Whether you are a recent graduate or an experienced professional, the message Jennifer Turliuk brings to this interview isn’t only about deciding what to do with your life but about testing your ideas with informational interviews. And she got to talk with some amazing people. BTW, her book is “How to Figure Out What to Do With Your Life” and is available on Amazon https://amzn.to/3vF0Yoz
So, my guest today is Jennifer Turliuk , an entrepreneur, writer, speaker, the CEO of maker kits, which started the first and largest maker space for kids in the world and now runs award winning virtual programmers, camps, parties, encoding, robotics and mine craft to help kids get more confident and resilient. She's also the author of How to figure out what to do with your life, which Deepak Chopra called a brilliant instructional manual. Jennifer thanks for making time today with this crazy setup that we have today.
Oh, thank you so much for having me.
My pleasure! So, we're going to be talking about informational interviews and getting to things that most people would be afraid of reaching out to. Now, I'm going to ask this in a noxious way. Do you reach out to folks at Airbnb, the founders there and a couple of other places and got some help?
Okay, so, number one, why, number two is how, who, what, where, when. How about that from journalism?
Oh, sure. Well, my journey was that I was dissatisfied in my corporate career, I couldn't figure out what to do next. I tried all sorts of things like career coaching and career testing to help figure out what might be a better fit, but I couldn't figure it out. So, I realize I might need to develop my own process and I thought, perhaps a good process could be meeting with and interviewing and shadowing people that I admired to learn how they figured out what to do with their lives. So, I started emailing all these people in Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs, investors, and professors to ask them if they would meet with me to discuss how they figured out what to do with their lives and a bunch of them said, yes. So, yeah, I had assembled a cold email format, that I used to get people's email addresses and then I emailed them, and asked if they'd meet with me, and then met with a bunch of them, and I was able to ask them about how they made some of their career choices and use that information to help inform my own.
It's fascinating, because as a coach, I talk to people all the time, and I talked with them about informational interviewing and their first reaction is no, we will never get back. I am worthless. That part they don't say. But that's implied in that message. Were you living in Toronto at that time? Where were you when you were reaching out to folks in the valley?
So, I was living in Toronto, and then I actually quit and flew to Silicon Valley and that's when I started emailing people. But I've also emailed people who live in different places from where I'm living, and they're willing to meet virtually or for a call too and yeah, it's a common misperception that people won't get back to you. But it turns out that a lot of these folks don't receive many emails like this, and are more than willing to give back and help out and also take an opportunity to reflect on their own choices.
It is amazing. So, I'm going to ask what everyone asks. What the heck did you say that got their attention that got through to them that made them say, okay, I'll do it.
Well, I have a pretty specific cold email format that I share in the book, but just some basic elements of it and then the full outline is in the book. I basically said that I was a young, recent graduate, who had been dissatisfied in my career and was trying to figure out what to do next and I wondered if I could meet with them for five minutes of their time, because I really admired their work, to ask them some questions that might be able to help me figure it out and of course, the meetings ended up being longer than five minutes. But I was surprised and impressed that a lot of them said, yes.
Amazing! When you actually got to talk to them, I have a hunch that this was pre COVID days, right?
This was pre-COVID, yeah.
Yeah. So, you got to meet with them and that would be over zoom or whatever the platform might be and you were able to get in front of them. What did you ask?
I asked them all sorts of different questions. It was different for each person. But I wanted to know more about how they had chosen their career. I studied each person's profiles and backgrounds a bit before I met up with them so that I could know what I wanted to ask them and I asked them about key decision points. So, at different parts of their lives, how did they decide what they wanted to do while they were graduating from school and then if they've done something different, if they've changed careers along the way, how had they decided to do that and then how did they get to where they were today? What was their day to day like and were they happy in it? If they would have done something differently, what would it have been and what recommendations did they have for me today to figure out what I wanted to do?
So, that really works nicely with career changing, because they don't think you're ever going to ask them for a job. Normally, when I coach, people say, I'd like some advice from you much the same way as you do, and say, hey, I'm not going to ask you for a job although if you offered me one, I certainly wouldn't mind which inject some personality into the conversation and thus, the idea became, how do you get in front? How do you distinguish yourself from other people and it's a beautiful setup that you have, absolutely gorgeous.
You are welcome. So, then from there it becomes a question of how do you promote yourself to getting a role. You didn't graduate, and then do all this stuff and start your business, did you?
Well, I graduated, and then I went into the corporate job that I was dissatisfied in and then I quit and started doing the informational interviewing and shadowing, that helped me figure out that I wanted to become an entrepreneur and I got started with trying out different business ideas and coming to the ones that I have today.
Excellent! So, with shadowing, how did you propose it? What types of business did you shadow? How did you go about setting it up for yourself other than hi, can I shadow you for a day or two?
