419: Leveraging What Makes You Unique: The Key to Your Career Change

Mike Bigelow shares how can you add value in order to make your career change happen.



mike bigelow
Mike Bigelow,

Mike Bigelow is an Engineer who specializes in Green Engineering.

on this episode

We’ve all been there – you’re looking to transition into a new career, you have all the right credentials on paper, and you’re ready to step into that interview room. You believe you’re the perfect fit for the company but how do you make them believe that too? 

For energy engineer Mike Bigelow, having conversations with people in the field was the key. He filled his time making connections and building relationships with them, which gave him an edge with his industry knowledge. He followed up when needed and offered valuable solutions without expecting a job offer in return, and it worked in his favor. His patience coupled with his methods got him various opportunities he otherwise wouldn’t have had he not initiated the conversation.

Not only that, but he also learned that in order to convince your interviewer that you can be a valuable part of the company, you must start with yourself. Take a step back and analyze what your strengths are. Highlight what sets you apart and identify even the most minor of factors that can stall your progress. Most importantly, don’t be scared to ask around and reach out to people when you need help. It will never be seen as a sign of weakness.

Tune into this week’s episode as Scott and Mike discuss the value of informational interviews and for more advice on making a successful career change. 

What you’ll learn

  • How a self-starter drive can make you indispensable to any organization.
  • Why taking things into your own hands with little expectation of reciprocity can generate favorable results.
  • The difference between local and remote career change (and how to build relationships when you’re not in the same city)
  • How to market yourself as the best candidate (even if there are no listed positions!)
  • Why career transitions are actually silver linings.

Mike Bigelow 00:00

When I moved to San Diego in the latter part of 2008, and this was a period where there were very few jobs in engineering, a lot of the folks I talk to using a sort of like normal channels, we're often saying, "hey, we'd love to have somebody like you on the team. Unfortunately, we just let three or four people just like you go, because there's not enough work to go around anymore."

Introduction 00:29

This is the Happen To Your Career podcast, with Scott Anthony Barlow. We help you stop doing work that doesn't fit you, figure out what it does and make it happen. We help you define the work that's unapologetically you, and then go get it. If you're ready to make a change, keep listening. Here's Scott. Here's Scott. Here's Scott.

Scott Anthony Barlow 00:53

Hey, this is Scott Anthony Barlow, and you are listening to Happen To Your Career. This is the show that helps you figure out what work fits you by exploring other stories. Now we get to bring on experts like Dr. Phil Carson, who teaches people to live a more balanced and healthier and have vibrant lives by managing stress, or people that have pretty amazing stories, like Lynn Marie Morskie, who helps people quit the things that aren't serving them to create a life that they love. And these are people, they're just like you. They've gone from where they are, to what they want to be doing. And they are people that are just like our next guest.

Mike Bigelow 01:27

My name is Mike Bigelow, and I'm an engineer who was living in Portland, Oregon, and was moving up to Seattle, Washington to support my wife's career change, and kind of move back home, my folks are still up here as well. As we're speaking now, I am sitting in my new apartment, having unpacked most of it in a gap week between when I left my old job, and when I'm starting my new job. So yeah, right here and now. It's pretty cool.

Scott Anthony Barlow 01:53

Having unpacked most of it, that in itself is a success.

Mike Bigelow 01:57

No kidding man. No kidding.

Scott Anthony Barlow 02:00

We got the pleasure of helping Mike make his career change. And in this episode, you're going to hear exactly what the differences are between local versus remote job searching, because we get so many questions about that. And Mike did a really fantastic job with this, not just in his most recent change, but over the life of his career. And also how to maximize your time in both situations, which is incredibly valuable. And then how career coaching can take you from being a good job candidate to a great candidate by offering the path that you want to grow along. And Mike did something really particularly well in identifying what his big value adds were from his past job experiences. And then he gives some really great examples in how you can apply them to nearly any industry. So take a listen for that a little bit later in the episode. And we also talk, we get pretty deep into how creating a conversational environment during informational interviews and what we call the test drive method, opens so many more doors than walking into the conversation, expecting a job offer or traditional job search methods. So first of all, let's go way back and talk about what led up to this change in the first place. Long before we met each other, and long before you went into this. You know, what did your career path really start ? Take me through some of that first.

