As the mother of a recent college graduate and a small business owner, I have often used my experience as an employer to help prepare my children for their post-college job search.

We have all faced the dilemma of landing that first job: The employer often requires prior experience but is classifying the position as entry level.  Although slowly improving, the current unemployment rate has intensified competition, creating an environment where internships are no longer optional but mandatory.

(Jeffrey MacMillan/Washington Post)

Colleges and universities are now encouraging more experiential education, or internships.  Certainly, an internship is not a guarantee of employment, but it provides students an opportunity to be in the workforce, obtain references and begin setting the foundation for a job search.

As a small business, we view interns as an opportunity to supplement our full-time professional staff with someone who provides energy, a willingness to learn and proficiency with basic technology, at no or low cost.

I also view internships as on-the-job training and a mechanism for building a pipeline of future employees. My company hired our first intern four years ago, and today she is a full-time employee. Hiring her was a very easy decision since she was a known entity with significant skills and institutional knowledge. 

One of the primary drawbacks of hiring any new employee is the time and attention necessary to get them fully up to speed and able to perform their job independently. My experience with hiring new graduates is that they have a longer than normal learning curve because in addition to orienting to a new job and company they have to settle into the patterns and etiquette of full time employment. 

On one hand, most small businesses do not have formal orientation programs or the luxury of an extended period of time before a new employee can be revenue producing. However, those college students who excel at internships with small businesses can benefit from these organizations that are generally without internal recruitment and hiring resources and thus rely heavily on past relationships and network contacts when filling vacant positions.

The bottom-line for small business owners is to take advantage of the pool of talented college students who appreciate the opportunity to gain much needed experience by hiring interns (hint: with the cost of college, they really appreciate any amount of stipend).

College student or new graduates should take the time to research the large number of small businesses that are well positioned for growth, and could benefit from your talent and energy, understanding that the impression you leave and contacts you build could make all the difference.

As the mother of a recent graduate, who on paper did all of the right things — he got good grades, good internships and has great references— I ask business owners to give him and other new college graduates an opportunity.

I can tell you from experience, being able to provide that opportunity is good business, good for the economy and great for the soul.

Lisa Firestone is president of Managed Care Advisors, an employee benefits and disability management consulting firm in Bethesda.