Internship vs. Externship: What's the Difference?

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One of the best ways to position yourself for a job after graduating or a career pivot is to build out your experience. The more experience you have, the stronger a candidate you’ll be. Internships and externships provide an opportunity to add to your skill set, explore new career fields, navigate the business world, and gain professional work experience that you can include on your resume.

The Benefits of Internship/Externship Experience

What you learn during your internship can help you get hired, choose the right job offer, and even stay on at a job. When employers have two equally qualified candidates, the candidate with internship experience is often the person who gets hired, according to the results of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2020 survey. 

Meanwhile, the NACE’s 2020 Internship & Co-op Survey Report notes that the job offer rate was 68% for candidates with internship experience and that those employees stayed longer with the company than those without such experience. In addition, the one-year retention rate for intern hires with internal experience is 68.7%, 55% for those with external internship experience, and 40.3% for candidates with no previous experience.

What Is an Internship?

An internship is a short-term position that provides students and graduates with the opportunity to gain skills and experience in a hands-on work environment.  Internships are available in a wide variety of career fields, including business, technology, education, government, and nonprofit organizations. 

Many internships are arranged through high school guidance counselors, college internship programs, or career services offices. 

It’s also possible to apply directly to employers and set up your own internship experience.

Depending on the organization, internships can be remote or on-site and paid or unpaid. The U.S. Department of Labor has established guidelines that determine when an intern is considered an employee who must be paid.

Internships typically are completed during a college semester or undertaken during the summer or school breaks. They can be full- or part-time, and interns may be able to receive college credit for interning.

What Is an Externship?

An externship is a way for participants to connect their career interests to the workplace, get firsthand experience, and learn how companies operate. Most externships are short-term, but there are some graduate programs, such as law school, that offer longer-term full-time externships.

As with internships, externships can be arranged through a college or set up directly by a participant. 

Short-Term Externships 

Short-term externships provide an opportunity for students and recent graduates to get an overview of an occupation or a workplace without investing a significant amount of time. Participants may observe a workplace, sit in on meetings, and conduct informational interviews with employees.

The duration of an externship can range from a day to up to a few weeks. It’s similar to a job shadowing program, where participants spend a day or two with a professional to learn about a job and a career field.

Externships give participants exposure to a variety of workplaces to help them explore career interests and occupations. Short-term externships are usually unpaid.

Graduate Externships 

Graduate-school programs also provide externship opportunities. These programs are similar to internships and are designed for participants to gain real-world work experience to supplement their education. They are longer-term, credit-bearing, full- or part-time, and may be paid or unpaid. 

The Difference Between Internships and Externships

The purpose of both internships and externships is to provide on-the-job training, resume-building experience, exposure to the workplace, and career networking opportunities. However, there are differences in both the scope and duration of the programs.

  Internships   Externships
Gain skills and experience Get an overview of a career
Work with a team Observe a workplace
Semester or summer program Short-term (days or weeks) experience
May or may not be credit-bearing Typically not for credit
May or may not be paid Usually unpaid

How to Find Positions

Check With Your College 

For college students and recent graduates, the best starting point for finding internships and externship opportunities is your college. Depending on the institution, you’ll find formal internship and externship programs, listings for paid and unpaid positions, and access to alumni you can network with to find an opportunity that matches your career interests.

Search Online

You can also find positions on your own:

  • Jobs site Handshake connects students with employers posting internships, externships, and co-ops, as well as full-time positions. You’ll need a .edu email address to get started. 
  • Search LinkedIn Jobs by checking “internship” as the job type or experience level, or type “internship” or “externship” in the search box.
  • Check for listings on the top job sites by searching using terms such as “internship” and “externship” to find openings. 

Also, check out the best entry-level job sites. Many contain internship and externship postings in addition to full-time positions for graduates.

Tap Your Network

Networking works, too. If your school has an alumni career networking database, request access so you can reach out to alumni in career fields of interest. Also, tap groups from your college on LinkedIn and social media. Alumni are often eager to assist candidates from their alma mater.

How to List Your Experience on Your Resume

When you’ve completed an internship or externship, add it to your resume. It will show prospective employers that you have real-world experience and workplace skills. 

These are valuable assets that will help you stand out as an applicant. Even if you’re not actively job-seeking, adding these experiences to your resume is a good way to keep track of what you’ve done.