Elana Konstant
Career Coach for professionals in transition

At one point or another during the work week, we all get that what if moment. What if I quit my full-time job? What if I actually pursued my dream career? What if I never had to work in an office again? But then the harsh realities of debt, retirement planning, and, oh, the need to eat come crashing down.

Making a radical transition is difficult even for the most organized and frugal person. But it’s important to remember that a full-time job is not the only way to learn, build experience, and have a lucrative career.

The key to a successful shift is to start doing the work you want to do before quitting your main gig. Now, I know you’re wondering how in the world you could possibly add one more responsibility to your plate. Think about the hours you dedicate to your side hustle or part-time job as a short-term investment in your long-term career goals. Take that first step to see the path forming before you. Here are four ways to get strategic, part-time work experience to change your full-time career:

Consulting/Project-Based Work

Don’t wait for someone else to offer you a job or to stumble on the perfect job description; you can proactively take on clients and begin to work part-time on your own. Devise an idea for a project that you can work on within a set period of time, such as a few weeks. For instance, if you want a job in marketing, offer to help a local, small business with a new campaign. This proposal requires less of a commitment for both parties, employers and employees alike. Once you deliver great results, you can request or suggest that the company use your services more frequently or in a larger capacity. What started as part-time employment or freelance work could become full-time employment.

You could also cover for others on maternity or medical leaves to get experience at a company without the same pressures of full-time work. Often, these opportunities come through word of mouth, particularly if a company knows that you are interested—perhaps you've reached out through a letter of interest, applied for a job and stayed in touch, or connected through networking efforts. Ask people to let you know about projects that could use your services when employees go on family or medical leave. The Mom Project, Power To Fly, and The Second Shift all offer opportunities specifically for women, and many of them are remote or part-time positions.

Freelance/Owning a Business

There are around 10 million and counting women-owned businesses in the United States. You would be in good company if you decided to go off on your own. The lack of security and instability can be overwhelming for some, so make sure you have safety nets in place. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to run an online business with very little overhead.

Freelancing is a great way to gain experience and build credibility while having freedom and flexibility. Writing articles can prove your legitimacy in a particular field, as can giving presentations and serving on panels. Sometimes, it’s just about putting the word out there that you are accepting clients in your field of expertise, whether it’s communications, marketing, customer service, human resources, or another field. Check out Upwork, Catalant, Thumbtack, or Freelancer to find freelance work and part-time positions through a structured platform.

Substantive Volunteering

Look for opportunities to do what you love, hone your skills, and find fulfillment—all at once. The more engaged you are with your work, the more productive you will be. While working for free is not ideal, finding strategic opportunities to volunteer for a set period of time can boost your skillset in a meaningful way. If you value the experience you gain and work you do, others will to, and it could lead to paid opportunities.

A few sites to find practical and challenging volunteer programs are Taproot Foundation, Volunteer Match, and Catch A Fire. If you can’t find a volunteer opportunity that matches with the skills you have or the ones you are trying to develop, then create the project for yourself. Research organizations and companies, determine what you could contribute based on their needs, and draft proposals. Perhaps after a period of contributing as a voluntary, part-time worker, you could come on as a salaried, full-time worker. Think big.

Board Memberships/Leadership Roles

Being part of a structured board or professional group is a great way to gain credibility, network with high-level people, and learn more about a field or organization. Serving in a leadership role at an organization or within your community in your field of interest can help you develop important skills.

Networking can help uncover potential board openings once you make it clear that you're looking for the work. Some sites to look for potential board positions are Board Source, Board Net USA, Exec Rank, and Volunteer Match. You can find leadership roles at places such as local schools, local government offices, political parties, professional associations, and nationwide organization chapters. Put yourself out there, and you’ll be surprised what comes back to you.

Elana Konstant is a career coach and consultant focusing on professional women in career transition. A former lawyer, she founded Konstant Change Coaching to empower women to create the career they want. Change is good. Elana will help you find out why. Her career advice has been featured in Slate, Glamour, Babble, Motherly, and other outlets. You can learn more by visiting her website, konstantchangecoaching.com.