Data doesn't sound very sexy, but it's driving job growth in record numbers and is quickly finding its way into every aspect of business. It can also pay big bucks, if you know what you're doing. Big data jobs requiring specific expertise have spiked in recent years--on average, data scientist roles earn an annual salary of over $113,000.

Demand for data scientists is also skyrocketing because of the payoff: retailers using big data may increase their margins by more than 60 percent. And the opportunities are vast for those considering a career change. A McKinsey study says the U.S. will be short by up to 190,000 people with the right data analytical expertise, meaning a plethora of open job listings that are ripe for the taking.

An abundance of resources are also available to help those looking to make a career transition or even carve out a new niche in their small business. So how can you shift gears and become the ideal candidate for a job centered around data? Take these five steps to begin successfully transitioning into this industry.

Read this book

"Seven Databases in Seven Weeks" by Eric Redmond and Jim R. Wilson explains the essential concepts at the core of each technology you should understand if you are working with data. In the spirit of the godfather of data warehousing and business intelligence, Ralph Kimball, this book lays out the foundation of the database and data economy, how it's grown up and how you need to use it.

Educate yourself on the basics

Take one of these online courses to kickstart your knowledge:

Step forward at networking meetups

Networking meetups typically consist of like-minded professionals gathering in casual environments to chat about their careers. They can be valuable. But take the meetup a step further. Don't just be a participant; be the one who's being watched at the event. Present, show your value and set yourself apart from the crowd. You never know who's watching and could be looking for a standout just like you.

Master your stats, data structures and machine learning skills

Sure, they may be listed on your resume, but can you walk the walk? Before you fill out that online application, make sure you know these three key data basics: statistics, data structures and machine learning. Be ready for the abstract interview questions because employers will want to measure your critical thinking skills. Example: How many skittles can you fit into a liter bottle? Knowing a potential hire has the industry terminology and prowess down pat is equally as important.

Go forth and conquer

The definition of a data-focused career is constantly in flux due to the shifting nature of how data is being processed, consumed and acted upon. As you step into this career, remember the power that also comes with the ability to adapt quickly and bring value to unchartered waters. At the end of the day, making sense of data is the key to propelling any business forward. I'll even go as far as to bet that no business will be around in the next five years if they don't incorporate big data into their business model in some way, shape or form.

The workforce is flush with high-paying data-focused jobs that will be around for a very long time. By recognizing the importance of data and the potential for growth, successful business leaders are wasting no time in identifying candidates that will protect one of their most valuable assets: their data.