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Need to switch careers? These 5 things can get you there without spending a dime

Five ways to change jobs without going into debt
Five ways to change jobs without going into debt

You're ready for a job change, but you're concerned about the cost of retraining.

Switching careers doesn't have to mean a new degree and a lot of debt.

Depending on your goal, you might be able to train for a new industry and save a bundle.

"There's so much to tackle, and so many options," said Melody Wilding, a licensed social worker whose New York practice is career and executive coaching. Wilding is the author of an upcoming book on high-achieving, highly perceptive individuals in the workplace.

Wilding says she likes thinking of a career change as an opportunity to reset and be intentional about crafting your career to fit who you are.

Start creating a plan. Sketch out a calendar of how many people you will reach out to each week. How many people will you ask for coffee? Start with LinkedIn messages asking how people are and what they are up to. Instead of going in and asking immediately for a direct introduction, start with some relationship building.

Be sure to get your finances in order. Pay down debt and build up an emergency cushion. When a client of Wilding's saw she had a solid six months of financial room, it gave her tremendous peace of mind. In fact, Wilding said, just knowing she had a parachute made her determined to try to make things work at her current job.

"You never want to make a career change from a place of desperation," Wilding said.

1. Look inward

A good place to start is with a thorough self-assessment. "Get clear on what you want," Wilding said.

Here's some good news. That inner assessment can be free. No need to pay for therapy or coaching, Wilding says.

Do a mental run-through of your current job as well as some previous positions. Take stock of what you enjoyed most — and definitely pay attention to what you hope never to do again. Go through your perfect work day step by step, and add plenty of detail.

"Most of us never take that time," Wilding said. "Instead, we react to a career we fall into."

2. It's who you know

Start with a list of people you know from college, past jobs, networking events and family friends and relatives. "Don't be afraid to contact someone you don't know well," Wilding said.

Be willing to talk to anyone and everyone in the industry you're interested in, says Win Sheffield, a New York work coach who specializes in career change. An easy way to find people: Check your own college's LinkedIn page. On the left is a link to alumni, which lets you search by title, keyword or name of company.

Don't be afraid to contact someone you don't know well.
Melody Wilding
Careers coach

"It's sometimes better to contact people from out of town," Sheffield said, "so they don't assume you are just asking them for a job or a referral." Simply tell them you'd like to find out what it's like to be a whatever, and ask for some pointers.

Read blogs by people in the field to see what excites them, what's new and trending, what frustrates them.

Before you commit to joining a professional organization, see if you can attend one of the meetings, says Sheffield. It's a good way to make contacts and learn something about the industry.

3. Take a test drive

Find out if the vision in your head matches the reality, Wilding says.

It's a great idea to shadow someone throughout their work day. You may already have someone in your circle, either a direct or indirect contact, who can introduce you to a person who holds the role you'd like to be in.

Hanging out with this person for a work day or even the morning can give you a taste of the company or of a specific job.

You might want to offer to pick up their lunch tab as a thank-you.

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4. Find a guiding light

It may not be easy to find a mentor, but give it a shot. "The best mentors are invested in your growth," Wilding said. You want someone you can meet with regularly. Make it clear you're going to put as little work as possible on their plate.
One of Wilding's clients regularly brought a deck of design work, so all the mentor had to do was show up and give a critique.

Try expanding your skills in your current job. Wilding recommends initiating new ideas for stretch projects and new challenges you'd like to take on with your supervisor. These can be tailored to the job and industry you'd like to work in.

"A new initiative, a new client project, new skills, such as coding," she said. "Come to them with a proposal and make it an easy yes or no."

Be specific. Say something along the lines of, "I've got this idea for XYZ. How can we make it work?"

Make sure you ask for feedback. What areas need improvement, and what areas showed the most growth? "It's so valuable," Wilding said. "We can't see everything ourselves."

5. Say yes to free classes

Online classes are an obvious win, and so many are low-cost or free, such as Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, and edX. You can find an enormous range of classes, including social media writing, computer science and even humanities and social sciences.

Learn HTML5 and CSS Fundamentals, for instance, for free in a self-paced course. If you want graded exams and assignments the cost is $99.

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