Your most powerful tools for making a career change

Time for a change in cubicle scenery?

Yearning for a fresh start in a new occupation can stem from any number of reasons. The idea of the grass being greener on the other side can lead us to daydream of lost opportunities elsewhere, even if we’re not particularly unhappy with a current job. Stagnant salaries, indifference, frustrations, or even just the desire for a challenge…the list goes on and on.

No matter the push, a career change seems romantic and inspiring in theory, but the execution part of it is daunting and seemingly light years away. Leaving behind a salary to focus on continuing education isn’t a viable option for most and gaining relevant experience in a new profession can’t be done without proven competency. All these roadblocks can provide a formidable barrier to pursuing the idea of a career change any further.

However, you don’t need a Fairy Job Mother or an additional degree to move in the right direction. The most powerful tools to change your 9-5 are easily accessible to people of all backgrounds and means. What can you leverage to start moving in the right direction?

Informational interviews and mentorship

A quick Google search for experiences in X-position or Y-company leads to mountains of first-hand accounts, forums, and blog articles highlighting what to expect. People are eager to share how they worked hard to achieve their career goal and the steps they’ve seen others take as well. Using LinkedIn to search a specific industry or position will also yield real people with a snapshot of their professional journey to get to where they are now.

Once you’ve compiled some names and contact info of people in a position similar to where you would eventually like to be, you’re ready to start outreach. While cold calling and unsolicited emails are usually not the best way to get your name out, reaching out with a genuine inquiry about someone’s life is even a form of flattery. You’re not spamming or selling anything, so introduce yourself with confidence!

These contacts can turn into professional relationships that down the road that result in mentor figures and a solid network.

Networking at local meetups

Not everyone promotes their professional journey and achievements on the web, and it may be challenging to get a foot into the local scene in such a broad online community. If you can’t find a local organization dedicated to the career you’re looking to pursue, try looking on more general community sites like Meetup that have member-created groups for anything from Data Science to Women Entrepreneurs.

If conferences are out of the budget, then these smaller meetups of dedicated professionals provide a more affordable and friendlier alternative.

Work with a recruiting agency

Working with a firm typically doesn’t cost a dime for job seekers, as the expense is fronted by employers looking for specific talent that don’t have the resources or network available to search a wide pool. A leadership search firm can help match executive-level candidates with hard-to-fill positions that require uncommon skillsets or knowledge.

For those looking to make a career change, working with a firm to identify transferable skills can help you identify where you may be a good fit. Screening benefits both parties, as a search firm has an obligation to employers to deliver the best matching candidates.

Gaining experience through a side hustle

Some look at a side hustle as an additional income stream. But these part-time ventures can also be a powerful tool to flex new skills and explore different careers without the risk and investment that come with quitting your job and starting a business.

Professional-level side hustles can be anything from personal coaching to database management consulting, building on knowledge and skills you already have, but also giving room to grow and expand in other directions.

Your current employer

Of course, a career change doesn’t need to involve scraping your current job and starting over in a new industry and position. Working towards a transfer within your current company has the benefits of already knowing the business and the necessary contacts. If you feel your ambition and growth potential are better served in a different department, your human resources team could give some pointers on how to proceed.

Your ability to succeed in a new environment truly boils down to dedication and the age-old mantra of “it’s all about who you know”. A career change doesn’t require having a brother-in-law in the C-Suite who can pull a few strings. It’s about tapping into up-to-date networks of people who are locked into their industry and can lead you in the right direction. Your grit and focus will do the rest to pull you along into new opportunities.

Brett Farmiloe is a cofounder of Y Scouts, a leadership search firm that helps connect people to work that matters.