Mike Bigelow 03:24

So one of the things that, I guess is maybe part of the origin story, if you will, I've been fortunate enough to work in several different areas over my career so far. And one of the odd things that has come out from that, one of the unique things I think, is the position I'm often in finding work in another city. So like, I'm always conducting remote job searches. And this presents a lot of different things in terms of challenges, and how you approach these sorts of things. When I first started my career, you know, right out of college, it was just, you know, email alarms and checking with them and have some conversations and it was good, but it was amateur, maybe a couple of times they got picked up by a headhunter or something like that, and that was refined. But what really brought me around to the idea that a systematic approach to making a career change, and the value of coaching was actually when I moved to San Diego in the latter part of 2008[04:23][a]. And this was a period where there were very few jobs in engineering. A lot of the folks I talked to using sort of my normal channels, were often saying, "hey, we'd love to have somebody like you on the team. Unfortunately, we just let three or four people just like you go, because there's not enough work to go around anymore." So I realized early on in that career transition, that if I was going to be able to find a job, was rewarding in an area that I wanted to, and eventually just to be able to pay rent, like, I would need help, because I wasn't getting the results I needed. So I hired a coach back then. And it was one of the best I've ever made, because I was pushed to become the best version of myself and to present myself in ways that I hadn't thought about before. And at the end of that, it was a four month career campaign. And it really was a campaign like there was day in and day out activities, you know, constantly trying to meet new people, find ways to add value. At the end of that, though, I felt like, I'd been through the crucible, as it were. And I could pretty much figure this out no matter what came my way. And that proved pretty true for the next couple of transitions due to different moves and things like that.

Scott Anthony Barlow 05:36

Let me ask really, really quick, I'm super curious. When you went to San Diego, what took you there in the first place? And what were you doing just before that? Just to fill in some of the gaps for people.

Mike Bigelow 05:47

Great question. So I was moving to San Diego to support my wife, we were dating at the time, but she had a once in a lifetime opportunity for her educational career to get into astronomy. And this is a very competitive scientific field. And it's something she's been very passionate about. And it just lights her up like nothing else in the world. So I had the great fortune to have enough savings and the position and a little bit of experience in the job market to be able to join her in that move. I had been an engineer for about two years[06:19][b] before and I was actually worked as a summer camp counselor, taking a bit of a break from that, when the recession really got into full swing. And that move down to San Diego was one of those ones where I just had some money in the bank and didn't know anybody. And I kind of had to start from ground zero in this time when folks like me were in great supply and low demand. And I ended up finding a position with a wonderful organization called the Center for Sustainable Energy. And they were administering rebates for new solar photovoltaic and solar water heating technologies, in my background in engineering sort of led myself to that. And I accepted that position, and started at the beginning of 2009. And that was one of the best things that happened to my career, honestly, was the coaching that allowed me to present myself in such a way to be appealing to these recruiters and our HR folks that were screening all the different applicants, as well as the support that my coach gave me in the first, really six months[07:21][c] on the job, and made myself one of those folks that eventually became indispensable to the group I was working on. While I was there, I got promoted twice. And that was all because I set myself up for success at the very beginning. And obviously took a lot of work. And there was a lot of soul searching that went into that whole process. But at the end of it, looking back, I said, you know, it was really good that I ended up hiring Steve, who was my job coach at the time, and that I was fortunate enough to run into these folks at the Center for Sustainable Energy. They continue to do great work. And I still love running into those people from time to time, because there's just so many cool things that they're doing. And being able to be a part of that really helped launch the green engineering aspects of my career that have borne fruit time and again.

Scott Anthony Barlow 08:09

So I'm curious what happened next to them. And first of all, that's super cool, because I know that more about your progression, a little bit about your story, those green engineering aspects that you mentioned, too. I know those are going to come up again, too. So what happened from there? What prompted you to change again, because I know there was another change.

