Greener Pastures In A New Field
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – New year, new career? Judging from my mailbox, the maddeningly slow rate of job creation in this recovery has many of you pacing a path on the office rug, waiting for an exit. And it's not just new jobs you want but whole new careers. Outplacement behemoth DBM ( reports that a startling 85% of its clients since 2002 have tried, with varying degrees of success, to get into a different business altogether. The biggest hurdle is just what you might expect it to be, the old catch-22: You can't get the job without experience, and you can't get experience without know. "Employers put up all kinds of barriers," says Douglas Seville, who runs DBM's Chicago office. "I had one client who applied for a finance job at a chemical company and wasn't hired because he didn't have a chemistry background. People who are hiring don't know what they want. They want what they know."

Ah. That's why the dreaded N-word, networking, is even more essential for career changers than for the rest of us. "Don't rely on a resume to get your strengths across. People read resumes to look for what you haven't got," says Seville. (Incidentally, don't count on recruiters to help you recast yourself either. They're paid to find round pegs to slip neatly into round holes.) "Instead, to change your career, change your network." How? Start with trade shows: "They're fun, low-cost events where it's easy to talk to lots of people because everyone is there to schmooze," says Seville. "Then look for every chance to follow up on those conversations." Informational interviewing, wherein you find key people in your chosen biz who might spare you 20 minutes of their time, is great too, Seville adds, "as long as you're not trying to con anybody. You really have to be seeking information only about the industry--which parts are growing fastest, how that person got into the field, and so on." Knowledge is power.

Also consider: Can you stand a cut in rank and pay, at least until you earn your wings? If not, think twice. "There are people here who are much younger than I am but are senior to me," says Michael O'Malley, a longtime consultant at big-name firms who recently moved into his dream job as business and economics editor at Yale University Press. "You have to be prepared for that." O'Malley leaped the no-industry-experience hurdle by bringing with him an extensive network of contacts from his consulting days. He's also the author of several books and long ago did a brief stint in business-book retailing: "I was never exactly in publishing before, but I knew my way around." Good point: Whenever you can, play up any experience you have that's at all related to the job you want.

And, hey, about networking? O'Malley found that his current job was open when he and a friend were out walking one day in New Haven and ran into a friend of the friend, who mentioned it. (See?) Does he like it? "I absolutely love it. I ask myself why I didn't make this change sooner," he says. "But I was a different person then."