Nursing externships are invaluable opportunities for learning and networking. They allow you to:
- Practice and build on what you’ve learned in a real-world setting.
- Experience a setting and evaluate whether you want to pursue it.
- Develop your professional network and identify a mentor who might aid you throughout your career.
Fewer externships are offered in NJ than they once were, however; they’re an investment for health care employers, requiring staff hours and, potentially, salary dollars. As a result, your search for an externship will need more follow-through, flexibility, and persistence — and, if possible, a willingness to consider opportunities outside of NJ.
Begin searching for a summer externship in the fall. Though deadlines will vary, many of the more competitive and nationally based externship recruitment processes begin in the fall semester. If you decide to pursue an externship late or find yourself still hunting in the spring, don’t give up. Additional externships open up through the fall and spring semesters — hence, the need for persistence!
Start your search process off with a strong resume. Attend a resume-writing workshop, or access our career development resources for sample resumes and instructions on how to create your own. If you’re writing your resume in the fall, include what your spring semester clinical rotations will be, along with the semester and year. Once you develop your resume, meet with or send it to the career counseling offer for review.
Review each organization’s requirements to ensure you’re in compliance. Requirements will vary by organization, but the two most common ones are:
- Enrollment in a BSN program
- Completion of one Med-Surge clinical rotation
You don’t have to wait until you’ve finished Med-Surg to begin your search process, though. If you know you’ll have completed a Med-Surg rotation before the start of the externship, you can apply.
Apply to an Externship
We recommend you follow all three methods to identify opportunities.
1. Review Advertisements
» Identify advertised externship programs. Use any and all means available to find nurse externship opportunities. Utilize our listings located at the bottom of our career development page. The listed sites have been verified as actively conducting externship programs.
» Search national sites. Start with a Google search of “nurse extern” and follow links to large listing systems and new postings. Use sites like indeed.com and allnurses.com.
» Each externship will have its own timeline and specifications, so be sure to follow all the instructions by the specified deadline.
» It may be helpful to start a progress chart that includes program, program contact information, deadlines, required materials, and your status in the application process. This can help organize your process when conducting a wide search.
2. Identify Places to Extern
» Identify hospitals where you’d like to extern. Search their site (including career site) to determine if an externship program is available. If you locate one, follow their guidelines as you apply.
» If you don’t find an active externship process, identify the nurse recruiter from the facility. Reach out to that person to inquire if they plan on offering one or if they’d consider taking you on as an extern.
3. 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. If you get multiple offers, pick the one that’s best for you.
Sites may require that you submit 1-3 references, at least one of which will need to be from a faculty:
» Ask people for references as early as possible. Give them a deadline of two weeks prior to the application deadline and follow up. Give gentle reminders about your reference as it can get mixed in with the list of tasks they’ll undoubtedly have of their own.
» Meet one-on-one with those you’re requesting a reference from. Provide them with a copy of your resume.
» Give them the opportunity to ask you any questions to get to know you better and understand your desires, goals, and intentions for the externship.
» Ask if they can provide a strong, positive reference for you. It may be difficult to hear them say no, but it’s better to know and ask someone else than to receive a bland, rushed, or negative reference.
» Thank your references and let them know of your application outcome.
Consult the interviewing section of our Career Development page for information on how to prepare for interviews. You can review sample interview questions (both general and behavioral) and learn how to address illegal questions.
2. Types of Interviews
Online Interview — Preset
» Some employers utilize systems that give you a time and password to enter the 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’re moved forward in the process.
» In most cases, you’ll have plenty of time. Answer questions completely.
» If you’re typing your responses, pay attention to your grammar and spelling.
Online Interviews — Personal
» Rather than bring some candidates in from a distance, employers frequently will opt to conduct interviews online using systems like Skype and Go-To Meeting, or specialized online interview systems.
» Verify arrangements/login credentials at least one day prior to your 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’s an issue, you’ll still have time to mediate the concern.
» Dress as you would for an in-person interview — at least from the waist up. In addition to appearing professional, it’ll put you in an interview setting and mindset.
» Consider your backdrop. What will be in the camera shot with you? If possible, practice with a friend to determine lighting, camera angles, and backgrounds. The goal is to keep your backdrop from becoming a distraction for your interviewer.
» Maintain eye contact with the camera. You can’t maintain it with the individual(s) as you won’t control camera angles on the other side. You’ll appear more assertive if you look directly into the camera while listening and 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.
Most in-person interviews will combine the following formats:
» Resume-based: The employer will ask questions directly related to the information on your resume. Be prepared to expand upon your experience, focusing on what you learned and how you expect to apply that learning in practical settings.
» Situation/Scenario-based: The employer will present a situation to you and ask how you’d respond. Listen carefully to the scenario to make sure you understand the nuances. Respond to that scenario. If you’re unsure, it’s 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’ve experienced.
» Behavioral: These interviews are based on the theory that past performance is a better predictor of future performance than projected (situational/scenario) performance. Employers will ask you to provide examples of times you’ve dealt with certain issues. If you haven’t experienced the exact situation, think of the most closely related experience you have to what they requested. Acknowledge that your experience differs from what they requested, but offer an example.
When responding, try to accomplish the following: 1) relay a skill or characteristic about yourself, 2) provide an example of when you have actually demonstrated that skill or characteristic, and 3) explain why you feel that skill or characteristic will make you a strong nurse extern.
» If you interview on an online system without a personal interaction, follow up with the scheduler.
» If you weren’t able to secure the names of all interviewers, send a thank you to the person who coordinated the interview, asking them to forward the message to all or to provide appropriate contact information of the other interviewers.
» Provide any requested follow-up materials immediately.
» If the employer requests written references, send them immediately. Make sure you have secured letters prior to the interview process.
» If the employer requests an official transcript, request it immediately and send an unofficial transcript for their review until they receive the official copy.
» Take advantage of all opportunities offered to you. Shadow/observe people in a variety of roles, even if they’re not roles you anticipate pursuing yourself.
» Identify a mentor(s) — an experienced person who 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. That is, meet with them to discuss 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?