The notion of interns fetching coffee and making copies all day is getting more and more distant with the growth of today's competitive internship landscape. Smart interns are looking for opportunities that provide hands-on, real-world experience that will help them prosper and propel them into their new careers. Delivering on that expectation not only satisfies them, but enhances their contribution.

Instead of viewing interns as a burden or agonizing over how much time and attention they require, consider all the ways interns can be of value to your business. Here are just a few of their contributions, and how your business can best harness that.

They offer a fresh perspective.

Interns are often discredited for being too young and inexperienced, but those qualities can translate to potential advantages. Someone who is young and raw brings in an unbiased perspective that offers balance, making them a rich resource when discussing new ideas. Because interns don't necessarily have a comprehensive understanding of all the moving parts, they are free to think without the limits you may inadvertently put on yourself as a business owner. Plus, they have something to prove and little to lose, which can result in progressive thinking that sparks creativity among others.

There's a great book, Rookie Smarts, which explores the claim that when people are in unfamiliar situations or environments they perform better. In it, author Liz Wiseman says, "When the world is changing quickly, experience can become a curse, trapping us in old ways of doing and knowing, while inexperience can be a blessing, freeing us to improvise and adapt quickly to changing circumstances." Interns are a great example of this theory in action.

They have an outside point of view.

It's easy to get wrapped up in inside-out thinking when you're very close to something, which is all too common in businesses. Interns arrive with an outside-in viewpoint, so rather than being influenced by processes, systems, tools, and products designed and implemented based on internal thinking and intuition, they can more easily look at your business from the customer's vantage point.

Having an objective perspective in the mix can help you see the big picture. An intern's views are also less likely to be influenced by office politics. Invite their input and weigh it accordingly. It may come with less experience, but it will also come without the natural bias of someone with deeper roots in the company.

They help your employees grow.

Sometimes, an intern can have as great an impact on an employee as an employee or job can have on an intern. Aside from realizing increased productivity afforded by an extra set of hands, tasking employees with the responsibility and opportunity to nurture and mentor emerging talent can be a motivator to hold themselves to a higher standard. Playing a leadership role in an intern's progress can also initiate an employee's segue into cultivating his or her overall leadership efforts.

They could be your future.

At its core, the main motivation for an organization to host an internship program is to usher in a new generation of employees that satisfies the growing needs and future of the business. The most rewarding thing about these programs is they have the ingredients to truly be mutually beneficial, especially when the intern and organization are a good fit.

Research shows former interns stay at companies longer than employees who didn't have an internship. According to the Internship and Co-op Survey Report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2019 marked the third straight year of employers reporting positive hiring projections for both internships and co-ops. The one-year retention rate for intern hires with internal experience was 71.4 percent, compared to 59 percent for those with external internship experience, and 42.4 percent for hires with neither type of experience.

Unlike at a larger or more established company, interns have the potential to make a discernible impact at a startup. They're more likely to work closely with people in different departments at various levels and are afforded the opportunity to hone skills that make them more marketable employees. I've found one of the best ways to identify an intern's value is to be as inclusive as possible. Invite them to sit in on meetings and calls as often as possible, ask them for feedback to gauge their instincts, and always, always provide them with feedback.

As with most worthwhile things, with an internship program, you get out of it what you put into it. The more you prioritize and support it, the better it will be. The better the program is, the more competition it will draw, and the more competitive the program, the stronger the pool of candidates will be.