Extern vs. Intern (With Participation Methods and Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you want to explore a new career field or heighten your chances of securing job opportunities, externships or internships can help you gain practical work experience and strengthen your hands-on skill sets. Working as an extern or intern is a short-term training employment opportunity that helps you build your resume and develop a professional network, though each of them has unique features. Learning about the differences between them is important to help you decide which better suits your career goals. In this article, we define an extern vs. intern, explain the differences between them and elaborate on their benefits.

Extern vs. intern definition

Here's the definition of an extern vs. intern to help you distinguish between these two different employment training programmes:

What is an externship?

An externship refers to a short-term programme that provides experiential learning opportunities. People often consider it job shadowing, which allows individuals to follow and closely observe how another employee with professional experience and extensive industry knowledge performs their role. This on-site training programme provides individuals with opportunities to gain firsthand industry experience. Participants may learn substantive expertise beyond the classroom and develop more practical skills and knowledge.

To get a deeper understanding of a position or industry that externs are interested in, they can observe the daily duties of a professional, interview the professional about their career and experience the work environment of their desired role. Sometimes, participants may only conduct job shadowing of another employee for a few days or weeks, without having specific duties. In these cases, externs usually focus on the learning process and network building. Externships may cover a wide range of industries or roles. Here are some examples of externships:

  • Health care: There are many health care externship opportunities for medical students to closely observe the daily duties of health care professionals at a clinic or hospital. Many medical degrees require students to complete an externship to graduate.

  • Legal: Externships provide law students with the opportunity to develop practical knowledge and skills before officially becoming a lawyer.

What is an internship?

An internship refers to a period of training received or completed as a job. It's usually a short-term programme which is particularly designed for individuals who are eager to gain hands-on experience, skills and knowledge in a specific work environment or field. The objective of internships is to complement and strengthen the classroom experiences of individuals through experiential learning opportunities in a real workplace. Interns may share fewer responsibilities and duties compared to other employees. You can also expect to complete many ad-hoc tasks that an employer assigns to test and develop an intern's various skills and knowledge.

Many companies provide internship opportunities for existing students or fresh graduates to identify qualified candidates early. There's often more variation among internship programmes, such as being full-time or part-time and remote or on-site, subject to the needs of an employer. Many schools collaborate with companies to organise internships during semester breaks or summer vacations, especially for more advanced and specialised programmes. You can expect to find internship opportunities in most industries. Some examples of popular internship programmes include:

  • Finance: Financial institutions, such as banks, accounting firms and insurance companies, often invite interns to work in different roles, such as customer service, analysts and administrative roles.

  • Professional services: Many service providers, such as consulting, engineering and design firms, often hire interns to help them learn more about these specialised fields.

  • Technology: Many large technology firms seek interns to identify highly qualified students and convince them to join the company because of the highly competitive nature of the technology industry.

Related: Apprenticeship vs. Internship: What Are the Differences?

5 ways to become an extern or intern

Here are five ways you can seek externship or internship positions:

1. Seeking career guidance from educational institutes

Keep updated with the openings of externs or interns on the websites of career guidance committees or career services offices of educational institutes. Educational institutes usually encourage current students or fresh graduates to participate in experiential learning opportunities to complement their classroom experiences. To assist students in finding an externship or internship programmes to fit their needs, universities often partner with various companies within industries a school specialises in. For example, a university with a famous marketing department may partner with large advertising firms. Universities also often provide career counselling resources to help students figure out their career paths.

2. Referrals

Joining mentorship programmes, activities, exhibitions or talks held by the alumni committee, career guidance committees or career services offices may help you build your business network. You can ask your mentors or other industry participants for industry news and openings for externships or internships. Consulting them about the key concerns and opinions of your desired career is important before trying to enter an industry. Developing a professional network can also be useful for your future career development.

3. Visiting specific company websites

It's important to conduct online research on major industry participants to understand more about your preferred industries. You can create a list of companies that you're interested in joining. Access the career section of the official websites of these companies to see whether any companies are recruiting externs or interns. Carefully examining the job descriptions of any opportunities can help you understand the qualifications, background and qualities of an ideal candidate that a company is looking for.

If there are any openings for externships or internships, process the application procedure according to the prescribed instructions carefully. Perform research on the company and role when preparing your resume. You can add value to your resume by inserting relevant details of your experience or qualifications that may fit the particular role. Consider using a cover letter to better show your personality and how you're an ideal fit for a company's work environment.

4. Checking with job boards and career websites

Job boards and career websites are common ways to find employment opportunities. Ensure to check for any externship or internship openings frequently in the industry that you're interested in. Use keywords with automatic alerts to more effectively identify relevant opportunities. Some specialised job search sites aim to serve particular fields. Ask alumni or industry participants about the details of such websites to get updated information on the industry you're interested in.

Related: How to Give Feedback on an Interview (With Examples)

5. Participating in job fairs

Attending job fairs targeted at specific industries is beneficial if you're looking to learn more about a particular industry or role. Ensure to bring your resume or portfolio that you can pass to recruiters. Consider your answers to various common interview questions before performing a self-introduction or having a conversation with on-site exhibitors. The promotional materials of the job fairs usually include a list of the companies or organisations that plan on setting up a booth.

You can also be proactive and take the initiative by making cold calls or sending cold emails to companies you're interested in. Don't forget to attach your cover letter and resume.

Related: How to Write an Internship Cover Letter (With Examples)

Benefits of externships and internships

Here are some benefits of participating in externship or internship programmes:

Learn about the daily duties in the desired career

Externs or interns can gain hands-on experience and develop practical skills through close observation and direct involvement in work activities. It can also help them understand the typical work environment of an industry. This can help you be better prepared for when you transition into a full-time position in the same industry.

Prepare expectations

Externships and internships provide you with a glimpse of what working a full-time job is like. This can help set your expectations for when you start a full-time role. You can more efficiently onboard into a new role and company and start performing your duties faster.

Related: Tips from a University Career Coach: How to Succeed in a Virtual Internship

Build a professional network

Externs or interns may have regular meetings or conversations with professionals. Asking clarifying questions can help individuals become familiar with a company, role or industry. These connections may help recommend you for open positions after you finish an externship or internship.

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