Nursing externships are valuable learning and networking opportunities for future nurses. Similar to a business internship, a nursing externship is an experiential learning opportunity that allows you to practice and expand upon what you have learned in a real-world setting. It also enables you to experience a setting and evaluate if it is one you wish to pursue. And, an externship gives you the opportunity to develop your professional network and potential identify a mentor that might aid you throughout your career. For these reasons, externships can be invaluable to nursing students.
An externship search resembles any job search process. However, it can involve more follow through and more flexibility on the part of the externship searcher as fewer externship opportunities exist in comparison to permanent positions. An externship emphasizes nursing student learning – as such, it is investment on the behalf of the employer that requires staff hours and, potentially, salary dollars. Because of this not all healthcare employers currently offer externships. This has been the case in New Jersey recently, and though externships still exist there are fewer in New Jersey then there once was. As a result they can be more difficult to find. Searchers need to be persistent and, if possible, consider opportunities outside of New Jersey.
Though there are exceptions to this, most employers require that students participate in one Med-Surg clinical rotation prior to starting an externship. This does not mean you have to wait until you finish Med-Surg to start searching – only to start working in the externship role. If you know that you will have completed a Med-Surg rotation prior to the start of the externship, you can apply. Though each organization has different requirements, enrollment in a BSN and completion of one Med-Surg rotation are the only consistent requirements. Review requirements for each organization you identify with to ensure that you are in compliance.
A thorough summer externship search should begin the fall before you anticipate beginning the externship. Though deadline dates for externships vary, many of the more competitive, nationally based, externship recruitment processes begin in the fall semester. If you decide to pursue an externship late or are still hunting in the spring, do not give up as additional externships open up through the fall and spring semesters – hence the need for persistence.
To start off your search you will need to develop a strong resume. Attend a Resume Writing Workshop or visit the Resume Writing section of the Rutgers School of Nursing Career Resources website for instructions on how to write it and for resume samples. If you are writing your resume in the fall, include what your spring semester clinical rotations will be (as soon as you know), with the semester and year. Once you have developed your resume meet with or send your resume to the Career Counseling Officer for her to review and make suggestions for strengthening it. Though resumes don’t win candidates jobs/roles, they can eliminate you if they are not well done, so having a career counselor review your resume is a positive step to securing the role you want.
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Once you have your resume prepared, you are ready to start applying. Be as flexible as you can be. A summer externship offers you a wonderful opportunity to spend some time in another part of the country while gaining the practical experience that will give you an edge in the post-graduation job market. Additionally, the current number of externship opportunities in New Jersey is not significant. Being flexible about locations will give you a better chance of securing an externship. Many externship sites can assist you in identifying temporary housing.
Three methods are recommended – use all.
1. Method One – Review Advertised
- Identify advertised externship programs. Use any and all means available to find nurse externship opportunities
- Utilize the externship listings posted on the Rutgers School of Nursing Career Resources Externship web page. The 50 sites listed were verified as actively conducting externship programs. Follow the application process for each opportunity for which you have an interest.
- Search national sites. Start with a Google Search of “Nurse Extern” – follow links to large listing systems and new postings. Expect to use sites like indeed.com and allnurses.com.
- Each externship opportunity will have its own timeline and specifications; be sure to follow all instructions in the timespan specified.
* Tip: It may be helpful to start a progress chart to include program, program contact information, deadline dates, materials required, and your status in their process. If you are conducting a wide search, this can assist you in organizing your process.
2. Method Two – Identify places you’d like to Extern
- Identify hospitals in which you would like to extern. Search their site (including career site) to determine if an externship program is available.
- If you find an externship program cited that is taking applicants, follow through based on their guidelines
- If you do not find an active externship process identify the nurse recruiter for the facility. Reach out to that person to inquire as to whether they plan to offer one or if they would consider taking you on as an extern.
3. Method Three - Look outside the box for experience
- Gain exposure outside of an externship site, pursue volunteering.
- Consider an internship in a non-direct care or out-of-hospital setting.
- Timelines for these opportunities can overlap with externships. Pursue them simultaneously with externship opportunities. If you get multiple offers, pick the one that is best for you.
Apply for opportunities
- Make sure all materials are received by the deadline dates and have been carefully proofread.
- References- Sites may require that you submit 1-3 references (typically at least one reference will be required to be a faculty reference).
- Ask people as early as possible. Give a deadline of about 2 weeks prior to the date due and follow up (though people genuinely want to help, your reference is typically not their priority, and they may need time and reminders to get your reference done.
