what you like (and don’t like): If you’re unsure of what career path you want to go into, they can give you short, inside views to help you decide what professions, companies, and industries you do (and don’t) like.

>>MORE: What to do if you disliked your summer internship.

How to Get An Externship

Two main ways to get an externship are to apply for a program or ask your network.

Apply for a Program

Many schools offer their own externships where students can shadow alumni. Some companies may offer their externships, too. Usually, the application process for these programs is much less rigorous than for internship programs. This is because you’re not expected to do the in-depth work an intern might do. 

“For our clinical internships, students interview at sites,” Shigeno says. “This is not the case for our externship program.”

When applying for an externship, make sure you review all the requirements. For example, some might be only for students in specific class years (e.g., fourth-year student for a nursing externship). Others might involve specific off-hours for shadowing. 

Make a Connection

Because externships are less formal than internships, you can also get one by making a connection and asking to shadow someone. Use your network to find other industry professionals. That might mean asking a friend to connect you with their aunt who works at a company you’re interested in or your professor if they know anyone in the field who might let you shadow them. 

If you make a connection, send a message focusing on learning more about their work before asking about externship opportunities. For example:

Hello Rebecca, it’s so nice to meet you! I’m Sophie, a student at the University of Phoenix studying arts management. My professor, Professor Cunningham, recommended I contact you to learn more about your role at the Polar Theater. I’m passionate about community theater outreach and mission-driven productions and would love to hear more about your work. Are you available to connect Monday or Wednesday this week? I’ve attached my resume for reference.

Because externships aren’t as popular as internships, the person you reach out to might not even be familiar with the term! It’s okay to ask to shadow them and provide the hours you’re available. The worst someone can say is no — hopefully, you’ll still make a valuable connection along the way.

Looking for a remote experiential learning experience? Try out a day in the life of an M&A lawyer, back-end engineer, commercial banker, and more with Forage’s virtual experience programs.

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