Campus Overload Live with Jenna Johnson: Internship advice with Intern Queen Lauren Berger

Jan 27, 2011

Yes, yes, summer break is still at least four months away -- but now is the time when many college students start to make their summer internship plans.

Unsure where to look for internship listings? Not sure what to include (or leave out) on your resume? Debating taking an unpaid internship vs. working for money? Or maybe you are ahead of the game and have an internship lined up, but have questions about finding a place to live and preparing for the gig?

Starting at 1 p.m. Thursday, I will be online with the self-proclaimed Intern Queen, Lauren Berger, to answer any and all questions you might have about finding an internship -- or a job. You can submit questions here or on Twitter, using the hashtag #wpchat.

Happy Thursday!

The Washington area is a bit of a mess today, following a massive snow-and-ice storm last night. Buses and cars were abandoned on streets. Commutes took as long as 13 hours. More than 350,000 houses are still without power. And pretty much every school is closed for the day.

But I am here, ready to answer your questions!

And I am joined by Lauren Berger -- the fabulous Intern Queen who knows pretty much everything there is to know about getting an internship (and succeeding when you get there)!

Okay. Send in those questions.

Hi Everyone! I'm Lauren Berger also known as "The Intern Queen" - I run - happy to be here! Ask any questions!

Is it better to send a more formal letter, or send something that makes my application stand out?

Hi! I assume you are asking about cover letters. The best thing you can do is write a clear cover letter and provide specific details on your availability, interest, and experience. This will help you stand out more than you know. Employers get some really really bad cover letters.

This blog might help - Always Include A Cover Letter via

Why are so many internship opportunities unpaid?

Internships are all about experience not money. There are some great paid and unpaid opportunities available. I feature both on my site Normally, paid internships are found in the following fields:

engineering, finance, technology, private sector

When deciding which internship to choose ask yourself, which position is going to help me get to where I want to be? Which will help my career path the most? Not which will make me the most $$

Do you have any suggestions for "slightly" older career changers who have gone back to school and are in search of internships in their new fields? It's tough out there!

This is a very common question (especially in today's economic landscape). If you've gone back to school and are currently enrolled, you are eligible for any opportunity. BUT its your job to clearly state your situation in the cover letter and explain this to the employer. If the employer only looks over your resume, your experience level might confuse them. Explain your situation in the cover letter. Make sure you let the employer know that you are willing to do whatever you need to do and you WANT to learn. I 100 % encourage you to take on an internship opportunity. Its a great way to decide if one company/industry is right for you.

Over the weekend I spotted this tweet from Daniel G. Creasy (@admissiondaniel), who is an associate director of admissions at Johns Hopkins University and has been reading TONS of college applications lately... "Lots of spelling mistakes today. Part-take. Defanitely. Seperate. Foriegn. Sadly, many were in teacher recommendations." I know this sounds basic -- but what's the best way to avoid spelling errors or grammatical mistakes? How do these errors hurt applicants?

Hi Jenna - So glad that you wrote this question. I blogged about this recently here - Become A Spell Check Crazy Person via @internqueen

Spelling mistakes equal what I call the Trash Can Resume. If an employer spots spelling mistakes on your application materials, they go in the trash.

 I usually hire two paid interns each summer... I will give you a ton of opportunity to learn and grow and figure out if the job is a potential career for you. But, you need meet me at least half way. For each of the past two years, I have had interns who expect to show up late, leave early, spend their day on FB, and generally show no actual interest in learning. I've also had great interns who have been asked back and who I've recommended to others for permanent employment.

Please ensure when you take an internship (paid or unpaid) that you are diligent about your work... I will go the extra mile for any employee (intern or regular) who I think goes the extra mile to make the most of their work experience. Good luck to all of you!!!

Ah yes -- for every hard-working intern who truly makes the most of their summer internship, there is usually another intern who works harder at fulfilling intern stereotypes.

Last summer I did a daily feature called "That Intern," which spotlighted things interns should avoid at all costs (like taking a long vacation just after starting work). In doing so, I heard lots and lots of intern horror stories.

The best thing students can do is treat this internship like a full-time job (and limited their FB time). And the best thing employers can do is make their expectations very clear from day one.

Are there still paid internships out there? Or should students just plan to settle for unpaid ones?

There are both paid and unpaid internships available. Internships are increasing all across the board (both paid opportunities and unpaid). But again - its about the experience, not the $$$. If you have the option of getting a paid internship where you won't learn anything or an unpaid internships where  you will learn everything, go with the unpaid. An internship is an opportunity for you to learn about yourself and your future. Take it!

