How To Make The Most Of Your Externship

By Joyce Huber

Total undergraduate college enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased 31 percent from 13.2 million in 2000 to 17.3 million in 2014. By 2025, total undergraduate enrollment is projected to increase to 19.8 million students, according to the National Center For Education Statistics. With more and more students enrolling in college, there will also be more and more college graduates looking for jobs.

Real world work experience opportunities give students job experience while they are still in school and provides an edge for students that will help prepare them for landing a job after graduation. It gives them an advantage over other students. Work experience opportunities include internships, externships, co-ops, and fellowships. For a complete description of each, visit 


While externships sometimes resemble internships, they are generally structured as short-term job shadowing and usually do not include pay or stipends. But they play an important role in allowing college students to explore career options and narrow down career fields and even companies they might want to work for. Because they are short-term assignments, students can easily complete more than one externship, increasing their opportunities to preview career fields.

Externships are a unique opportunity to "put your foot in the water," or "look before you leap," to see what a chosen career is really like. It provides a realistic view of a career field, identifies job skills needed, and helps facilitate career decision making -- all in a short-term, 'day in the life' type setting.

Another benefit is that students can add these externships to their resume. In doing so, it is important to add a brief explanation of learning outcomes, just as you would if you were adding an internship or fellowship to your resume. Sometimes externships will include hands-on training, and that is something valuable to add to your resume.

So, how can you get the most out of your externship? There are several ways this can be done which involve preparation before the externship, focus during the externship, and evaluation following the externship.


Before you accept an externship, prepare a checklist that identifies all the critical aspects you are looking for in a career setting. According to Forbes, "People who are happiest and most fulfilled live what is the perfect job, career and life for them." So, begin my asking yourself what makes you the happiest? What is your passion? What would you be happiest doing the rest of your career? Forbes recommends you make a list of all the jobs you've ever had, then write down what you liked and disliked about each one. Add to this list things you've never done but would like to do. Look at your list to see if the perfect job is emerging.

Most perfect jobs are not your first job, but they are a journey that leads you to the perfect job. When evaluating companies for an externship, look at the company to see if they offer an ideal journey to your dream career. Many candidates look only at the salary. While it is tempting to accept a position that pays very well, it may not ultimately fill your overall career passions.

Look at the corporate climate. Do people seem happy there or stressed? Is there a balance between work and family, or is it demanding and encroaching on family life?

Formulate a list of questions that are important to you about working in your chosen career field and what is important to you about the company. This will determine how well the company is checking off the boxes on your list, and how satisfied and fulfilled you might be in that career field.

Focus during the externship

The externship poses the perfect opportunity for you to learn more about your chosen career field as well as the company. This is where your checklist will be important. Now s the time to put your checklist to work. Refer to your checklist often and use it to gather important information that will help you answer all your questins and evaluate career options. Besides salary, which is something you should never ask about, ask many questions while you are there. Find out how long people have worked there; longevity is usually a sign that people are content with their jobs. Learn what career paths are available, including training programs, and/or tuition benefits if additional schooling is required. Is travel involved? If so, how much?

Be sure to speak with employees from different areas. Talk to people not only in the department where you will be spending your externship, but branch out to others in departments such as human resources, marketing, research and development, and sales. Most jobs will require functioning with other departments, so it is important to understand how your job relates to others within the company.

Also, talk to both those who have been with the company for a long time as well as those who are the "newbies." Each will have their perspective, but you want to make sure it is a positive one. Those who have been with the company for some time may have started in one position and worked their way into their perfect job. Find out how they did it and if they are happy in their chosen career.

Learning as much about the company and the career field itself will help round out your perception of what to expect and the reality of what it will be like to work in this field for the rest of your career.

Evaluation after the externship

During your college years, it is best to experience several externships if you can. Following each externship, evaluate the experience and look at how many boxes it checked off your list. Some people have even created a number value for each box, which ends up giving each externship a rating. Looking at an evaluation on paper creates a powerful visual realization that can help you decide which career field and company is for you.

NOTE: As noted previously, some externships are structured very much like internships. If this is the case, you can learn more about how to make the most of your experience at

These tips will help you make the most of your externship. Externships can pave the way for internships and save you much time and effort to ensure you are focused when selecting an internship. Internships allow for more extensive and up-close, personal association with the company and a deeper view into your field of interest. Externships play an important role toward future enriching work experiences. So be sure to make the most of your externship.



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