- Meet one-on-one with the people from whom you are requesting a reference. Provide them with a copy of your resume
- Give them the opportunity to ask you any questions
- Ask if they feel they can provide a strong, positive reference for you. It may be difficult to hear if they say no, but it is better to know and ask someone else than to have a bland or negative reference.
- Thank your references and let them know the outcome of your applications.
1. Preparing for Interviews
- Consult the Interviewing section of the Rutgers School of Nursing website for information on how to prepare for interviews and to review sample interview questions.
2. Types of Interviews
- On-line Interviews
- Preset – Some employers utilize systems where you will be given a time and password to go into a system and “interview”. This can entail completing a survey or responding to preset questions (verbally or in writing). These interviews are typically part of their screening process and will be followed by contact with a person (via phone or in-person) if you are moved forward after this process.
- In most cases you will have plenty of time. Answer questions completely.
- If typing responses, pay attention to your grammar and spelling.
- Personal Interview – Rather than bring some candidates in from a distance, employers frequently will opt to conduct interviews on-line using systems such as Skype, Go-To Meeting, or specialized on-line interview systems.
- Verify arrangements/log-in information at least one-day prior to the interview. If you need to share an account with the interviewer(s), respond immediately after requested (if you can’t respond immediately, do so no less than one-working day in advance). This way if there is an issue, there is still time to mediate the concern.\
- Dress as you would for an interview (at least from the waist up). In addition to making you appear professional, it will put you into an interview setting.
- Consider your backdrop. What will be in the camera shot with you (absolutely no substance references should be in camera view)? If possible, practice with a friend to determine lighting, camera angles and backdrop. The goal is to not have any of those things distract from what you are saying and how you present yourself.
- Maintain eye contact with the camera. You cannot maintain it with the individual(s) as you won’t control camera angles on the other side. You will appear more assertive if you look directly into the camera while listening to and while responding to questions.
- Prepare as you would for an in-person interview. Think of examples to back up what you have to say and have questions prepared to ask them.
3. In-Person Interviews
- Most in-person interviews will combine formats among the following:
- Resume based – Employer will ask questions directly related to the information on your resume. Be prepared to expand upon the experiences, focusing on what you learned and how you expect to apply that learning in practical settings.
- Situation/Scenario-based Interviews - Employer will present a situation to you and ask you how you think you will respond to the situation.
- Listen carefully to the scenario to make sure you understand the nuances to the scenario. Respond to that scenario.
- If you are unsure, it is okay to say so, but tell them what information you would be looking for to make a decision on how to act.
- When possible, offer the employer examples of similar scenarios you have experienced.
- Behavioral Interviews - Behavioral Interviews are based on the theory that past performance is a better predictor of future performance than projected performance (situational/scenario). Employers will ask you to provide examples of times you dealt with certain issues.
- If you have not experienced the exact situation presented, think of the most closely related experience you have to what they requested. Acknowledge that your experience differs from what they requested, but give them an example.
- When responding, try to accomplish the following:
- Relay a skill or characteristic about yourself
- Provide an example of when you have actually demonstrated that skill or characteristic
- Explain why you feel that skill or characteristic will make you a strong nurse extern.
4. Follow Up
- Send a thank you note to any person you interact with in an interview. For information on thank you notes, consult the Rutgers School of Nursing Career Resources Additional Correspondence webpage.
- If you interview on an online system without a personal interaction, follow up with the scheduler.
- If you were not able to secure the names of all interviewers, send a thank you to the person coordinating the interview asking them to forward the message to all or asking them to provide you with the contact information for the other interviewers.
- Provide any requested follow up materials immediately.
- References: If they request written references, you should be able to send them immediately. Make sure you have secured letters prior to the interview process
- Transcripts: If they require an official transcript, request it immediately and send an unofficial transcript for their review until they receive the official copy.
Congratulations! You secured your Externship! While you are there, make the most of it
- Take advantage of all opportunities offered to you. Shadow/observe people in a variety of roles, even if they are not roles you anticipate pursuing yourself.
- Identify a mentor(s) – an experienced person that is willing to provide you with career guidance and support.
- Actively cultivate your network of contacts.
- Pursue people in roles you hope to one day pursue for informational interviews (meet with them to talk with them about their roles and what advice they might have for you)
- Thank the people you work with – even if they are difficult.
- Keep a journal during your experience. What do you find most challenging? Most unexpected? What do you enjoy most, and why?