“I want to shift my career from tech support to software sales, but I don’t have any experience,” my client told me.

Seems like a dead-end, right? Of course, if you submit to jobs where you’re woefully lacking in qualifications against the other applicants, you’re going to come up short.

But let’s not declare this – or any career pivot – closed until you step away from rejection by giant databases that are mining for keywords. Look instead to substantive feedback from live human beings.

The input you’re seeking won’t come from online submissions – it’s got to come from people with boots on the ground, those who know both the industry and the role you’re targeting.

How do you access those people?

I do it through cold LinkedIn invitations, and if I’m careful in my approach and my wording, I’m usually able to get responses that are useful on several levels. My clients have also had success with this approach, which includes:

  • Identifying 10-15 people who are in the jobs you covet in the companies where you want to work. This information comes from simply using the Search box on LinkedIn.
  • Sending a LinkedIn invitation to them (do this by going to their profile and clicking the “Connect” button – make sure you customize the invitation by selecting the “add a note” option).
  • Inviting them to connect using transparency, something like, “I’m in an exploratory period with my career, trying to gauge whether [role in a specific industry] might be a good fit for me. I’m hoping to get advice from people like you, who are on the frontlines of the work I’m exploring.”
  • Expecting that some people will ignore your message and not accept your invitation request – it’s not personal – they’re just busy and/or not receptive right now.
  • Using InMail to ask for a meeting with those who accept your invitation request. Your InMail note might say something like, “Thanks so much for connecting with me here on LinkedIn. As I mentioned, I’m on a quest to find out more about [job in specific industry] and determine whether I want to turn my career in this direction. Do you have 15-20 minutes to talk on the phone with me about the work that you’re doing? I’m not looking for a job – what I’m seeking is advice. I’m open Monday and Wednesday afternoons next week, but if those times don’t fit your schedule, please let me know what works well with your calendar, and we’ll find something that suits both our schedules. Thanks!”
  • Asking substantive questions during your phone call, such as, “I’m curious about the path you took to your position, even if it’s not typical” (this question gives you a strong sense of who they are and allows you to naturally make connections that you might use in your thank you note to them) and “What advice would you give someone like me – recognizing that I’m not entry-level, yet I’m missing some key experience?” and “Are there specific training programs or credentials or conferences that you recommend I explore?”
  • Keeping the meeting to the promised 15-20 minutes and ending with, “If I think of more questions over the coming weeks and months, is it okay for me to loop back to you?”
  • Staying in touch with the people you resonate with using authentic and natural springboards (you’ll have joined a LinkedIn group that they recommended and then you might tell them how helpful a discussion thread was to you, for example).

If you follow this formula, you’ll get advice that will help you infiltrate the network of the profession you’re targeting. You’ll begin to create relationships and find opportunities that aren’t posted online (or, if they are, you’ll have people who might champion you from within the organizations you’re targeting).