What's your take on the options for priority consideration by employers listed internships and to actually find you an internship?

I haven't spoken to anyone on their team about that methodology. That being said, I also haven't spoken with any student who has successfully landed an internship using that. I don't have an opinion on that (at this time).

Hi Jenna! I really enjoy your chats. Thanks for doing! My question: Are internships becoming increasingly more competitive because the job market is still weak? What advice can I give my nephew on how he can land a good internship?

You are right -- it is more competitive, especially as internships become fall-back options for students who can't find jobs (or older, out-of-work professionals looking to change careers). The best thing your nephew can do is start early and apply to a number of internships that he is qualified to get. He should tailor his cover letter and resume to each organization -- showing recruiters that he has put time and research into learning about the position.

Plus, work those connections with relatives, professors, former employers and friends -- often the best lead is a personal recommendation.

Hi Lauren! I was wondering what was the best way to go about writing an informal cover letter... I'm currently trying to apply for an internship with a blog, and need to figure out a way to write it up without getting too wordy in trying to showcase my personality as well as my experience.

I would keep it short, sweet, and to-the-point. You want to state why you are the best person for the position - hands down. Also, if its a blogging position and you have your own blog, I would def. bring that up in the cover letter. Also, blogger rely heavily on social media to get their content syndicated. Check out which social media that blog currently uses and stress your expertise with using those networks. If you have writing samples that show your style matches the blog's style - add them in for the employer to check out. Good luck!!

What's the typical rule on skirt lengths for an internship?

Ohhhh, good question. It's important for both guys and girls to follow office dress codes -- even though you are an intern, you shouldn't wear flip-flops or clubbing attire. People will talk about you. Trust me.

For skirts, there's the old-school finger tip test. But to be on the safe side, don't wear anything that could be described as "mid-thigh" or makes you wonder, "Is this skirt too short?"

Here are some more dress code tips from twin sisters  Natasha Rosenstock and Lani Rosenstock Inlander.

I've been super shy most of my life, and I'm just starting to have a more confident outlook on life. What are your best tips on exuding a genuine confidence while interning?

1. Smile

2. Remember everyone's name. Memory can be a gem! Whenever you meet new people, try hard to remember their names. Everyone from the janitor to your fellow  interns to the executives at the company. Whenever you see them in the hallway or at lunch, say hello, and call them by their name (not "hey you"). They will respect this and remember yours.

3. Make friends. Since you know you are shy, challenge yourself. Be the intern leader. Make it your project to get all of the interns together outside of the office for dinner or bowling or a baseball game - something fun so you can get to know each other even better. Some of these relationships will be lifelong! 

A good number of my friends already sent of applications, but I was in the dark on the whole process and haven't mailed a single one. Is it too late to get a decent internship for the summer?

It really truly depends -- I know the Post's deadline for traditional summer internships was in the fall. A lot of newspapers like to lock in their summer interns before the holidays hit.

But, with that said, tighter budgets have pushed a lot of places to make decisions month-to-month, rather than months-ahead. Plus, journalism internships don't just mean newspapers, magazines and TV stations these days -- you should also check out blogs, Web sites and online video channels to see if they have openings.

How sick do I have to be to not come in to work?

If you are contagious, don't go into work. If you are the kind of "sick" that when someone looks at you they say, "you look awful" - stay home. No one wants to get sick at the office. If you are sick because you are hungover from the night before - take a tylenol and get into the office - that one is your fault :)

Hi Lauren! I am working on applying for various internships through your website. I noticed it requires you to copy and paste your resume. Do I also copy and paste my cover letter into the same area?

Hi! We don't require it but I STRONGLY suggest that you do. If you are applying for an out-0f-state internship for summer, always include a cover letter. Check out this recent blog on my site Always Include A Cover Letter via @internqueen

It's not just spelling mistakes - I used to be the internship coordinator at a magazine, and I can't tell you how many cover letters named the WRONG MAGAZINE. Wow. Some of them would've had a shot, too, if it hadn't been completely obvious that they couldn't be bothered to check their materials.

hahaha -- oh dear! Tragic. I have heard horror stories of applicants spelling the recruiter's name wrong, but never getting the name of the publication completely wrong.

But, at the same time, college students are increasingly busy and applying to more and more places. Should they be given a break? What mistakes can be overlooked and which are immediate deal breakers?

