In today's information age, endless data is available at the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen. But there is one thing that young professionals can only get in the real world: experience.

New entrants to the workforce may bring formal education, which is critical to success, but no amount of accreditation can replicate the unique value of real-life lessons learned. It's one thing to know that you could fumble an important presentation or miss the mark during a high-stakes conversation at work. It's another to have the experience to avoid those obstacles or successfully bounce back from them.

Thankfully, it's possible to tap the priceless resource of experience without putting in years of time. How? By taking part in a mentor-mentee relationship and finding a mentor who knows first hand the opportunities — and potential pitfalls — most likely to arise in your field.

A Mentor-Mentee Relationship: Your Safe Place

Most professional relationships — with officemates, team members, superiors, and even friendly rivals — bring some level of professional risk as you consider sharing your ideas and concerns. A strong mentor-mentee relationship, however, is an ideal space for positive, dependable, and productive back-and-forth conversation.

An experienced mentor can help you avoid potentially tricky office scenarios. Here are just a few hypothetical pitfalls you can avert with the guidance of a mentor.

  • When you tell your mentor your doubts about a new corporate strategy, you know your remarks will never make their way back to the project lead.
  • When sharing a brilliant idea, your mentor will never "borrow" it to claim credit the way a teammate might.
  • When explaining your perspective, you'll be shown potential blind spots. Your mentor can let you know whether there's an angle you're missing — a perspective that could make all the difference.
  • When you're ready to step out and try something new, a mentor can help you decide the best timing based on experience. By default, you'll avoid the common professional pitfall of poor timing.

No mentor possesses a crystal ball, it's true. However, seasoned professionals have lived through various chapters and can impart their wisdom straight on to you.

What a Mentor-Mentee Relationship is Not

Think about your professional goals. Now imagine meeting regularly with someone who has achieved some or all of those milestones. With a relationship like that, you'd have unique, contextual confidence as you pursue your objectives. The collaboration gives you a safe place to sound off, ask questions, verbalize frustrations, examine obstacles, and even celebrate benchmarks with a seasoned adviser who's actually been there.

A mentor is meant to help develop your skills by providing a second set of (experienced) eyes and ears to every situation you discuss. They advise, counsel, and coach you toward your greatest successes by encouraging you with years of real professional lessons learned.

To be clear, mentors don't train you formally or informally. Neither do they manage your on-the-job performance or officially sponsor you for a promotion. And finally, the collaboration isn't an aimless, unproductive pastime. Instead, expect to see your goals realized, questions answered, and your position navigated better with a seasoned veteran who's on your side.

Finding an Employer With a Good Mentorship Program

Sadly, professional mentoring relationships like these are nearly impossible to establish without some sort of facilitation. Thankfully, some employers create and prioritize a thriving mentorship program. When they do, careers prosper and employee satisfaction surges. Savvy job seekers know this and rank a robust mentorship initiative above many other short-term perks those hiring companies may offer.

At KeyBank, we encourage participation in our MentorMe@Key Program, which can intuitively match mentees with the mentors who can best help them achieve their career goals and objectives. It's through programs like this that each of us are given the opportunity to contribute to the success of the company and our own personal growth.

When choosing an employer, go for one that sees the power in mentorship and channels it to their employees. You'll be glad you did.