Lauren Berger has gotten coffee at MTV. She's gotten coffee at Fox. And yes, she's done it at several other agencies that may not have as much brand recognition. She even broke the darned coffee pot once.
These days, the 28-year-old entrepreneur gets others to fetch the java for her. Her web-based business, InternQueen.com, connects top-level companies with the cream of the college-student crop.
Sipping an iced coffee at a Studio City Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Berger is Sunday-casual chic in leggings, a gray sweater and a funky necklace as she explains what makes her worthy of her self-applied crown.
Like all good stories, it starts with a persistent mother.
“When I was a freshman, my mother called me — and you know I have that Jewish mother from Brooklyn, who calls a thousand times a day,” Berger says in a determined clip. “She said, 'I'm watching The Today Show and they're talking about internships.' 'Internship, internship, internship,' that's the line she used. She said you have to get an internship.”
After a few weeks of motherly pushing, Berger went to her university's career center, only to be turned away because she wasn't a junior or senior. She also looked for advice books in the school bookstore. No dice. Not one to take kindly to “no,” Berger went out on her own, cold-calling companies and gathering information.
That determination won her an internship at a public relations company in Tallahassee and, over the years, more internships — she has held 15 in total, not to mention part-time waitress jobs and a full course load, first at Florida State and later at the University of Central Florida, where she earned her degree in 2006. And that led to a job after graduation: as an assistant to agent Tracy Brennan at Creative Artists Agency.
Berger made sure everyone at the mega-agency knew she was the Intern Queen, with grand goals to revolutionize the staffing process. Eventually, another agent mentioned her to his client, producer-writer-director Marshall Herskovitz, and she worked with him on the web series Quarter Life. While the series was ill-fated, the experience gave Berger the confidence to head out on her own.
Now Berger maintains her own website, matching highly driven students with employers in PR, marketing, entertainment and other creative-industry jobs in major media markets such as New York City and Los Angeles. She also manages an advice blog and sends out an email blast of internship openings. Expansions into Atlanta and Chicago are in the works.
Offline, Berger is a public speaker, preaching “internship, internship, internship” at campuses across North America. Her book, All Work, No Pay: Finding an Internship, Building Your Resumé, Making Connections and Gaining Job Experience, was published by Random House in January, and she even has her own interns. They work from their dorm rooms as part of Berger's “virtual internship program”: young (mostly) women whose duties include calling the bookstore at Berger's alma mater to ensure her tome is on display.
“I call it my little intern empire that I'm trying to build here, and I think that L.A.'s been a great place to do it,” Berger says. “At the end of the day, I look at someone like Suze Orman or Rachael Ray, and I want to do what they've done in their industries with internships.”
But while she's a go-getter, Berger insists she's not some real-life Tracy Flick, Reese Witherspoon's fast-talking perfectionist in Alexander Payne's satirical movie Election.
“I'm sort of the unorganized version,” Berger says. “I think people always think, 'Oh, she must be really Type A.' The details, they don't really bother me. I do have people who make my schedule for me, but I'll never be the type of person who gets upset if the airline doesn't make it. I'll just figure it out.”