Externships are similar to internships in providing a professional setting for students to gain valuable insight into a specific career field.  Unlike internships, extern opportunities are extended job shadowing experiences (usually one week), most commonly initiated by students, and are unpaid and not for academic credit.  Externships are a perfect option for students of any academic year who are unsure of their major or career goals.  Formal externship programs are associated with professional schools such as architecture, engineering, medicine, and law where apprenticeship and clinical experience is highly valued or required to advance in the field. 

Curious about a functional role or an industry?  Need to gain experience to help you land an internship?  Externships are a great strategy.  Start by exploring contacts in your own extended network, alumni connections through resources such as the Virginia Alumni Mentoring (VAM) program, and other employer sources to identify organizations of interest for externship opportunities.  Each extern experience is different depending on your interests, the career field, and the particular employer sponsor with whom you extern.

How will this help me?

To launch your career successfully, you must have experience.  By initiating your own extership with an organization of interest, you gain valuable industry exposure and enhance your job search, resume writing, networking, and interviewing skills. Plus, you show your ability to be self-directed, resourceful, and motivated to be in the profession which are qualities employers seek.

An externship gives you the opportunity to:

  • Experience a typical week on the job
  • Investigate a career field of your choice
  • Clarify your career goals and interests
  • "Test drive" a career without the risk of longer-term commitment.
  • Get your foot in the door for competitive internships or jobs
  • Add experience to your resume

What Will I Do?

 Extern experiences vary.  You may spend time in one department or rotate among different departments to get a broad overview. Some examples of what you might do as an extern include:

  • Observe, networking, and working with professionals
  • Take a company tour
  • Conduct informational interviews
  • Join staff meetings
  • Review company literature
  • Assist with clerical tasks
  • Contribute to actual office projects (research, report writing, etc.)

How do I ask an organization about externing?

Your initial approach is vital to getting your foot in the door with an organization.  We encourage you to prepare your professional marketing materials to introduce yourself and contact a prospective employer sponsor by phone. There is one chance to make a good first impression. When you call an employer, you need to be professional; self-assured; to the point; enthusiastic; and convincing.  The UVA Career Center can support you in your preparation and execution of an externship outreach strategy.

30-Second Personal Introduction

Preparation is key.  Imagine calling a potential employer sponsor for the first time and, to your surprise, you reach them directly by phone! They have only 5 minutes to talk with you before they have to prepare for a meeting. How can you make a positive and lasting impression in such a brief time? 

Before you place your first contact call, be sure to have your personal introduction prepared and rehearsed - your Elevator Pitch. Introduce yourself by talking about why you want to shadow this particular company and why this industry is of interest.  Share your strongest skills or leadership experiences. Mention your major if you feel it is clearly related to your career goals.

Will I get paid?

Typically, externships are unpaid. 

Funding Your Externship

Check out Funding Your Internship for scholarship, grant, and awards that may provide ideas for offsetting expenses related to externing. 

Can I receive academic credit?

Due to the short-term nature of externships,  Academic Credit is not an option.

Student Opinions

By spending the week seeing what really goes on at an environmental consulting firm - working in the field, data collection, report preparation, problem-solving - I decided that I wanted to find a job in that field after graduation. I learned qualities of the industry that were really appealing to me: being outside, job variety, solving problems, making a difference for the environment. As a result, I pursued and found employment in the field after graduation. The externship helped me to learn the basics of the language used in the field so that I was more informed while looking for a job and more articulate in interviewing for the jobs that I found.
UVA Student
I decided that I could not work in a museum as a curator. It was very beneficial to have this experience because the reality of the job was much different from the vision I had in college. I found that I wanted to enjoy art, rather than protect it from visitors and acquire it by making deals.
UVA Student