If you’re new to the workforce, it can seem daunting to start from scratch. Luckily, there are opportunities to gain experience in a field in the form of an internship or externship. These give future professionals like you a taste of their chosen career, as well as networking opportunities and experience for your resume.
This guide will walk you through all the details of externships vs. internships, including:
- The differences between the two programs
- What an internship is, as well as the pros and cons
- What an externship is, including positives and negatives
- Which is better for your career
What are the differences between internships and externships?
Internships and externships are both professional learning opportunities that allow individuals to experience hands-on work in their field of choice. There are numerous similarities between the two, but some stark differences as well.
Both internships and externships provide hands-on experience, and are short-term in nature. Internships are often longer commitments than externships, typically lasting a couple of months or up to an entire year. Externships, on the other hand, are frequently short-term, lasting a few days or weeks.
An internship provides individuals with practical experience in a field related to their career goals (often with specific deliverables), while an externship is often more focused on observation or shadowing.
Internships may be paid or unpaid, but it's become more common and expected in recent years for internships to provide a living wage and light even offer academic credit. Externships, being shorter-term and more observational, are typically unpaid.
What is an internship?
As an intern, you will likely be treated as one of the team, with real-world job duties. What can you expect as an intern?
- End-to-end projects or deliverables, often with real company impact
- Attendance and participation in team and company meetings
- Working directly with colleagues as part of a specific team
- Learning from more senior colleagues, often including mentorship opportunities
- The possibility of a full-time job offer at the end of a successful internship
The pros and cons of internships
Networking, mentorship, and a possible job offer? Sounds great, right? Of course, like most things, there are pluses and minuses to internships.
A few of the pros include:
- More time to get to know the team, company, and role
- The potential of a job offer
- A higher chance of being paid for your time
- Real experience and accomplishments to add to your resume
- Possible academic credit
On the other hand, there are a few drawbacks, like:
- A full-time offer is not guaranteed, even with top performance
- Even a paid internship likely pays less than a full-time job
- The short-term and entry-level nature means some work may feel boring
What is an externship?
So, now that you understand internships, let’s look at what an externship is. As an extern, you’ll spend a shorter time engaging with a company and own less hands-on work, but still gain valuable knowledge.
An externship may involve:
- Sitting in on meetings to observe (without an expectation to participate)
- Touring offices or facilities to get a feel for the company or department
- Networking in the form of informational interviews or coffee chats
- Shadowing employees as they do aspects of their jobs
The pros and cons of externships
Externships have positives and negatives you should be aware of.
The pros include:
- Less time required, making externships easier for those with demanding schedules or anyone who needs flexibility
- A focus on learning and observation, rather than contributing deliverables
- Externships are a helpful way to “try out” a new career before committing to it
- Networking opportunities with the employees you meet
What about the cons?
- Because the time frame is short, there is less time to learn
- Externships are rarely paid and rarely provide school credit
- You miss out on hands-on, deep experience
Should you include internships and/or externships on your resume?
Yes! Both experiences are excellent resume content, provided you present them in a compelling way. Document your accomplishments, impacts, and learnings, and make sure you showcase the knowledge you gained.
Which is better: an internship or an externship?
You may read this and immediately know the best fit for you is an internship vs. an externship or vice versa. Ultimately, neither option is better—the best choice depends on your needs and what you hope to gain from the process.
If you are looking for college credit, substantial pay, and a months-long opportunity to get your hands dirty in your chosen field, an internship is your best option. However, if you’re not fully committed to a career choice, want to explore, and need something short-term or flexible (with credit or pay being less important), seek an externship.
Whichever choice you make will help you gain knowledge and build skills—setting yourself up for success either way
- While embarking on your career, you may have opportunities for internships and externships. Each choice means a difference in pay, duration, and daily tasks.
- Benefits of working as an intern vs. an extern include higher pay, more time with the company and team, and more in-depth work—with the possibility of a job offer at the end. Cons include no guarantee of either pay or an offer.
- Working as an extern vs. an intern gives you the chance to get short-term, flexible exposure to a career or job, where you can focus most of your time on learning and observing. However, drawbacks include lack of pay or credit, as well as less hands-on work.
- Trying to choose? Think about what’s important to you and what will give you the best chance to learn your new career.