For employers who are looking for the cream of the crop among college-educated, entry-level employees, an internship program is the best way for them to build a pipeline of talented, young professionals.

“The market for the best and brightest students is the most competitive I’ve ever seen,” says Dan Black, Director of Campus Recruiting for Ernst & Young.

In fact, the market is so competitive, that 51% of employers are now focusing on relevant internship experience to find the best fit for their companies. Eighty-one percent of employers have found that new hires with relevant internship experience are better prepared than those without internships.

Interns are valuable assets for employers for several reasons. In addition to being a pipeline for hiring, interns fill positions and assist employers with innovative ideas and technology.

“Internships allow us to connect with and build relationships with students early in their academic careers,” said Mary Anne McNulty, Manager of Staffing and College Relations, Starwood Hotels & Resorts. “This builds a pool of candidates who have work experience with us and who have forged relationships with our managers.”

Students are on the same page as employers regarding the importance of internships. Approximately 66% of the more than 2,800 students surveyed have held at least one internship. Thirty-seven percent of students reported that internships are one of the most effective job search resources.

Internships open all sorts of doors for students. Students gain an insider’s view to a possible career path and networking opportunities. Above all, internships could lead to a full-time position for that company.

With benefits for employers and students, internships really are a win-win.