Well, I made a PDF pitch that pitched myself and why I would be a valuable shadow to them and I found at the time, I was considering six different types of careers. So, I tried to find companies that were in each of those different areas, and pitched my shadowing to them, and each shadow experience look different. There was a CEO, the CEO of Kiva, Matt Flannery, at the time, who had me, be his literal shadow for the day, and he called me his anthropological observer. So, I would sit in the corner of his meetings and people be like, who's that and he was like, oh, that's my shadow, just don't pay attention to her and so, that was a really cool opportunity to learn, as a fly on the wall, and an interesting opportunity for him to reflect and then there were other companies like one called Causes that was initially started by Sean Parker who started Napster and at that location, I basically just did admin work for the week, which was also a good way to learn about the organization and I got to go to lunches with folks and that sort of thing and then for another company, I did strategy work. Actually, for two companies that I shadowed for a couple days each. I did strategy work for them and developed some new strategies for their consideration and in the Stanford D School, I thought this was a really cool part of their work; I got to do some screen printing of T shirts. So, that was super fun. So, all sorts of different experiences really helped me to figure out why I wanted to do.
Screen printing of T shirts. I'm laughing because I'm working on a T shirt design. It's just very funny that that surfaced here. But then there's the part about self-promotion. To me, one of the things that most professionals don't do well, I can't say job hunters because it really should be before you're looking for a job which is around self-promotion, how to make people want to reach to you to be seen as an expert, to be seen as someone that they want to have the conversation. Want to speak about that?
Yeah, that's sure. So, in part of my book, I talk about how to have a great online brand for yourself and I think the very first step to that is doing a cleanup. So, taking a look at what's your existing online brand, what might be out there that maybe wouldn't want splashed across the front page of the New York Times or want prospective employers or employees or colleagues. So, cleaning that stuff up, maybe it's a photo of you.
I don't know. Being inappropriate, we will just go with that.
Yes, inappropriate photos. So, clean those up, and then see what you can do to make yourself the ideal candidate for a job or company that you're interested in. So, that means something like creating a portfolio for a lot of different positions is super helpful. If you're a designer, creating a portfolio of different designs, or many different types of roles, it's helpful to have a portfolio for them and also creating like a consistent color scheme. Ideally, a nice looking resume and cover letter, some nice photos of you, and really trying to put out knowledge that can benefit others or work that can benefit others. I think those are some really good ways to create your online brand and it can lead to some really cool opportunities to like inbound employment opportunities, or speaking opportunities or writing opportunities and to the extent that you're interested in something like sharing your knowledge or writing, it can be really cool to not just do that for social media, but also for publications. If that's something you're interested in
Yeah, like a book or an article that you submit to places and then maybe they post, these are all different ways that people can find you and you can share your knowledge in ways that it'll benefit others.
And where have your articles appeared so far?
It was in Forbes, strategy magazine, Business Insider, number of different newspapers. Those are some of the ones that I remember.
How did you target what to write for each? What prompted you to reach out? In case of what I read earlier, Huffington Post, Forbes, and a couple of others, how did you target them? How did they reach to you?
Well, I'll give the example of Forbes. So, when I was shadowing, I reached out to someone on Twitter who I noticed had written for a bunch of cool publications and I emailed her and asked her if she would be willing to meet with me and then I asked how she did it, how she managed to get those articles published and she told me, which I didn't know at the time that there are all these different contributing organizations to sites like Forbes, and Huffington Post, and Business Insider and one of them is called the Muse, it was called the Daily Muse at the time. It's career advice and she said she'd written an article for them and they'd put it on their website and then some of the best ones on their website, they would submit to Forbes or different other publications, and then they would potentially get published. So, I reached out to them and asked if I could do an article for them and I'm trying to remember if I pitched the topic, or if I asked them if they had a certain topic in mind, but a lot of people have been asking me about this self-education journey that I done and so, that's what I ended up writing about and I thought it was just going to go on the daily muse's site, I hoped that it would go on Forbes, because I thought that would be a cool thing to try. But I never heard whether it was going to or not and then the morning after the Muse article came out, I woke up to receive an email from someone who said, hey, I loved your Forbes article and I was like, what can you send me the link? They sent me the link. So the article was live and from there, the emails didn't stop. I've got hundreds of emails from that article over the years and that was what prompted me to write the book actually was that so many readers were asking for more information about how to do things like cold email and shadow and prototype your career that I decided to write it all down in the book.
Excellent! So, what I'm hearing you say is there's almost like a buffer between certain sites, and the writer that they in turn will publish and as a result, they'll wind up curating it for a Forbes or Huffington Post or whomever and allow, in this case, the Muse to make a decision about who they think is appropriate for the even larger publication and submit to them. Did I get that right?
