1. Be willing to start over. First and foremost, you must be willing to go back to basics. That means regardless of your current professional standing, you're comfortable taking at least a few steps back. It also means you'll likely have to accept a pay cut. No matter how experienced and talented you are at what you do today, you'll have to prove yourself all over again in this new field. The good news? It typically goes a lot faster the second (or third or fourth) time around.
2. Get some education. Without experience, education is your new best friend. Take classes, get certified, earn a new degree if you have to. This demonstrates your interest and commitment to the new field, and it gives you at least some kind of background on which to build. Of course, theory and practice are often two different things so education certainly isn't a replacement for hands-on experience. But it's a nice way to fill the gap when experience is missing.
3. Volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to demonstrate skills and abilities that aren't necessarily seen in your regular work experience. It's also a helpful way to see if you actually enjoy this new kind of work. For example, you're thinking about leaving your corporate desk job to become a veterinarian. Before you enroll in school, consider volunteering at your local animal hospital or shelter. This will give you a taste of the world you're about to jump in to. Plus, you'll get valuable real-world experience to add to your resume.
4. Frame your existing experience appropriately. Regardless of your current position, chances are pretty good that you have some transferable skills. You might not do the same kind of work, but your existing experience is still valuable. Let's refer back to the example above. If you're leaving a corporate desk job to become a vet, you might not see the correlation right away. But consider the fact that your corporate position has taught you how to remain poised under pressure. That's a skill you'll definitely use in the future. Perhaps you've also mastered multitasking and prioritization—both helpful skills for almost any role in any industry. This process requires some creativity, but it's not deceptive in the slightest. You absolutely have honed skills that apply to this new role. The challenge is finding and articulating them.
5. Use non-traditional ways of finding a job. When a resume doesn't look like the typical resume for the field, it's easily pushed aside. Most people who are hiring have a clear idea of the experience they want for the role. Don't rely on traditional job search techniques like online applications. Instead, use your network—your family members, friends, former colleagues, mentors, etc.— to help you find a position. You will have much better luck getting the interview if you have a cheerleader saying you are the perfect fit for the job. Personal recommendations go further than a resume any day.
6. Spruce up your cover letter and LinkedIn summary. When transitioning into a brand new career, it's essential that you include a very strong cover letter with your resume. In it, you'll want to express your desire to change careers and discuss why your existing skills make that a logical progression in your professional growth. Be specific, energetic, and persuasive. Tell your story. Share your passion. Express your desire to learn and explain what you've done so far to help make this transition possible (i.e., education, volunteering, etc.).
Include this same information in your LinkedIn summary so people know why your past experience doesn't perfectly match up with your future career goals.
Remember that experience isn't the only thing prospective employers are looking for. They also want to find the right person for their organization. Many companies are far more concerned with personality and cultural fit. Plus, with less experience, you don't bring a lot of baggage with you (like unwanted behaviors and techniques learned elsewhere). You're a clean slate (at least in this field). Use that to your advantage.
7. Give it time. A successful career transition takes time so don't get impatient. If it's a move you believe in, it's worth it. You can always start slow, right where you are. See if there's a way to hone new skills in your current position that would directly apply to your new career path. Even one small step in the right direction can make a big impact. Stay motivated and focused on the end goal. And most importantly, don't give up.
Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of EatYourCareer.com, believes work can be a nourishing life experience. As a career coach, corporate trainer, and public speaker, she helps professionals of all levels unlock their true potential and discover long-lasting career fulfillment.