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By Amy MacMillan

As an intern, you may feel indebted to the employer who hired you and gave your empty resume a boost. The paybacks employers receive, however, are an honest day's work and the inside edge on recruiting top talent.

If an employer has interns on board, they have an interest in educating people. - Michael Drabenstott

As an intern, you may feel indebted to the employer who hired you and gave your empty resume a boost. But employers don't do things for altruistic reasons. "They want something in return," says Linda Segall of LRP Publications in Florida. What do they want? An honest day's work and the inside edge on recruiting top talent. "Especially in this market, internships are an excellent way to attract entry-level people to your door," says Segall, editor of the booklet College Internships: Solutions for Your Staffing Problems.

A mutually beneficial relationship
Maurice Villency Inc., an upscale furniture retailer/designer, has between two and 10 interns at each of its several locations in the New York tristate area. These interior design interns work under senior designers, sometimes on multimillion-dollar projects. Because they're treated as full-fledged team members, Vice President Eric Villency only accepts interns with serious interior design aspirations. "We see it as the chance to groom the future," Villency says.

At Fleishman-Hillard International Communications, interns are given even more training and development than employees, says Brian Baker, co-coordinator of the internship program for the company's San Francisco location. "The idea is to provide experience over the three or four months, so that when they graduate they are well prepared to enter an entry-level position." Some companies, like Fleishman-Hillard, assign interns to mentors who can offer individual expertise and constructive feedback.

In return for the training and development that employers invest in their interns, they expect high-quality work, of course. But interns are not only a resource for getting work done. Michael Drabenstott, associate director of public relations at SWB, an advertising/public relations agency in the Philadelphia area, says he appreciates students' youthful input and viewpoint. "I'm hoping to get some enthusiasm and someone who's going to keep me on my toes. I want someone who's going to question me. A lot of times, things become routine, but when someone asks you questions, it brings you back to why you are in the profession in the first place," he says.

Ask and learn
Not only are today's interns tomorrow's employees, they are also future clients and company ambassadors. "Good or bad, the students will tell others about the internship. They're walking advertisements for the companies," says Segall.

Armed with this knowledge, you should realize that motivation and enthusiasm will maximize your internship experience. Because interns are on board temporarily, they often are given project-based work, but that doesn't mean their efforts and experience don't fit into the company's big picture. If your employer doesn't explain the context of the work you are doing, be sure to ask for the big picture. "Otherwise, [you] could be sitting there for seven or eight hours compiling a media list, and not understanding what it's for," says Drabenstott.

Most employers want their interns to feel as if they are members of the group. Drabenstott says he wants interns to walk away with two things: a better educational experience than they would have gotten in the classroom and a good impression of the company. Interns should not be afraid to ask to be included in company and industry events, he adds. "If an employer has interns on board, they have an interest in educating people."

Once the internship is over, the relationship between the employer and the intern should not end. Stay in touch with your supervisor, because even if he or she does not hire you immediately upon graduation, there still may be a reference or networking opportunity in the future. Drabenstott, for example, still keeps in touch with former interns-proof that if nothing else, an internship can provide future networking opportunities. He concludes with this advice: "An internship is like life. The more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it!"

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