Mike Bigelow 08:30

Yeah, a lot of that change came from the advancement of my wife's career to get a PhD and so on and so forth. We ended up moving back to the Pacific Northwest, we wanted to either end up in Seattle or Portland. And so we moved to Portland for my position actually, which was wonderfully flexible in my wife's part. She did a great job negotiating her position with where she ended up now. And, you know, we had two years[08:55] [d]in Portland, but we knew that we would eventually have to move to Seattle for her position. And that's kind of what prompted me to start thinking about, okay, well, I know how to do this from a mechanic's perspective. I know how to get introduced to people. I know how to talk to folks. I've done this whole job search thing a few times. What's really going to make this different for me though, is I feel that this is an opportunity not just to change location, but also an opportunity to change position. This could be not just a lateral move from one city to another, but it could have the opportunity to be a promotion as well. I really do feel like I was moving my career and my experience to where I would be able to transition from leading projects, to potentially leading teams of technical people. And that is sort of been where I wanted to be for a long time. Because it's been one of the most rewarding things I've ever gotten to do back in college, I had a small team of folks I got to work with. And they said, "Sure, Mike, you can be team leader for this year long project" we were working on fuel cells. And I absolutely love that. And I knew that's where I wanted my career to take the path to grow along. And I knew that, you know, to get to a position of leadership, you kind of had to know all the things leading up to that. So that's kind of where I was when I was thinking about, okay, when I make this transition to Seattle, is this a possibility at this point? I think it is. How am I going to make that happen? So that was one of the reasons why I said, well, coaching did a lot for me back in 2008[10:23][e], I think it might be time to try coaching, again, to go from good to great, and to take some of those experiences that I've had, and really draw out the best and brightest parts of them. So that if there are opportunities to step into a more leadership based role, that I will not only present myself well enough for those, but I'll also be able to identify really where the big value ads are in those types of roles. And that can be something that I could do on my own. I know that those tasks are generally easier with an expert who is got a bit of distance between the problems that you're discussing, and sort of your emotional state as you're looking at those things. So that's...

Scott Anthony Barlow 11:07

Yeah, it's hard to see your own blind spots.

Mike Bigelow 11:09

Exactly. And so that's what I felt would be a real asset to bring your coach along for this particular portion of my career transition.

Scott Anthony Barlow 11:18

Well, here's what I'm really curious about. And I think you did an absolutely fantastic job. I said that earlier on, as we're getting started here. But first of all curious about your first couple of transitions. And even if we go back before that I heard you say, you know, the remote job search and really kind of mastering the remote job search. What do you believe having been through that a few times, what do you believe are the major differences between the remote job searcher versus the local job search? What makes that more difficult in your mind?

Mike Bigelow 11:47

Well, the local job search has the advantage of being able to meet someone face to face for a coffee or for something like that, without a lot of disruption to your schedule. When you're using a lot of the techniques that you talked about Scott and many other career experts talk about, it sort of the fundamentals of being able to do a good informational interview or talk to somebody about how they got to where they are, because you want to maybe think about how you can consider to follow a similar path or add a similar amount of value to your own organization, being able to be in the same place is huge. So when you don't necessarily have that at a moment's notice, and you have to schedule those face to face interactions around some sort of travel or vacation, that gets a bit more challenging. The other part of it is that I really pushed myself to understand that a lot of the folks I'd be talking to, were making an extra effort to talk to me, because again, I wasn't going to be around, you know, for face to face conversation. You know, they were taking time out of their day to talk to me on the phone, or by Skype or what have you. And so I wanted to make sure that those 15 minutes or half an hour that we had together, were worth it for them. So it drove me to really over prepare my questions, how I thought about making time for their responses that even the way I took notes on this kind of thing, like it was just, I had a whole process I go through every time. And that I think really paid off because I felt that there was a great number of conversations I had, they just were absolutely fantastic. I learned a lot about the green industry, not just from a sort of Seattle centric perspective, but also from a larger sort of meta perspective. So those were absolutely wonderful insights to share with other professionals. And in the end, I really felt that it wasn't just about an exchange, right. I wasn't just a job seeker, who was hoping to make a transition. I felt like I could give something to them that was valuable, that was just, you know, I didn't want to feel as mercenary about it, honestly. I wanted this transition to Seattle to be a better exchange. I wanted folks to feel like that I took them seriously, I followed up on their advice, I had my own insights to share with them or ways that I could provide value to their organizations, even if we didn't end up working together and more often than not, I felt like I was able to provide that either through saying, "Hey, this is what I found out about this particular sort of meta trend that's going on" or, you know, "I feel that these tools are probably going to fit your requirements better than some of these other tools, I'd be happy to give a presentation about that." And sometimes it was just "Oh, hey, yeah, you're gonna be my neck of the woods, I'll buy a beer or whatever." And it was that kind of mentality and a mindset that I felt really allowed me to make the most of that distance, and to actually turn that obstacle into an asset where the amount of effort coming into it would allow folks to feel like that was worth their time. And it was certainly something that I wanted, it challenged me to bring out something beyond my current best, it stretched me.

