Organizational Wellness

Externships vs. Internships: The Key Differences and Benefits, Explained

Jun 16, 2023
Last Updated May 30, 2024

College students and young professionals often seek valuable work experience when entering the workforce. 

Both externships and internships offer exposure to real-world work settings. However, there are differences — duration, structure, and learning outcomes — that can impact your organization's approach to these programs.

As an HR professional, understanding these differences is crucial for making informed decisions that align with your company's goals and resources. Here’s what makes externships and internships distinct, and how each opportunity can benefit both your organization and the young professionals involved.


What is an Externship?

An externship is a short-term work experience program that offers participants a glimpse into a specific industry or career path. Externships tend to focus more on job shadowing and observation rather than hands-on work.

Typical Duration and Structure

Externships usually last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, making them a shorter commitment than internships. Participants typically spend their time observing professionals in their field of interest. They might attend staff meetings, learn about specific tasks, and observe the company culture and daily operations.

Common Goals and Objectives

Externships are designed to provide externs with a realistic understanding of a particular job or industry. Externs explore potential career paths, build professional networks, and gain insights into the qualifications required for success in their field.

Level of Hands-On Experience

Externships generally offer limited hands-on experience, focusing more on learning through exposure. This makes them excellent for individuals who want a high-level understanding of a specific career without committing to a longer program.

Compensation and Benefits

Since externships are shorter in duration and primarily observational, externs may not receive compensation or benefits. However, some organizations offer stipends, college credit, reimbursements, or other perks to help cover costs associated with the program.

Benefits of an Externship for Employers

Externships cultivate talent and build relationships with potential future employees. Some of the key advantages of implementing externships in your organization include:

  • Talent pipeline development: Externships allow you to identify and engage with promising candidates early in their career journey, potentially leading to a robust talent pipeline for future hiring needs
  • Low-cost recruitment strategy: As externships are shorter and typically unpaid, they can serve as a cost-effective way to assess the potential fit of candidates without committing to a full-time job offer.
  • Increased brand visibility: Hosting externship programs helps increase your organization's visibility and reputation within the industry, making it more attractive to top talent.
  • Stronger community ties: Offering externships can strengthen your organization's relationships with local educational institutions. This can foster mutually beneficial partnerships and collaborations.
  • Enhanced employee engagement: Involving current employees as mentors or supervisors in externship programs can boost staff engagement and give a sense of purpose as they contribute to developing the careers of future professionals in their career field.

What is an Internship?

An internship is an in-depth, experiential learning program that allows participants to gain interactive, hands-on experience in their field. Internships build the necessary skills and knowledge for interns to succeed in their careers while contributing to the organization's goals.

Typical Duration and Structure

Internships can last from a few months to a year, depending on the organization and the program. For example, students may participate in summer internships before starting a new school year. They may work part-time or full-time, taking on projects and tasks related to their area of interest. They are often assigned a mentor or supervisor who provides guidance and support. 

Common Goals and Objectives

Internships to provide practical experience in a chosen field. Interns also build their professional networks and learn more about the industry in which they hope to work.

Level of Hands-On Experience

Internships offer a high level of hands-on experience, allowing interns to actively contribute to organizational projects and tasks. This is a valuable learning opportunity and a great way to build up their resume for future full-time roles. 

Compensation and Benefits

Internships can be paid or unpaid, depending on the organization and program. Some companies offer a stipend, hourly wage, academic credit, or future employment. HR professionals should be aware of local labor laws and regulations when designing internship programs to ensure compliance with any applicable requirements.