What's a good way to keep in touch with potential employers after you've sent your application? I never know what they are doing on the other side, especially if I applied online, as I have through both your site and directly to the company. Do they even see my application?

If you applied for an internship on my site, the employer gets it right away and probably files it into their Interns folder. As soon as they are ready to go through the applications and schedule the interviews, they comb through all of the applications they have and send out interview requests. Many of the employers on my site are currently posting spring and summer 2011 opportunities. This means they are still looking through their stacks for spring 2011 and haven't even started looking through the summer 2011 stack yet (keep that in mind).  

If you apply directly to an employer, follow-up exactly two weeks after you send your application.

Is it worth it to take an unpaid internship? Especially when so many are now? Or should one hold out for something that's paid?

YES! I had 15 unpaid internships (I got a $100.00 stipend - once) and they were the best experiences of my life. I learned so much and got so much experience :) Make a list of your objectives. What do you want to get out of the internship? Don't be concerned with the pay. Choose the internship that will help you achieve your goals.

What is the best way to go about getting a guarantee entry level job with a company before graduating from college?

Network, network, network. Even if you don't land a job from your internship you should build solid contacts that you can go back to and tap into their personal and professional networks - someone is always looking or hiring. Also, start early - if you graduate in May, it's not too early to see what's out there and start setting informational meetings. Let people know you are about to enter the job market! Look out!

Many super motivated sophomores are now looking for internships. Will they be considered in today's tight market? Other options?

Oh yes! We are seeing students get motivated and try to land internships in high school! We will continue to see this over the next 3-5 years as internship candidates get younger and the competition grows stronger. They will be considered - absolutely.

Whats your opinion on internships you have to PAY for to obtain them? Some go well into the thousands, both domestic and international.

Pay-to-intern programs are quickly gaining popularity. I wrote a story last summer about internship programs in D.C. that charge thousands for package deals that include a guaranteed internship, class credit, coursework, housing and field trips. In nearly every case, the students could have scored these internships on their own -- but they didn't realize that or weren't confident enough to try. Or they (or their parents) wanted the support and structure provided by these operations.

My guess is that this trend is going to continue. Many of today's parents are used to spending thousands on summer camps, SAT prep classes, college tuition, posh dorms and study abroad programs. Why change that attitude when it comes to internships?

Did all 15 of your internships correlate with your major? What exactly was your major?

My major was organizational business communications at UCF (University of Central Florida). My interests were all communications-based (Writing, PR, Advertising, Marketing, Entertainment) All of my internships were in these categories. Today, as "The Intern Queen", I use the skills and contacts from my internships on a daily basis. You never know when you might need a contact! Stay in touch with everyone.

Is it appropriate to date members of you workplace if you are an intern?

No. If you have an instant connection with someone, explore that when the internship is over. Who wants to be "that intern" ? Ugh.

What's the proper way to write and deliver thank-you notes at the end of an internship?

Mail (yes, I said mail) your thank-you notes to the internship coordinator and any other executives you built professional relationships with during your internship.

Some blogs to help:

The Thank You Note via @internqueen

Quick Thank You Note Tips via @internqueen

I am an IT major and I have applied for several internships, but have not heard back yet from anyone. Is there any resources for those seeking technical positions and what it one way for me to stand out in the crowd? I thought my major would make me a shoe-in.

1. Apply for more internships if it's been more than 2 weeks and you haven't heard anything back. You should be applying for at least 10 internships for summer 2011.

2. Your major isn't enough. You have to have focused materials that clearly explain why you are the best candidate for the position. Go into the career center, go over your resume and cover letter with them before you apply to anything else.

3. Ask your career center and the head of your department (IT department) about local or national opportunities. Their job is to build great relationships for students - don't forget that fabulous resource!

Hey Jenna! I'm looking into journalism related internships for this summer and I'm trying to weigh dream locations with reality. Say I somehow get offered my dream internship cross-country, as well as an equal, but less as exciting offer, close to school- what is your advice? Particularly when the internships are unpaid. FInancially, is it practical to move away for an unpaid internship?

Keep in mind that I am one of those people who thinks it is entirely possible to follow your dreams without going into too much debt...

When it comes to journalism internships, experience is more important than anything. Sometimes, it's better to be in a small town getting lots of bylined stories than working in the big city and fetching coffee.

Take a serious look at what these two internships would offer -- and don't be afraid to call both places to ask lots of questions.