Yeah, that's it. I understand it.
Super. So, we move on to other ways that people can promote themselves and you used writing as an example. Were you writing about your company? I heard you say strategy in one case you wrote about. I don't know if it was strategy for your business, or the strategy behind finding work. I'm just looking for more about what you did.
Yeah, sure! I've written for various publications about various different topics. I've written about my company, for a publication called Make magazine, which runs Maker Faire as well, it's a really big Central organization in the maker movement. So, I wrote about maker kids in there and for strategy magazine, actually, they were just looking for future transforming ideas, I think they may have reached out to me, and I have often thought it would be really cool to have a smart closet to just put your clothes in, and then it washes them according to RFID tags and organizes them and that's all, you just put your clothes there, and it does the rest. So, I wrote about that for them. So, I think it's going to be helpful to write for any topic to get your name out there but it's especially helpful to write about topics related to your career, or that you are better about a career that you want to move into more so and yeah, it can be writing or it could be something else. If you're a designer, there are cool sites like Behance and dribble where you can post your designs and that's like a discovery place where people can find designers. If you're a coder, software engineer, maybe adding some open source code to GitHub, people might find you on there. All sorts of different ways you can get your work out there and be found because of it.
Fabulous! And the one thing I noticed that you didn't mention was LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is really good, too. You can showcase your work on there too, for sure.
Just as curious because now we've spoken about Forbes and other places that wasn't LinkedIn. I know people can blog there and new, soon to be released creator version of LinkedIn; it's really designed for self-promotion for branding. You're not connecting with people anymore; you're following them in order to create the brand of you on the LinkedIn platform. Interesting! So, designing a career, how does someone go about designing a career and now I think in terms of starting off by trying to narrow down a broad range of choices. In your case, you spoke about six things that you were interested in doing, and then having conversations and now that you have it narrowed down to a group, or even smaller group, how does someone wind up using during the design at that stage to start moving in that direction?
Yeah, that's a really good question. So, the whole concept behind what I'm recommending is instead of blindly doing what I call, spray and pray and just applying to a bunch of jobs, and seeing who will take it. This is a much more targeted approach to find something that is a really good fit for you at the intersection of what you like to do, what you're good at what you can be paid for and what helps the world and it's like instead of going to law school for and spending like five years to become a lawyer without ever having stepped foot in a lawyer�s office, and then getting to the end of it and starting your first day and realizing whoa, no, I don't like what I do and then figuring out how you can prototype a potential career in a small way before you invest a lot of time and money into it. So, for example, spending a day at a lawyer�s office or shadowing them for a week, or doing an internship there.
So, how do you go from a huge range of options to say your top three? Well, in any good design thinking process, they start with getting to know the user, and the user, in this case of the career is you. So, it's really good to get to know yourself more and you might be thinking, oh, I already know myself. I live with myself every day. But you know what your purpose is, your mission, your core values, how you want the world to be different. When you pass away, what your key strengths are, all these things can be figured out and that sort of know yourself phase of the process, through things like meditation, digital detoxes, 360, degree reviews and career tests and then once you know yourself better, you can set out your key criteria for what you're looking for in a career, things like distance from your home, whether the atmosphere will be casual or formal, whether it'll be a big team or a small team, how good you are at how much you'd like and then from there, you can brainstorm all different options that you might like to think about for your career and you might have six like I did or maybe 20.
Then once you know how many options are the different options that you're considering, you can see if there's any more you want to brainstorm and add to the list or if there's any you want to narrow down based on the criteria that you set up and once you have a list of options you're contemplating, then you can identify ways to test them out in small ways and what I call Minimum Viable commitments is the smallest way to experience whether or not you might like a role and there's a spectrum of low effort and low commitment. Minimum Viable commitments are ones that require higher investment of time. So, on the low end, things like maybe reading a magazine article or an article online, maybe doing some informational interviews, then as you get higher up the spectrum, doing shadowing, doing internships, and so when you have a lot of options you're considering, if you don't have the time to say shadow at all of them, you could start off by reading articles about them or doing something small commitment to see if that helps you learn information that might help narrow down the options you're considering and then do another set of research.
For example, informational interviews, and see if that narrows down the options as you grade them against the criteria you'd set up and then as you narrow down your options, you can get into more in depth experiences, like shadowing, that'll help you narrow down to your top three options and then once you're there, it's all about making yourself the best candidate for those positions or those roles, by figuring out what you need to do to position yourself to be selected for them and you'll notice that in all of this, I didn't talk that much about like what your career had been in the past because these days since you can learn so much online, there are certainly some professions where you do need a designation, like to be a doctor, a lawyer, although in some areas, you actually don't need to have gone to law school to be a lawyer, fun fact. But there are lots of other professions where you don't need to have the designation or studied it for four years to succeed at it.
