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Think of an externship as an internship for people who are no longer students. Even though it will likely be unpaid (or you may negotiate a small stipend) this is a chance to gain current experience, which ultimately can be leveraged for a new paid position. Benefits of an externship include:

• Exposure to another profession along with first-hand access to the realities (highs and lows) of a variety of specific positions;

• The ability to develop new skills and build your existing skills by contributing to daily tasks and special projects;

• Current experience to include on your resume, which can be leveraged when applying for your next paid position;

• Access to new contacts to form and nurture professional relationships in your field;

• Long-term value derived from a short-term time commitment.

These benefits are especially valuable to someone who is focused on closing a gap in work history, gaining new skills, or switching fields entirely. Externships may range from three to six months, during which time you can work in one department or propose a rotation. (While you can certainly propose less than three months, many employers will frown on the idea of investing in getting to know you, training you and involving you in projects if you’re only there for a few weeks.)

When I Google the phrase ‘externship resources’, I get more than 100,000 hits, most of which are connected to university programs. Do your own search and visit the sites that pop up to find companies and government agencies with programs already in place. In absence of a formal program, you can pitch yourself as an extern, which is likely to have a better reception among small and medium sized employers. There is less bureaucracy in a smaller shop than in a giant corporation, which is a good thing since you’re probably looking for a quick turnaround on this proposal.

Just as you’re applying to several jobs at any one time, you should pitch an externship to multiple employers at once as well. Use your networks to find prospective employers, and cold call or contact the employers on your wish list. Since you don’t know who’ll accept your proposal, you must have lots of feelers out there.

Women For Hire’s Externship Proposal Template

Date: [Today’s date]
To: [Prospective employer]
From: [You]

I respectfully request your consideration to create an externship opportunity for me to contribute to the [department] at [employer]. This would create a win–win for both of us: You’d benefit from three months [specify your desired length of service] of my service at no cost and no obligation to you, and in return I’d gain valuable hands-on experience, which would aide my professional development.

Please think of an externship similar to a traditional internship, except instead of accepting a college student, you’d be agreeing to take on a professional who is out of school and can focus total attention on the position for career advancement purposes.

In addition to a great degree of enthusiasm and a commitment to excellence, I’d bring you [name the specific knowledge, skills and abilities you possess], which I am confident would benefit your organization.

Because I know this is a relatively new concept and not something that’s in practice now at your organization, I’ve taken the liberty to propose the suggested terms and conditions of such an opportunity for your review. This is just a starting point and I’m open to discussing changes in these terms to serve both of our needs and interests.

Duration of externship: [Start date] to [End date]
Anticipated hours per week: [Number and times]
Desired department(s) for assignment: [Where you want to work and why]

I agree that during this time I will not be an employee of [company], and my externship activities are subject to termination at any time for any reason. Further, I also agree that I am not entitled to compensation during the externship, nor am I entitled to a job at the conclusion of the externship. [If you’d like to propose a stipend to cover travel and lunch expenses, for example, this is the place to do it.] The purpose of this externship training is equivalent to the work experience for a vocational school or professional degree program and is merely an adjunct to such studies. [The purpose of this statement is to make it clear that you’re not technically working for free, which can be challenged by law. Instead, you’re receiving valuable training and experience in lieu of a salary. This minimizes an employer’s liability for allowing you to serve as an extern.]

You have nothing to lose, and we both have so much to gain if you’d entertain this three-month proposal. I’d bring you my skills and determination and I know I’d walk away with great insights and experience from my time with your organization. I’d be happy to discuss this in depth at your convenience. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.