Here's my story - hopefully it helps:
I had several years of experience working as a technical consultant for a company selling a CRM/SFA database program. That was my introduction to databases.
From there, I did a lot of experimenting with Access, and got some small contracts to develop small dbs.
From there, I wanted to make the jump to SQL Server.
So, I decided to study for the Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist: SQL Server 2005 exam. I studied my rear-end off for about 5 months, and passed on the first shot. That certification definitely helped to get me some interviews, but my confidence really came from the fact that I've got several "workshop" databases that I am constantly work and experiment with, on my own time, that I started during my study phase.
So, while I was looking for jobs, I was keeping my knowledge active. In interviews, when employers would ask me questions, and have me take their own SQL tests, I felt confident and did well, because I had experience with SQL Server 2005, without having "professional work experience".
From that point, you just need to get lucky and find an employer who's not looking for a candidate with 5-7 years of experience. That took me a couple of months of searching, but am happy to report that I've found a great job now.
Best of luck with your search.