Lauren Berger, 27, has become an authority on landing internships. She runs a website, Internqueen.com, and just published a book on the subject: All Work, No Pay: Finding an Internship, Building a Resume, Making Connections and Gaining Job Experience. But she started out as a clueless college freshman at Florida State in Tallahassee, whose only work experience was waitressing at the Red Lobster, and a minimum wage job at The Limited II. Berger’s own tale of landing her first internships with zero connections, offers excellent pointers for students who want to get started on the internship track. It worked for Berger. She did 15 internships while in college.
1. Cold calling can work. Berger’s saga started in 2002 when her pushy mother, who had just seen a “Today” show segment about the importance of internships for college students, called and said she had to get one. It was the spring of Berger’s freshman year. Berger headed to Florida State’s career office, but was told that she needed to be a junior or senior if she wanted help. “They said, ‘come back and see us in three years,’” she recalls.
Disappointed, Berger decided to do her own research. She knew she was interested in public relations, marketing and entertainment, so she punched “PR internships in Tallahassee, Fla.” into Google. The Zimmerman Agency, a national PR firm with an office in Tallahassee, came up first in her search, but there was no internship contact listed on Zimmerman’s site. Berger called the company and asked to speak to the internship coordinator. She got through, and the woman told her to send in a résumé and cover letter.
2. Take immediate action when you get a lead. Thinking it was a long shot, Berger did some more Googling, for help putting together her materials. She sent them in that evening. The next morning, her phone rang at 8am. “I thought I did something wrong,” she recalls. The coordinator was so impressed by Berger’s promptness, she offered her an interview. “She said, ‘you don’t know how long students take to send in their materials,’” recalls Berger.
3. Prepare for the interview. Before her meeting, Berger poured over the company’s website, including the firm’s mission statement and executive biographies. “Look for things you have in common with the people who run the company,” she advises. “If you run into the head of the company on the elevator the first day, greet him.” Berger recommends incorporating buzzwords from the mission statement into your interview.
4. Ask what the internship would entail. Don’t use the interview as an information-gathering session about the interviewer. Instead, Berger suggests applicants ask, “can you describe a day as an intern at your company.”
5. Say you’re ready to start immediately. Especially for unpaid internships, employers often tell applicants they can take time to think about whether they want the job. Berger says you should break in and say, “I know I want this.” Berger’s eagerness and persistence came through and she got the Zimmerman internship.
By Susan Adams