Virginia Tech™home

Types of career-related experience

Even though the majority of VT graduates had career-related experience during college, almost one third wished they'd gotten more experience.

Don't limit yourself to just one experience or just one type of experience. First year is not too early to start! Look for volunteer work, a part-time or summer job that will be a stepping stone to something more competitive later. Types of opportunities will vary by career field, and we can help you navigate the search process through advising.

New VT grads tell us their first destination after the undergraduate degree, and how they prepared, including ALL of the TYPES of EXPERIENCE they had DURING COLLEGE.

There are MANY types of career-related experience to seek during college:

  • Externships can be a bridge between exploring career options and getting a look at a real world environment. They may be short-term or long-term in duration: a few hours to a few days, or perhaps a few hours per week over a semester or year (similar to an internship). The extern would have a pre-arranged time to spend at a work environment to watch and learn from people in the career field or type of work environment.
  • Individuals and organizations who host externs are contributing their valuable time to give you a free learning experience. Typically you neither receive compensation nor do you pay for the learning experience. Externships are mostly for the purpose of learning more about a career field or work environment, but if you make a very good impression on the people you meet, it could open the door to another experience (internship, co-op, summer job, etc.) later. 
  • Some organizations specifically advertise externships. However, students may take the initiative to arrange an externship by contacting organizations and personnel.
  • There are similarities between externships and shadowing; so sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. 
  • Shadowing, like externships, can be a bridge between exploring career options and getting a look at a real world environment. Shadowing refers to spending time with a professional on the job for the purpose of observing and learning.
  • Shadowing could be a one-time experience for a few hours or a day; or it could be a multiple-session experience over a span of time.
  • Shadowing does not involve doing work-related tasks because the shadower does not have the qualifications. Shadowing could involve being present during client or patient interactions, so requires a high level of professional behavior. Shadowing is often done by students who wish to enter a medical profession; the student would observe a physician or physical therapist or other health professional to learn how they interact with patients.
  • Shadowing could be done in any career setting in which the the professional would permit this, and in which rules of confidentiality would not be violated.
  • Students who wish to shadow must take the initiative to contact professionals and request to shadow. The professional is doing a favor to allow a student to shadow; the professional would have no need to advertise this and the professional receives no benefit other than the satisfaction of helping to educate a potential future professional.
  • There are similarities between externships and shadowing; so sometimes the terms are used interchangeably.
  • Internships are usually one-term experiences and are often in the summer, though not always.
  • Internships can be paid or unpaid, full or part-time, and are sometimes for academic credit. These factors vary by career field and employer.
  • Internship eligibility varies by employer — some offer internships to student who are freshmen, others require a high academic level.
  • See internship central for complete information.
  • Note that academic credit can only be granted by an academic department, and involves paying tuition. You should make yourself aware of opportunities and requirements in your academic department. 
  • For non-academic-credit internships for undergraduates, there are enrollment options for students through the undergraduate Cooperative Education and Internship Program (CEIP).
  • In CPD, we offer opportunities for undergraduate students to gain paid, career-related experience through our Peer Career Advisor program. Qualified graduate students may gain experience through practica and internships or through our graduate assistantship.
  • This can be a way to get a foot in the door of an organization or career field. You can do volunteer work as an individual, or as part of a club or organization.
  • Volunteering can develop skills and experience that you can list on your resume and thus can be a stepping stone to help you get other kinds of experience. Volunteering shows initiative; always a good thing.
  • Volunteering has intrinsic value and can be a source of personal reward. It is also viewed positively by future employers. Consider both the amount of time and your responsibilities in your volunteer work. A volunteer position that spans a semester or a year or longer, involves several hours per week, and allows for increasing responsibility could be just as beneficial as another experience that is labelled as an internship. This will depend on the career field and the nature and scope of your work.
  • These are typically done through your academic department, for academic credit, and are sometimes required for certain majors. Consult your academic department to see if field studies are offered or required.
  • Field studies typically involve direct hands-on experience in a work environment related to your major. There may be structured academic assignments in addition to the hands-on work. 
  • Google "field study" on the Virginia Tech website and you'll find links to field study information for a wide variety of majors and colleges.
  • What: Frequently a one-on-one arrangement between you and a faculty member, usually in your academic department, that may be for academic credit. Additionally, organizations external to the university, such as research centers, offer undergraduate research opportunities.
  • How to find opportunties:
    • The Office of Undergraduate Research at Virginia Tech is a comprehensive resource for VT students.
    • Professors may advertise undergraduate research opportunities, but don't wait for this to happen. Approach professors whose research topics interest you.
    • Read the websites of your college and your academic department.
    • External to the university: Research centers (which may be independent or affiliated with other universities, government, nonprofit, and/or for profit organizations) also offer undergraduate research opportunities. Watch for information in your academic department and take initiative to seek opportunties related to your interests.
  • Why it's important: Undergraduate research is strongly recommended for students who are thinking about applying to graduate school. It is also excellent experience for students who are not considering graduate school.
  • Part-time and summer work can be important ways to get experience.
  • A job does not have to be labelled as an internship or co-op to be valuable. 
  • The value hinges on the job's relevance to your career field or industry, the skills you develop, and the level of responsibility you earn.
  • These can be stepping stones to getting a competitive job or internship later.
  • Leadership in student and community organizations is viewed very favorably by employers, and can be an essential qualification for certain types of work and career paths.
  • You don't have to be president to be a leader. You could be volunteer recruiter, the fundraising chair, and event planner, or budget manager. The important things are what you accomplish and the skills you use and develop.
  • Look for depth. Get involved and take on a role, serve on a committee, run a project or event, or be an officer. Avoid just joining many things. If you graduate having only "member of...," "member of...," repeated on your resume, that won't look substantive.
  • In Career and Professional Development, we provide opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to have paid, para-professional experience. 
  • We provide early and ongoing training, and students are paid for their training hours, in addition to the substantive work they do once trained. We value our student employees!
  • Overview of work and learn opportunities in Career and Professional Development.
  • Undergraduates may apply for our Peer Career Advisor program.
  • Qualified graduate students may gain experience through graduate practica and internships or through our graduate assistantship.

New summer 2020 alternatives

For summer 2020, Career and Professional Development launched and conducted 5 FREE virtual Summer Experience programs open to undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni. These professional development and guided learning programs helped participants build career-ready skills, gain experience, and earn a certificate of completion to list on their resumes. Opportunities to network and learn from various industry partners was provided through the three structured experiences. These experiences were unpaid and did not involve a fee. Learn more about these programs.