I have a friend who went from being an actress, to taking a nine week coding boot camp and becoming a software engineer. I have another friend who studied business and sales and undergrad, and now is a journalist writing for The New York Times having never taken journalism class in his life and so, it's all about once you know what you want to do, making yourself the best candidate for it through taking courses, doing projects, creating a portfolio and being able to demonstrate to potential employers your value or if you're starting your own business, figuring out how to do that.
And what I'm also hearing and I want to make sure everyone hears is that this is not about sending a resume for an internship or an entry level position and say, hi, I'd like to change careers and have you train the heck out of me and I'm going to sit back and let you tell me what I need to do. I'm hearing that there's effort that needs to be put in.
Oh, absolutely. I do hiring myself as do a number of my friends and there's a huge difference between just receiving some stock resume, which may even be addressed the wrong company and just receiving that resume alone, versus someone who's taken a much targeted approach and they send you not just a resume, but a cover letter, maybe they even send you a video application, perhaps they've even included a project that might be beneficial to your company, including things like that makes you a way better candidate, and immediately moves you to the top of the pile of all the different applicants for many companies and yeah, that takes work and that takes figuring it out on your own to a certain extent.
And I hope people are hearing that loud and clear, because so often, folks have got bad habits. I'm wondering about the notion of sending a few ideas to a firm, as is recommended by one expert. Every once in a while ideas come to mind and he gives them away freely. So, I don't know if this would be helpful to you. But I thought this might be a useful idea for you to explore, and using them as the gateway to the conversation, any thoughts about that?
Yeah, that's certainly one thing you can do, of course, assuming that the language that you write it in is meant to be helpful rather than critical. It's especially helpful if you can include something concrete, if you're a designer, a mock-up of something, or if you're an engineer and can quickly whip up a piece of code you're sending along something that might be of value to them, or doing a smaller project, like sending an article you thought they might like, all of these things can be super helpful. I had someone reach out to me and offered to build me a website. She said, I noticed your personal website; I have some ideas for how I can make it look better. Here's some websites that I made that the past and of course, we ended up developing; she had really great websites that she'd made and of course, we ended up developing an ongoing relationship and mentoring relationship and had subsequent projects for her too. So, that's a really great way to get your foot in the door is to be able to offer something of value.
It is an old phrase that tends to be said to us when we're younger and I know we're generationally different, but I also think it would be passed on in subsequent generations to mind as the notion of give more, get more and I'll tack on the part about without expectations. So, often people think they're supposed to be a quid pro when they as opposed to be generous. Give your ideas away. Be friendly to people offer of yourself and the likelihood is that people will appreciate you, especially if you're not asking for something in return right away. It's about being generous.
Yeah, absolutely! I love the phrase create more value than you capture, offer more value than you capture.
Beautiful! We have so much that we can cover but I want to make sure within the time that we have left, I ask you about those things that might be relevant, that might entice people to visit Amazon, or wherever you prefer selling in front door or the book.
There is also a special chapter for students in there. Because being a student is such a special time and it affords you all sorts of permissions that you may not have later on in life, like being able to reach out to companies under the umbrella of a student project or having so much freedom to experiment with different projects and work with different classmates. So, there's a lot in the book for students, and graduation is coming up soon. So, for those that are thinking, oh, what am I going to do afterwards; I have some good tips in there for them and same with if there's any parents of soon to be graduates, if people are people who are trying to figure out what to do next with their career.
I'll have a link to the book on Amazon, in the notes for the show, both video and podcast iterations. Jennifer, thank you for making time to make it happen! People find out more about you, like I said, the book, which is how to figure out what to do with your life. Next is that I have a link in the notes for it. But for connecting with you, how can people do that?
They can go to my website, JenniferTurliuk.com or follow me on social media at and yeah, you can check out the book on Amazon and hope everyone likes it.
I'm sure they will. That is terrific. Folks, we'll be back soon with more. I'm , Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter and I'll just simply say, if you're interested in a one-on-one coaching or finding out more about me, visit my website, which is the biggamehunter.us. There's a tone there that will help you with job search hiring more effectively managing and leading workplace related issues, a real heavy dose of the job search material and you can connect with me on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/In/the big game hunter. Mention that you saw the interview. I like knowing where people come to me from and I'll also say, I've got a great course on interviewing on Udemy that you can get to at the big game hunter.us/ interviews with an asset. It'll take you to Udemy where you can order the ultimate job interview framework, which has helped so many people find work more quickly because it really cleans up a lot of mess with interviewing. There are so many people. I've interviewed hundreds of 1000s of people. I see how badly somebody's doing. So, it really does help clean things up. Folks, I hope you have a terrific day and be great. Take care.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2100 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.
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