Benefits of an Internship for Employers

Internship opportunities offer employers numerous advantages that help shape a skilled workforce and drive organizational success. Some of the key benefits include:

  • Access to fresh ideas and perspectives: Interns often bring innovative thinking and problem-solving, contributing to your organization's growth and development.
  • Cost-effective talent acquisition: Internships can be a cost-effective way to fill temporary staffing needs or assess potential full-time hires, reducing recruiting costs and time-to-hire.
  • Increased productivity: Interns contribute to projects and tasks that may take up a lot of time, allowing your organization to progress on important initiatives and improve overall productivity.
  • Enhanced employer brand: Internships can help position your organization as an employer of choice, attracting top talent and enhancing your reputation within the industry.
  • Opportunity for employee development: Involving current employees in mentorship or supervisory roles during internships can help them develop leadership and management skills, contributing to their professional growth and overall job satisfaction
  • Creating a loyal workforce: Interns who have a positive work experience are more likely to become full-time employees upon graduation, contributing to higher retention rates and a more loyal workforce. 

Externship vs. Internship — The Key Differences

Although internships and externships are valuable experiences, the models aren't interchangeable. If your company is trying to decide which to offer, your objectives, and capacities all factor into which you choose. Here are some of the factors to consider.

  1. Company Size and Resources

Start by reflecting on the size of your company, the number of employees you manage, and your budget.

Internships work best in big companies with more resources. A larger operation means a bigger budget and more staff. This creates many opportunities for interns to get in-depth, structured experiences. Bringing on and developing young talent alongside employees also requires administrative work, which big companies are better equipped to handle.

On the other hand, if you run a modest operation, you might prefer to offer externships. Smaller businesses have less staff for mentorship and supervision and may not have the budget to pay interns. With an externship, you can still reap the benefits of recruitment and brand recognition without committing to additional resources. 

  1. Industry and Job Function

Certain industries and job functions are better suited to one model over the other.

For example, technical roles in engineering or biomedical research are excellent for externships. In these work environments, observation-based learning is the only practical way for newcomers to get experience. If your company deals with highly specialized work, consider offering externships.

For internships, jobs within the entertainment, fashion, and hospitality industries are best. Roles in marketing, sales, and customer service don't require technical know-how, so it's easier to cultivate young talent through hands-on experiences. 

  1. Desired Learning Outcomes and Objectives

Ask yourself: What does your company want from this?

If you're looking for low-cost recruitment through brand awareness or want to provide a high-level understanding of your industry or organization, externships are the better choice. Having participants temporarily observe and mingle with staff can boost employee engagement and morale. 

However, internships could be more suitable if your company is after skill development and wants to invest in young talent to become future employees. Offering direct, practical experiences is the best way to give prospective employees a feel of what it's like to work for your company. 

  1. Availability of Staff and Mentors

Another factor is your staff's availability (and ability!) to handle supervision or mentorship duties. Remember, it's not just about having employees around. You must also consider their specific roles and capacity to lead, guide, and advise.

If you're in a high-tech sector such as aerospace or advanced computing, you don't want employees getting distracted by stepping into leadership roles. However, internship opportunities make more sense for companies with an HR infrastructure and employees who are prepared to be mentors. 

  1. Impact on Organizational Dynamics

Finally, consider the holistic impact both models can have on the internal dynamics of your staff or organization.

For example, if your business or industry is research-based, operations can be meticulous and highly sensitive. In these cases, observation-only externships are the only choice. However, in environments where collaboration and creativity are fundamental, such as retail and marketing, interns can bring fresh perspectives and add value to day-to-day operations. 

Woo Them With Wellbeing

When existing employees participate in job training and mentoring, they may learn more about themselves and their career goals. It’s also a chance for externs and interns to learn about your company culture and whether or not it’s the right fit for them to work there in the future.

There are all kinds of ways to make an impression on your potential future employees. Whether it’s great leadership from your mentors, your organizational values, or your benefits and office perks, your externs and interns can learn what you’re all about.

Involving young talent in your wellness program shows how much your organization values and cares for employees. Invite them to participate in meditation sessions or nutrition classes you might be hosting, or pass along health and wellness resources for them to access. This seemingly simple inclusion can help turn your temporary staffers into permanent team members: About 83% of workers would only consider employers that emphasize employee wellbeing.

For help strengthening your commitment to workforce wellbeing, reach out to a Wellbeing Specialist today!

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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