Also figure out how much both of these internships would cost you -- don't forget airfare, housing and clothing. How will you pay for this? Student loans, money from your parents, savings, credit cards? Knowing ahead of time exactly how much debt you will be taking on will help you make a solid decision.

And if you decide you can't afford your dream internship, call and tell them so -- some employers will go out of their way to help you find free housing or money for a plane ticket. They just need to know that you need the help.

Hi Lauren, You've built your empire with a personal brand. How do I build on my personal brand without coming off as obnoxious.

Promoting a personal brand  comes along with some shameless self-promotion - it just does. That being said, you want to make sure you are putting valuable information into the hands of your followers, users, audience. Once you are confident that your information is valuable - you won't feel silly or like you are being obnoxious. I would study other brands that you admire. Watch things like - how often they tweet, facebook, blog, post pictures, articles  - apply these rules to your brand.  Also, make sure you have a clear idea of who your audience is. Talk to them, ask them questions. I created my Intern Queen Campus Ambassador Program so that I could speak directly with my audience, expand my content, and make sure we were directly connecting - check them out here!/album.php?aid=265557&id=261422574089

But again, its all about knowing who you are speaking to (who you want to hear your message) and making sure you are adding value at the end of the day.

Good luck. Builing a brand is not easy - and asking questions is the first step :)

What is your feeling about directly contacting companies that do not seem to actively be seeking interns? .. presenting them with your interests and resume, etc?

The Intern Queen inside of me says - go for it. You have to pick where you want to work and then go work there. Be prepared for rejection - harsh rejection. But know - at the end of the day - it will just make you stronger. First, google the company and see if any of their opportunities are online (of course, check their  website as well). If you can't find any listings - time to cold call! Be polite. Ask to speak with the internship coordinator. Ask what materials they need for their internship program. Good luck! Anything is possible.

My resume is getting longer and longer. It no longer fits on one page. Do you have any tips to make it more concise? Do I have to list every relevant college course I've taken? Also, are there online forms that I can insert my information into because resume templates are too simplistic for all of my internships and jobs.

In my humble opinion, no resume should be longer than one page. Especially if you are still in college.

Go through your resume right now and highlight the MOST IMPORTANT items -- the best jobs you have held, the most interesting projects you have worked on, the most prestigious awards you have won. Then get rid of pretty much everything else. Employers just want the highlights. They do not want to know every class you have ever taken.

BUT if you still feel the need to give employers the opportunity to learn anything and everything, create a Web site or a LinkedIn page, and provide the web addy on your application.

When applying for an internship on your website I pasted in my resume and the format was off. I adjusted to the best of my ability. Do you think this could lower my chances of getting the internship?

Nope. The employers we work with are aware of the copy/paste system - this prevents us having to send them several attachments that could contain spam/viruses. We correct formatting issues and explain to the employers that students should not be overlooked because of this.

I work during the day and go to class at night. Have you heard of companies providing for evening internship opportunities or are most all internships doing the day? What advice do you have to other students like me? Thanks.

Most internships are during normal business hours. In fact, if a company asked you to come in late at night (unless it was to help with an event) I would question the opportunity. I would go after virtual internships which have flexible hours and where you work from home. I list several of these on my site

HELLO -- one area where I get conflicting advice is the work-life balance I should maintain during an internship. Some people have told me I should really devote my summer to working as hard as possible for the experience, but others have told me I should be sure to head to happy hours and to enjoy life because making friends can ultimately be the most important thing for your career. Should I spend my intern evenings burning the midnight oil or drinking cocktails until midnight? (If it matters if I'm coming from a school in the Midwest to intern in Washington for the summer and won't know a lot of people there.)

Okay, here's the answer you don't want to hear: Do both!

Find a way to work late on nights when you need to work late. Don't hang around the office just to hang around the office.

And a few nights a week, especially on weekends, try to hang out with your fellow interns or people from the office. Sure, it's good for networking -- but it's also good for you to hear about the experiences of other interns, compare notes on difficult bosses and form friendships (my fellow summer interns from Nebraska, Iowa and DC are still some of my closest friends).

And, remember, happy hour isn't the only place where you can have a life -- you can also do it over lunch, coffee, brunch or before-work jog.

And here are some tips for not embarrassing yourself at happy hour.

I'm in agreement with the one-page resume for the private sector, but remember that if you're applying for a government internship--and yes, the government hires paid interns!--when they say they want to see everything on your federal resume, they mean everything. Including the name of your high school.

Very good to know. Students should make sure to read the directions (or ask for directions) on any internship they apply for! Obviously, the rules vary.

