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An “Extern”-al Inside Peek
An externship is much like an internship, that is, it’s a relatively short-term form of on-the-job training that introduces you to the inner workings of a particular business or industry. Unlike an internship, which lasts several weeks or months and is sometimes paid, an externship is much shorter and often unpaid. The upside? It’s an ideal way for working mothers to get a fast-and-furious inside look at a variety of businesses to help make informed career decisions.
How an Externship Works
An externship provides an opportunity to spend a few days job shadowing within a business or industry. Unlike an internship, in which you’ll be expected to work in an employee-like capacity, an externship allows you to observe, ask questions and get a broader picture of how different departments work. You aren’t likely to do much hands-on work, get paid or earn college credit, but you will get a rapid-fire corporate overview, and you can use an externship as a stepping stone to the more formal internship or even a job.
Benefits of an Externship
If you’re exploring different career options, a series of short-term externships can help you get a better idea of what the daily workings of different fields look like. You’ll also meet a lot of people, make valuable contacts and become better educated about the types of careers that appeal to you. This can help reduce the potential of pursuing a pricey education or a career path that you might not be suited for.
Where to Find Externships
Some companies have formal externship programs that you can apply for, generally through human resources. Others have a less formal job shadowing policy, in which you can ask to sit in with a certain division or specialty area for a few days. Community centers, career and technical training centers and higher education career counseling staffers can also be good resources for tracking down appropriate opportunities.
If you have a friend or relative working in an industry you find appealing, employ them to advocate on your behalf for a day or two of on-the-job shadowing.
Making the Most of Your Externship
Have a clear idea of what you want to get out of an externship before you start. Do you want to quietly observe, be paired with a staffer for an average day’s work, or have an opportunity to observe and then ask questions? Do you want a full company overview, or would you rather focus on a particular area, like accounting, graphic arts or customer service? Be upfront about what you want to achieve, so you can make the most of your time.
Take a lot of notes before, during and after your time in the office. Make note of the pros and cons of the industry and the things you liked and disliked. This will help you evaluate your findings once your externship is complete.
Be Professional and Courteous
Not only do externships provide you with a wealth of information, they can pave a path forward to bigger things. Be professional and courteous during your training and follow up with people you meet after the fact. Write thank-you letters, and if you like the people and the company, ask to be kept in the loop if a more official employment opportunity becomes available. You may find people willing to serve in a mentor capacity, or otherwise guide you and offer educational and professional advice as you advance in your career.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.