The difference between internships and externships

The difference between internships and externships

Internship or externship? That’s a question that popped up recently when I was discussing job opportunities that students and recent graduates should consider looking into. I didn’t really understand how an externship differs from an internship, what its benefits are, and how you find one, especially when restrictions ease once the pandemic ends.

“Though seemingly the same on the surface and commonly confused for one another, internships and externships actually have major differences, including the nature of the role, duration and compensation,” John Ross, a professional tutor who runs Test Prep Insight, explains.

Here is a run-down on the differences between the two:

The duration. Internships typically last from two months to a year, while externships usually last from a few days to a few weeks.

The role. Internships are designed to provide immersive, hands-on experience. “This allows the intern to gain a deeper understanding of the company’s culture, job duties and responsibilities, and how things actually operate,” Ross says. “Externships exist to allow students to shadow a professional. This generally means externships are more observational in nature.”

The compensation. “Internships today are generally paid, although they can be unpaid in certain circumstances, while externships are almost always unpaid,” Ross explains. “This can also mean different employment statuses, as paid internship positions mean you are an employee of the company you intern for, while externs simply shadow an individual or team, never fully enjoying employee status.”

School credit. Many schools offer college credit to students for any internship they complete as long as the internships meet the school’s criteria. That isn’t true for externships, which Ross says “almost never enjoy school credit.”

Ross continues: “In short, externships are shorter-term, unpaid shadowing opportunities primarily used to explore a student’s interests, while internships are longer term ventures, often offering the opportunity of pay, college credit, and perhaps even providing a bridge from college to professional life.”

Christa Juenger, vice president of strategy and coaching services for Intoo USA, stresses that both options offer a valuable way to gain real world experience. “While an externship may not count toward college credit as an internship would, it may allow you to get better sense of whether the role you would like to eventually grow into is right for you,” she says.

As far as resumes are concerned, “Internships show that an applicant has hands-on experience managing certain duties and carrying out responsibilities, while externships can still show a working knowledge of various job functions and a passion for the sector or industry,” Ross says.

Ross and Juenger suggest exploring opportunities for internships and externships (the latter typically harder to land) through job boards, online career websites and your school’s counseling or career office.

“Also, search for companies in your field of interest and reach out directly to their HR departments to express your interest in an externship, mentioning your field of study and how it might apply,” Juenger says.

While researching this topic, I also found Externships.com, an online directory of local and national externships for college students looking for short-term, practical work experiences.