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Externship vs Internship: What's the Difference?

By Julian Lewis September 8, 2023

Externship vs Internship: What's the Difference?

You're standing at a crossroads in your career journey, faced with two compelling options: an externship or an internship. You've probably heard these terms thrown around in career counseling sessions, during job fairs, or even amongst your peers. But what do they really mean? And more importantly, how do you decide which is the right path for you?

Understanding the nuanced differences between an externship and an internship is not just academic; it's crucial for making informed career choices. A well-chosen externship or internship can set the trajectory for your professional life, opening doors to networks, skill sets, and opportunities you hadn't even considered. It's about aligning your short-term actions with long-term aspirations.

Whether you're a student stepping into the professional world or a seasoned worker considering a career pivot, this guide will help you navigate the complex landscape of externships and internships. By the end, you'll have a clearer understanding of each, and more importantly, which one aligns best with your career goals.

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What is an Internship?

So, what exactly is an internship? In the simplest terms, an internship is a structured, often temporary work experience where you, the intern, work for an organization to gain practical skills, industry knowledge, and valuable networking opportunities. It's often seen as a rite of passage for students and young professionals entering the workforce.

Typical Duration and Expectations

The duration of an internship can vary greatly, depending on the organization and industry. Most internships last for about three to six months, aligning with a college semester or summer break. Some are even year-long commitments. Here's what you can generally expect:

  • Skill Development: Unlike a traditional job, the focus is on learning and development.
  • Mentorship: Many organizations pair interns with senior staff for more personalized training.
  • Networking: Internships often offer numerous networking events and workshops.
  • Potential for Employment: A successful internship may lead to a job offer, making it a foot in the door for many career paths.

Understanding the basics of an internship can help you navigate your career choices more effectively.

What is an Internship?

What is an Externship?

If internships are the more familiar term, externships might seem like the new kid on the block. So, what distinguishes an externship? Essentially, an externship is a short-term observational learning experience. Unlike internships, externships are often more about learning through shadowing professionals rather than hands-on work.

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Typical Duration and Expectations

Externships usually last for a much shorter period, often ranging from a day to a few weeks. The focus here is more on:

  • Observational Learning: Externs typically shadow professionals, watching them perform their daily tasks.
  • Networking: Given the shorter time frame, externs are often encouraged to network aggressively.
  • Career Exploration: Externships allow you to "try on" a job or industry for a short time to see if it's a good fit.
  • Minimal Commitment: With shorter durations, externships offer a quicker way to experience a profession.

By grasping the essence of an externship, you'll be better equipped to make informed career choices.

What is an Externship?

Key Differences: Externship vs Internship

So you've got a general idea of what an internship and an externship entail, but what are the key distinctions that set them apart? Understanding these differences is pivotal for anyone serious about making an informed decision for their career path. Let's break down some of the most significant contrasts: duration, responsibilities, and compensation.


The first and perhaps most noticeable difference is duration. Internships generally last for a more extended period, often aligning with a college semester or even lasting up to a year. On the other hand, externships are typically short-lived experiences, ranging from a day to a few weeks. If you're looking for a more immersive, long-term experience, an internship might be more your speed. If you're after a quick snapshot of a particular role or industry, an externship could be a better fit.


Another crucial factor is the nature of the responsibilities you'll take on. In an internship, you're expected to contribute to the workplace, often receiving tasks similar to those of a junior employee. Externships, however, offer more of an observational role. You won't be handling projects or deadlines, but rather shadowing professionals to get a glimpse of their day-to-day activities.


Last but not least, let's talk about compensation. Internships are often paid, especially in sectors like tech, finance, and engineering. Even if they aren't paid, many offer other benefits such as mentorship, networking events, and the possibility of future employment. Externships are generally unpaid, given their shorter duration and observational nature.

In summary, understanding these key differences can significantly impact your career strategy. Choose wisely, and either path can become a stepping stone to a fulfilling professional life.

Pros and Cons of an Internship

Understanding the advantages and drawbacks of an internship can give you a more well-rounded view to make the best decision for your career. While internships offer invaluable opportunities, they also come with their own set of challenges. Here's a closer look:

Career Opportunities

Pros: One of the most compelling advantages of an internship is the potential for future employment. Companies often use internships as a "trial run" for potential hires.
Cons: However, there's no guarantee of a job offer, and you could end up feeling like a temporary asset.

Hands-On Experience

Pros: Internships provide real-world experience that can enrich your resume. You'll be doing actual work, allowing you to apply classroom theories to practical situations.
Cons: The flip side is that you may be given menial tasks that don't offer substantial learning experiences.