Is it too late to apply for the summer internships listed on your websites? Specifically the PR ones.

Nope! In fact, most of them won't start going through the applications until the end of Feb for summer 2011.

I am currently doing a virtual spring internship. During the summer, I will be working full-time and do not want to continue the internship. How do I turn down the invitation from my internship coordinator while still maintaining an open line of communication in the future?

Your internship is only one semester, your commitment is only one semester. Tell the internship coordinator that you appreciate the opportunity and feel honored that she would even ask you to continue but you need to be able to contribute 100% and you have other commitments over the summer. Tell the coordinator you would love to stay in touch and possibly help out in the future.

I am currently doing a virtual internship. My supervisor asks me to do random tasks aside from what the internship initially entailed. Also, she emails me different times throughout the day, even in the evenings. This does not seem formal to me. Is this typical for a virtual internship? Should I address the issue?

I have never heard of a "virtual internship." No matter what format the internship takes, employers are not allowed to abuse their interns -- paid or unpaid. You should sit down (or, uh, Skype in?) with your employer and set some parameters for what your internship entails. That includes clear hours.

While you are at it, take a look at the Department of Labor's guidelines for internships to make sure your employer is following the law.

I am currently only looking for paid internships because I have loans to pay off and the summer is the perfect time to make some extra money. I definitely understand what you're saying about the great experience and learning. But practically speaking, I have books to buy when school starts again in the fall. If I made zero cents all summer, how am I supposed to do that? Also, I don't think you really answered the question about WHY so many internships are unpaid. I'm sure these large companies can shell out even a small stipend to assist with living expenses and such while still teaching their interns something.

There are some great paid internships available. However, if you stumble across your dream internship and it happens to be unpaid, you should still be able to manage a part-time job and an unpaid internship. Most internships (unpaid) only ask for about 15 hours per week, meaning you can still have that part-time job and mae decent $$. Also, on a sidenote, if you aren't familiar with or - check them out as they can save you tons of $$ on textbooks. Some companies do offer stipends or money to cover living expenses - it all depends on the company policy. There is no universal policy in place at every company - each company has their own HR policies regarding interns.  When you read the legal definition of an internship, it doesn't have anything to do with money, I think of internships like an additional class at school - something you don't get paid for. If you can land a paid opportunity and its a worthwhile opportunity - thats a great bonus. Internships are an investment in your future - priceless opportunities. Several employers feel that providing beneficial learning opportunities is greater than providing $10.00 an hour. Also, at a legal internship opportunity, the interns aren't "working" or generating any direct revenue for the company. Everything they do should be supervised and for the benefit of student learning.  Hope that is more helpful.... 

I know that you should address your cover letter to the "internship coordinator". What if you can't find the name of that person- even after a lot of searching?

Before you do that, try this: Call and ask for a name. If that fails, I am sure it's fine to use something generic.

I had such a great time on today's chat. I must get back to Intern Queen world! Thank you Jenna, Ryan, and everyone at the post for inviting me to today's chat. I hope to participate more in the future. If  any of you still have questions, be sure to email me and check out my site You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook and if you are interested in becoming an Intern Queen Campus Ambassador email

Good  luck and happy internship season! It's gonna be a great one!

Wow, time flies. The hour is already up -- and, sadly, we couldn't get to everyone's question. Thank you to everyone who participated. And a very special thanks to Lauren for helping me answer questions!

If you want to learn more about internships, check out the Post's Intern City page, which features tons of advice.

Have a great week. Stay warm. And good luck finding an internship!

In This Chat
Jenna Johnson
Jenna Johnson writes about college students and campus trends for the Post. She also runs the blog "Campus Overload," which chronicles national college news, drinking fads, admissions buzz and the latest exploits of Hill interns.
Lauren Berger
Business Week Magazine named Lauren Berger number 5 on their annual list of Young Entrepreneurs 25 Under 25. America Online says, “If you are going to college and wondering what you are going to do this summer – you need to look her up.” Mobile Youth has placed her in the top 10 Youth Marketing Minds of 2010.

Lauren Berger is CEO of Intern Queen Inc, an online internship destination that helps students find and apply for internships while also educating them on how to make the most of their experiences. Berger grew up in Clearwater, Florida and participated in 15 internships during her 4 years of college, hence the title "Intern Queen". Berger earned a degree in Organizational Business Communications at the University of Central Florida and interned for top-notch companies across the country such as MTV, FOX, BWR Public Relations, and NBC.
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