If you're a prospective or accepted student, chances are you've heard a little bit about this externship thing, but you have a lot of questions on how it works. I'm currently "on externship" as they say, having finished up my last class of my first year in the pastry AOS program last Friday. Because the externship period is a slightly mysterious and highly talked about part of the program, I thought I'd share my experience and explain a bit about how it works.
One question everyone asked me right off the bat in January was, "So, have you thought about where you want to go for your externship?" My immediate reaction was, "Um, no I don't even know where I'm eating lunch today." It was overwhelming when I first got here how many people were already talking about externship and applying for jobs. It seemed like while I was unpacking my room and getting myself ready for day one of class, everyone else was searching on e-recruiting (our online jobs database) and writing cover letters. The atmosphere here is hyper competitive because of the prestige of the school and the quality of the education you're getting - which is mostly a great thing. But looking back now, the externship process is not as stressful as it sometimes felt and it turned out well for everyone in my class. It is something you need to make a priority while you have the free time in fundamentals classes, but it's not something you need to lose sleep over.
My advice for when you first arrive on campus is to enjoy your first week on campus. Start to consider a few things about what you're looking for in an externship, but absolutely don't cross anything off right away. Spend your time making friends, preparing for class and getting settled into the new environment. Trust me, you'll have plenty of time for stressing out later. Now this whole externship thing can be like a foreign language to a prospective student, so let's start at the beginning:
Externship [ek-sturn-ship]: (n) A required period of supervised practice away from one's affiliated institution: The CIA student peeled thousands of potatoes while on externship.
- The externship period falls between your first and second years at the CIA, no matter which AOS program you're in. It has to be 18 consecutive weeks at the same spot.
- The CIA provides you with a (huge) list of approved sites for extern via an online database that you'll have access to once you are on campus.
- Most of the sites are paid! Depending on where, you're looking at making $8-14 an hour while on extern. Some of them even provide housing and other cool benefits like park tickets (Disney) or lift passes (ski resorts).
- A lot of students really do find their externships at career fairs. In my first year at the CIA I was on campus for three out of the four annual fairs! They are huge, helpful, and full of free stuff.
- The career service staff could not be more awesome. Your class gets a personal career counselor who will bend over backwards to help you land your dream externship. They're like half angels, half therapists. The best part is, I can still email mine for questions or support even though I'm no longer on campus.
- Staging (prounounced stahhhging) is like a try-out or interview. You're on-site at a restaurant working for free for the night, as you would if you did your externship there. This is a great way for both sides to see if it is a fit! After externship (or after you've signed on to another location) students stage just for the experience as well.
I'll be doing my pastry externship with the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, VA (45 minutes-ish south of DC). You may remember that another student blogger Leah coincidentally also did her culinary externship there.
It's a little restaurant in an even smaller town but has a big reputation. The chef/founder is Patrick O'Connell who is known for being among the first farm to table chefs on the East Coast and for having an over the top fancy style. Rumor has it, there's a $5,000 chandelier inside of their chicken coop...must be nice.
Getting an externship is more or less the same process as getting a job. The career center is always there to help you write a stellar resume and cover letter, but at the end of the day it's up to you to land the job. I applied to the Inn via email and actually had to send a follow up before I heard anything back. From there, I had to do a try out and stage with their pastry chef for a day before I was finally offered the job.
In the meantime, I had applied to at least five other sites, plus been to a career fair and talked with multiple sites there. One of the most difficult parts of my externship-finding process was juggling the timing between accepting/declining an offer and waiting to hear from a place I wanted to go to more. It's nerve wracking because I didn't want to say no to a sure thing only to be rejected from a top choice. At the end of the day, I think it's just important to have faith in yourself that you'll definitely end up somewhere, and aim for your top choices while it's early. The externship period is only five-months long, but if you have a specific experience in mind that you're looking for - don't settle! I'd also recommend to stage at as many places as you're able to. What really made the decision easy for me was getting to meet the people I'd be working with and seeing how passionate and welcoming they were. I officially start at the Inn this coming Thursday so stay tuned for more on how the experience away from campus is going!