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Compensation and Benefits

Pros: Many internships offer compensation, and even if they don't, there are other valuable benefits such as networking events, mentorship, and boosting your business acumen.
Cons: Unpaid internships can be financially draining, especially if you have to relocate or forego other paying opportunities.

Weighing these pros and cons can help you better understand what you're signing up for and how it aligns with your career goals. Remember, each internship is unique, and your experience will largely depend on the industry, the company, and even the specific team you're a part of.

Pros and Cons of an Externship

Externships offer a unique lens through which to explore your career options, but like anything else, they have both advantages and downsides. A clear understanding of these can help you make an informed decision on whether an externship aligns with your career aspirations.

Career Exposure

Pros: Externships serve as an excellent platform for career exposure. They allow you to get a quick snapshot of a particular job or industry, helping you make educated decisions about your career path.
Cons: However, the very brevity that makes externships convenient also limits the depth of your experience. You may not gain a comprehensive understanding of the role or industry.

Networking Opportunities

Pros: One of the significant advantages of externships is the accelerated networking opportunities. Because externships are short, organizations often set up meetings, luncheons, or interviews with multiple team members or departments.
Cons: On the downside, the short duration can make it challenging to form meaningful, lasting connections.


Pros: Externships are generally more flexible in terms of commitment and scheduling, which can be great for students or professionals juggling multiple responsibilities.
Cons: The trade-off for this flexibility is often a lack of depth in the work you'll be doing. You'll observe more than participate, which may not suit everyone's learning style.

Taking stock of these pros and cons can guide you in selecting an experience that aligns well with your current needs and future goals.

Making Your Choice: Externship or Internship

You've explored the nuts and bolts of both externships and internships, including their pros and cons. Now comes the pivotal question: which one should you choose? Your decision hinges on multiple factors, so let's examine a few key ones:

Aligning With Your Career Goals

The most crucial factor is how each option aligns with your career goals. Are you looking for an in-depth, hands-on experience that might lead to future employment? An internship is likely your best bet. If you're exploring multiple career paths or need a quick, broad overview, then an externship might be more suitable.

Making Your Choice: Externship or Internship

Assessing Your Current Skills and Experiences

Take a hard look at your existing skill set and experiences. If you're fairly new to the professional world, an externship can offer a no-strings-attached overview. On the other hand, if you're looking to build on your existing skills and possibly parlay an internship into a job offer, that's the route to go.

By carefully assessing your needs and aligning them with your leadership goals, you'll be better equipped to make a decision that not only suits your current situation but also sets you on the path to a rewarding career.

Real-Life Examples and Testimonials

To give you a more tangible grasp of what externships and internships can offer, we've gathered some case studies and testimonials. These real-life experiences can serve as valuable benchmarks for your own career planning.

Internship Case Studies

For instance, Jane, a marketing major, landed an internship at a reputable firm. Over three months, she not only honed her digital marketing skills but also received a job offer at the end of her tenure.

Externship Case Studies

On the other hand, Tim, a pre-med student, took up a one-week externship at a local hospital. The fast-paced shadowing experience confirmed his passion for medicine but didn't offer the depth of a longer commitment.

Both Jane's and Tim's experiences are indicative of what you might expect from an internship or an externship, respectively. By examining these case studies, you'll have a clearer picture to guide your own choices.

Real-Life Examples and Testimonials

Navigating Your Career Path

Choosing between an externship and an internship is a significant step in shaping your career path. Each has its own unique offerings, duration, responsibilities, and benefits. At the end of the day, your decision should align closely with your career goals and existing skill set. The insights and real-life examples in this article aim to guide you through this important choice. For more on how to align your actions with your objectives, don't miss our guide on The Art of Goal Setting.

Read more about: Professional Development

About Julian Lewis

Julian Lewis is a driven and accomplished professional with a passion for driving positive change in the business world. He is the co-founder and COO at Zella Life.

His own experience as a professional of color in a Fortune 500 company led him to discover the limitations for advancement that many professionals like himself face. Determined to reach his full potential, Julian became an established business coach and entrepreneur, committed to supporting others in their pursuit of personal and professional growth.

Today, Julian is a recognized corporate trainer, coach, and leader, known for his ability to leverage real-life experiences and evidence-based methodologies to affect positive change within individuals and organizations. As the leader of Zella Life's coaching division, he is dedicated to empowering individuals and businesses to achieve their full potential.

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