Scott Anthony Barlow 15:04

So that is both awesome and interesting at the same time. Awesome, because I know what that takes, and that's not easy, necessarily. Interesting, because we get the, how do you do that question so frequently, so often? And then also, what does that look like? Because I think there's really a lot of confusion about this whole value thing. What the heck is value? And we've joked around with it quite a bit on the podcast. But I mean, really, you start to hear that word all the time. How do I add value? But I think you've already just mentioned a couple of semi tangible ways and what that looks like. But I'm curious if you can give an example. And since it's been semi fresh for you, tell us about one of those times where you were able to go in and you were able to add value in one way or another.

Mike Bigelow 15:54

Well, one of the things that I do, as part of the package of engineering in my sector of that is energy simulations for buildings. So you take a computer program, you worked on a virtual building inside of it, you put virtual people in it, they run all the virtual lights and add air conditioning, or they want heat or whatever. And at the end of a virtual year, in computer time, you figure out how much energy that building is likely to use. This is a difficult thing to do well in the building industry, but it's critical that it be done well for green buildings, and for some of the really high performance stuff that is pushing the industry to be more effective, more efficient, more cost conscious. There are firms that do mechanical engineering very, very well. And they come up with amazing designs that provide comfort. And it's one of those things, you know, how you talk about technology to be beautiful or invisible. This is both beautiful and invisible, like what these folks do, it is absolutely fantastic to see and understand kind of what they go for when they put these things together. So you can do that beautiful, invisible work and provide that end result of just comfort consistently throughout a building without any problems, without a lot of energy being used, without necessarily doing the energy modeling stuff that I specialize in. So there was a firm I got to talk to that was like, oh yeah, we might try to get into that. In the last couple times, we've done that, it's been difficult for one reason or another, you know, what would you do if you were to come in here and help us out? And I said, "well, regardless of what I would do, I would say, here are the tools that are out there, and what we need to do for you as a firm" because an individual solution, like if I come in, and I give you the solution, and I'm the guy that you have to run everything through, that's fine for a while, but hit by a bus and you've got deadlines like, you know, that's not going to work, we need to take a more systematic approach. And so here's how I would do that from a larger perspective, and you can do this without necessarily hiring me in terms of, you know, take this tool with this kind of post processing to get these sorts of results, once you have that under your belt, you might be able to add XYZ types of detailed solutions and things like that. I'm being vague on purpose, because there's a lot of detail that gets into that.

Scott Anthony Barlow 18:22

Saved the four hours of explanation to understand the explanation.

Mike Bigelow 18:26

Yeah, exactly. So in that process, we were able to collaborate on what a modeling system or solution for their firm might look like. And that was a way that I could use my experience to benefit somebody, even though I wasn't necessarily going to be hired by them, and then take care of like, yeah, this is really cool stuff. Yeah, we can potentially bring him in for a presentation. And it made the conversation much more two way, which I felt really awesome about. Other times, I was just able to offer, you know, findings from my research about what have you thought about talking about what we do as mechanical engineers in a different way in terms of saying, well, you can connect this energy thing that we're doing not just to this green building metric, but those two things actually combined for lower operational costs. And if you can prove it with these types of details and patterns back up, you might be able to talk to the project owner about, well, we're moving into a realm where you're going to have a higher profitability, lower cost to operate and product, which means that some of your core stats, and they've got their own jargon to talk about those things will be better in these ways. And so it was the ability to talk to folks about not just the technical work that we do, but also how we, as engineers, talk about it to non engineers, and how we can make sure that folks are giving us either the credit the team deserves in order for the amazing work that they do, or how to take what we're doing, and make sure that more people understand why it's important to their particular slice of the building industry, and those kind of conversations, again, even though I wasn't necessarily in the running for anything, or they weren't hiring at the time, they did a great conversation. And, you know, it's one of those things that we were able to develop sort of professional and mutual respect for each other's particular disciplines within mechanical engineering and those different spaces. And that I think, was the way that my research into not just how to do what we do for, you know, the actual tasks, but also the greater picture that those pieces move in, was able to really help other firms kind of think about, oh, yeah, well, you know, this is pretty cool stuff. And if we can talk about it in these different ways, being able to add those different perspectives and tools to their toolbox was another way I was able to provide value.

