How to Figure Out What to Do With Your Life Part 1

EP 2131 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

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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.

Thank you.

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.



JeffAltman, The Big Game Hunter
JeffAltman, 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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