06/29/2011 01:00 pm ET | Updated Aug 29, 2011

Earning Your Stripes: Internships & Business

With the job market really dry out there for newly-minted college grads, what's a kid to

Many have flown back to the nest, bunking in their old room, withdrawing cash from
the Bank of Mom & Dad 'til the market heats up. And others have opted to intern, even
if it means no pay, so they can beef up their resume, network and maybe even turn
their internship into a full-time job with paycheck and health benefits. Wouldn't that be

My first job out of grad school was as a reporter for a Miami radio station. It took me 13
months of hunting from my old room in a New Jersey 'burb to land the job. Every day I
batted out about 50 letters and resumes on my IBM Selectric to any radio station with a
signal. And every night I Scotch-taped a new batch of rejection letters to my wall that
helped refine my dart game.

Finally I landed a job with the top all-news station in a top market. And, in some ways,
it was like an internship. My starting pay in 1977 was $9,000 a year, no benefits, no
bonus and I worked holidays. But, I was thrilled to be working and soaked up every
word my news director barked at me so I could be the best reporter in the country and,
eventually, a star (still working on that). I was lucky to get to write and report day one
(covering hurricanes and riots) and win the chance to sharpen my skills over time.
There is literally nothing like learning to write for radio. Without any video, you need to
be creative yet crisp... a skill that helped me move from journalism to PR without too
much trouble.

I am a big fan of internships, especially in this economy. Sometimes they're paid and
sometimes they're not, but they're a great way to start climbing the ladder, whether back
down the hall from the folks or living with 4 other kids in a one bedroom. There are so
many kids out there who just need to get a grip on that bottom rung.

Now, just because it's an internship doesn't mean your boss is going to take it easy on
you. My daughter is in LA trying to be a comedy writer and was a production assistant
(another word for intern) for a TV production company. Similar to The Devil Wears
her exec producers made her do every menial task in the book including
rotating the water in the fridge, running for 18 super-large Jamba Juices at a time and
schlepping a bag of golf clubs cross-town (she was the caddy). After one coffee run too
many and a pizza order gone terribly wrong (not enough pepperoni for the VIPs),
my daughter opted to take some time off and write more. After finding an agent and
manager, she's banking on finding an exec who values her work.

Not sure if it's an east coast vs. west coast deal, but it seems that entertainment types
have a rightful rap for being picky about silly stuff (like wanting only red M&Ms or an
inch of ground coffee beans on their foamy, skinny lattes).

Here, on the east coast, I bring in paid interns and try my best to give them substantial
work. I figure it's in everyone's best interest to give smart, hungry kids real work vs.
household chores. And my reward has been kids who quickly learn the ropes and really
help out when the work hits the fan. Why should I send smart, energetic kids dying to
get into PR to get my tennis racket re-strung? Nuh-uh... not in anyone's best interest.

And then there are the kids whose parents "buy" them internships at some top-notch
firms. Guess mom and dad figure it's worth it in the long run, but I think it fosters the
Peter Pan-like sense of entitlement that's as common as flip flops and smartphones.

The whole point of an internship is to learn, and yes, grind. But puh-leez, not my coffee.