Internships at a glance
An internship is a voluntary or paid position at your company that someone who’s learning a skill or profession takes on to gain experience. Internships last for an extended period of at least two months, but usually longer. You’d typically hire an intern who’s in their final year of school for credit, but the role is also sought-after by recent graduates.
An intern’s duties might include:
- Working alongside team members to complete a project
- Getting directly involved in substantial, meaningful tasks to get a realistic insight into the work environment
- Learning a company’s primary business functions
- Networking with clients
- Contributing to team meetings
Externships at a glance
Externships differ from internships a little, primarily because it isn’t a hands-on role. Instead of participating directly, externs shadow a professional and observe their daily duties. This type of program is much shorter than an internship, lasting for one day to a couple of months, at most. It’s easy to hire an extern at any time of year, but winter or spring break are favorite times among candidates.
An extern’s duties might include:
- Learning the organizational structure of a company
- Networking and observing industry professionals
- Sitting in on staff meetings
- Studying company documentation of processes and procedures
- Asking questions
What’s the difference between an internship and an externship?
Most importantly, an externship is an unpaid position that doesn’t usually count towards academic credit. It also doesn’t count as employment because the candidate’s duties are so limited and the role is very short-term. On the other hand, internships can be considered part-time employment if the position is paid.
Unpaid interns tend to benefit from receiving college credit in return for the work they do. A paid intern is essentially an employee, and they complete the same tasks as the other people working for your organization.
For an internship to count towards academic credit, the position must meet an institution’s requirements. As such, you might need to dedicate more resources to defining and structuring an intern’s role compared to that of an extern.
Externship vs. Internship summary
Below is a quick breakdown of the differences between an internship vs. externship:
- There for at least eight weeks
- Paid a salary or hourly wage—or counts towards college credit
- Enters an employment agreement
- Completes tasks independently
- Has designated duties and responsibilities
- Usually works in one department
- Could lead to full-time employment
- There for as little as one day
- Not an employment agreement
- No deliverables
- Usually tied to shadowing one leadership team member
- Solely observational with no specific duties
- Can shadow a professional across different departments
Benefits of internships to employers
The most obvious benefit of an internship to employers is the opportunity to use the process as a way to hire excellent candidates. And even if it doesn’t lead to a hire—or you don’t currently have space for one—you still benefit from the input and perspective of a hard-working, curious student. Other benefits include:
- Talent acquisition pipeline
- Increased productivity
- Costs less than a full-time employee
- Increased loylty from hires who started as interns
- Bolstering the local workforce
Benefits of externships to employers
Externships offer slightly different benefits because they cost nothing to you as an employer but you also don’t benefit from an extra pair of hands. That said, curating an extern program provides an unparalleled opportunity to watch candidates in action. Instead of trusting the interview process or a single trial shift, you see the bigger picture of how each person works. If you’re looking to hire a junior team member, it could be a great way to approach the situation. Other benefits include:
- Builds the professional who’s supervising the extern’s confidence and training experience
- Helps develop and shape the future workforce in your local community
- Increases company awareness at colleges
- Lets the community know about your business
How should employers approach interns and externs?
Aside from the duties and responsibilities you assign them, you should treat interns and externs pretty similarly. Students taking on either role are likely to be eager to learn and willing to tackle tasks, but you can also learn from having them in your organization.
Let’s take a look at some best practices when approaching interns and externs.
Delegating is more relevant to interns because they’re there to learn while on the job. Make sure someone spends enough time training them on tasks so they’re confident and competent enough to complete work independently.
You might use the opportunity to let a newly promoted supervisor or manager take the reins and demonstrate their capabilities at delegation.
Having an intern or an extern is an excellent way to gather impartial feedback from someone with a fresh perspective. Often, the people filling these roles are students with the most up-to-date industry knowledge and an academic eye for detail.
Despite their lack of experience, their opinions and observations are likely to be insightful, useful and actionable. Ideally, provide every intern and extern with an entry and exit questionnaire to gather key feedback about their experience.
Internships and externships provide excellent opportunities for your business with regards to daily operations and overall reputation. They also allow your team to flex their muscles as mentors. Watching how employees interact with an intern or extern is a great way to spot potential for promotions.
Being able to inspire, encourage and teach colleagues is a skill, and having an intern or extern in the mix can highlight your workforce’s strengths and weaknesses.
For example, a journalism student with a special interest in broadcasting might ask their production teacher if they have contacts at the local news station. In many cases, professors or teachers at universities and colleges work part-time at the school and part time in the field. Your professor may be the person you can shadow as part of your externship if their job outside the classroom is one that interests you as a career choice.