Scott Anthony Barlow 20:47

So this is really, really interesting. And I just want to kind of recap what I heard out of that. So I heard you say that you were spending your own time of your own volition going and having conversations probably some of this time on your vacation, I would imagine or when you could be doing other stuff, and you were helping them without expectation necessarily that they're going to hire you.

Mike Bigelow 21:13

Yeah, that's the truest way I can really feel like I'm getting to somebody is to had as little expectation for reciprocity as possible. And honestly for me, personally, that made it a lot easier to kind of get away from the, how am I going to be efficient about this, and all those other sorts of things that can really put you in a different state, that isn't good, long term. It's very me focused rather than we focused or outcome would focused. So I did spend a lot of time preparing those sorts of things. I did spend time or lunch breaks, my weekends, and things like that, figuring out how I could bring value to folks through these different conversations, because I would assume that, you know, either they're having problems similar to what I'm facing in terms of getting non engineers to understand what we do, for instance, or, you know, with energy modeling and how to systematically take an approach that's going to work for them. I mean, they were using way different tools than I was, but at the same time, I'd use those tools, my other work. And so I was able to kind of talk about those kinds of things from a general strategic perspective. And that's what's important is that, you know, you're thinking about how you can serve the other person using the knowledge you have. And sometimes those assumptions were a bit off the mark, but at the same time, you know, being able to say, Well, here's X, Y, and Z, I like X, Y, and Z a little bit, really what I'm concerned about is ABC. Like, you know, we're already talking about the alphabet, so let's just focus on a different part of it or whatever. So there's that and then the other part of the Scott is that because I really wanted to make sure that I felt like I was giving to folks, I did my best to always follow a practice, which was new to me in this particular piece, which was to find something in our conversation that I could do for them as a follow up. And it doesn't have to be business related, there was one guy I was talking to. And he didn't allow me to buy the beers or anything like that when we were talking. And so there's no way I could give him any of those kinds of sort of monetary things or whatever. But he mentioned that, you know, "I'm kind of new to the area. And I really like hiking." And so I knew a couple of areas that were great hikes, I've seen other folks that are, you know, got young kids or families and things like that on these hikes, having a good time and said, hey, you know, at least I can follow up with that as a way to say more than just thanks for your time. So I said, "Hey, this great hike we talked about, here's the reasons that I think it was great, you know, I had some fun with my folks on one like this. And here are the links to the websites talking about the trail heads and things like that." you know, he said, thanks for that. And it was great, we got to kind of talk about hiking a little bit more after that by email. But at the same time, it was making sure that I was doing my best to feel like I had given something that really pushed me to think about, well, if I can't give something from a career, or a sort of job focus perspective, there are other things that you can do for folks, even if it's recommending, like a good YouTube video, like, it shows that you care. It's very natural, it's fun. I mean, folks do this with their friends all the time, hey, you gotta check this thing out. So I found some great SciShow videos that talked about, you know, avocados, and sent those to folks, of course, it wasn't just randomly, like we had actually talked about, you know, all my kids are interested in science, and they're, you know, nine and 10. And they, you know, are all about blah, blah, blah, I was like, "Hey, well, have you seen this" or, you know, other folks like that, again, had interest that we had talked about even tangentially that I could send a follow up on as a way to, again, give value. And I know that we talked about giving value all the time, I want folks to think about how that that is a shorthand for really, either being a friend or being a person who cares about what was talked about, and following up with something that let's the other person you were talking to know that your conversation mattered to you, you know, the conversation that you had was meaningful and impactful. And I remembered some details from it, and I'm acting on those details later. And that made this a very interesting career transition for me, