The Intern Queen Extends Her Media Empire
Name: Lauren Berger aka "The Intern Queen"
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Business Communications, University of Central Florida, 2006.
When it comes to interning, there is a clear line between those who hardly work and those who work hard. And then there is Lauren Berger, who took that line, stretched it cross-country, lassoed it around entertainment execs, and used it to tightly tie all her interning experience into her latest accomplishment: Intern Queen Inc.
Berger, a recent graduate now living in L.A., completed 15 internships during her four years at college. Her resume includes stints at a one-man entertainment company, public relations agencies, a news program, and print publications in her home state of Florida; the Showtime network; as well as FOX, NBC, and MTV radio-all in one week. Since graduating in 2006, Berger has been using her vast interning experience to create Intern Queen Inc., a brand that includes intern consulting, blogs on InternQueen.com and WomenEntrepreneur.com, and clothing line Internal Ethiks.
Most recently, Berger accepted an offer from Bedford Falls Productions (Traffic, Blood Diamond, and My So-Called Life) to launch The Quarterlife Internship Program and Intern Queen Blog on quarterlife.com, a website devoted to an NBC drama of the same name. As a seasoned ex-intern, Berger hopes to strengthen her brand and company, while helping students cope with a lifestyle she knows all too well-that of the underpaid, overworked intern.
How did you become The Intern Queen? Is it a self-proclaimed title?
LB: I think it was a newspaper in Orlando that interviewed me, and the person on the phone casually said, "Oh you're kind of like the intern queen." I thought, "I really like that. I want to be The Intern Queen!" At the time, I was freelancing for US Weekly, Nickelodeon magazine, Seventeen, and all these different magazines and thought, "I want to be an expert. I'm sick of doing all these different stories-I want to write about one thing." So I started writing strictly internship advice. I'm really interested in branding and marketing, and figured "The Intern Queen" would be a great way to brand myself.
Did you have any paid internships?
LB: Out of all 15 internships, I got a $100 stipend once. When you're working in fields like PR and entertainment, most likely your internships are going to be unpaid. I was offered an internship one summer for CBS that would have been paid, which was very unusual. It would have been great, but I had to commit to working every day. Instead, I interned in FOX's drama development department on Monday and Tuesday, MTV's radio department on Wednesday, and NBC's honors promotion department Thursday and Friday. That was just my way of getting as much as I could out of my summer and learning about different companies.
You've interned at some impressive places. How did you find the gigs?
LB: I found all of my internships on my own, with the help of The Internship Bible that The Princeton Review puts out annually. I would create a dream list of places I wanted to intern and Google each one and find out the requirements. I had no help from school advisors, which is part of the reason I'm so passionate about helping other students find their dream internships.
Tell us about your worst interning experience.
LB: I interned at [a one-man entertainment company]. My boss would have me do so much of his work, and I felt more like an employee that just wasn't getting paid than an intern. It's funny because as an intern you always want really cool work and different assignments, but I've been in situations where I've been taken advantage of and they're using an intern as an employee. That's a weird feeling because someone is expecting so much out of you and you stop and think, "Wait, if I'm going to be doing this, I want to be paid." It's an awkward situation.
Also, I interned at a TV show called The Daily Buzz in Florida. For some reason, I had gotten away with not making coffee, ever, at any internship. I was told to make some coffee for the green room, for the guests on the show. I had no idea how to use their coffee machine and I pressed the wrong button. Water started spewing everywhere and I literally flooded the entire break room. There were sales associates walking in and getting all mad saying, "Who did this? I can't believe it!" Yeah, I have some horror stories.
And the most rewarding experience?
LB: I loved working at FOX in drama development. It was the first time that I was exposed to routing television scripts. Summer internships at TV networks are really interesting because you get to see all their pilots for the fall season. So the summer I interned at FOX and NBC, I got to see two huge, powerful networks and their strategies for putting these pilots on the air. That was a cool experience.
So why 15 internships?
LB: In no way did I need to do 15 internships, and I definitely don't recommend other people do it. I love being in a work environment and meeting new people and learning new things. It was the most valuable thing I did in college; it was my way of learning the ways of the world. But for other people, I recommend two to three internships.
How did you juggle interning and classes?
LB: I'm magical [laughs]. No, I'm just really into flexible scheduling. One thing I always tell students about interning during the semester is that most companies will work with you. Many companies that offer internship programs have specified programs during the summer, but I've found they are willing to work with you when it comes to fall and spring. I would also take classes during the day and night, and intern at least two to three days a week for four hours a day, and usually that's enough.
What was the most important lesson you learned about dealing with authority?
LB: Be ready and prepared for everything, and always volunteer to do everything. You need to be able to kind of swallow and go along with the task. There are definitely times you feel undervalued and unappreciated as an intern, and you're going to be upset and you're going to be stuck doing crappy things, but it's all part of the experience. At the end of the day, everybody starts somewhere.
Now that you're in the real world, how did interning prepare you for your actual job?
LB: Interning gave me a better perspective of how things work. I'd come out here [L.A.] during the summer, make relationships, and stay in contact with those people. That's one of the most rewarding things that internships ever did for me: they put me in contact with the right people at the right companies and helped me stay in the loop with what was going on, and then when it was time to get a job, I called all those people and they came through for me.
What gave you the idea to start your company and clothing line?
LB: The consulting company idea came to me when I was literally just saying, "I just incorporated Intern Queen Inc. How am I going to monetize it?" And I said, "Hey, I'm going to help students get internships." I had a full-time job, but students would hire me on the side to help them get summer internships. It was a word-of-mouth thing-literally some of my mother's friends' kids-but I was able to help out a lot of students, and that's what stemmed into my new career.
The clothing line is called Internal Ethiks, and I created that right as I was leaving college. I think I had way too much time on my hands. Again, I'm really into branding, I'm passionate about that. The same way Rachel Ray makes pots and pans and has shirts that say, "Yummo!," I just wanted to extend my brand a little further.
How does your experience as an intern affect the way you treat your own interns?
LB: I'm much more attentive to them and what they're doing. Although it's much easier to blow off your busy work and pass it to your interns, I try to make sure whatever I'm giving them to do they are getting something out of it as well. People don't utilize their interns enough, and students are so smart these days.
What is your advice for struggling, underpaid, overworked interns?
LB: Hang in there! For me, interning started my whole career. It's a matter of hanging in there, realizing it's a good way to start. Look at all the successful people out there: they started somewhere, whether at a mailroom in Hollywood or as an intern somewhere. Whatever you need to do, you should put a smile on your face, go do it, and hope at the end of the day you're going to get something out of it-or at least have a story to tell.
Lauren's advice for getting the most value out of your internship:
1. Meet as many people as you can. Whenever you are casually introduced to someone in the hallway, it's okay to take a quick pause, make sure you get her name, shake her hand, and look her in the eye. It may not seem like it, but it's another contact, and another good person to know.
2. When you leave your internship send thank you notes to all of your contacts and make an effort to stay in touch with them at least once every semester after you leave. Send a "thank you" when you leave, send an email two weeks down the line. Just let them know what you are up to, see what they're up to, find out whether there is anything they need help with, and always offer your services as an intern.
3. Always be the first to volunteer, even if it's a crappy assignment. Be the first to raise your hand and say, 'Oh, I'll do that, I don't mind at all.' It's a matter of being humble about it because as an intern, lets be honest, it's not always going to be the prettiest of tasks.
4. Be careful and make sure you are always focusing, even on small tasks. At FOX, one intern was told to alphabetize a bunch of files, and he thought it was the easiest thing. He was text messaging the whole time and ended up putting five or six things in the wrong order. He ended up getting fired or transferred into another department. Even if it's small, you may be doing more important things than you think. And many times other people's jobs are dependent on the jobs the intern does. It's important to always keep your focus.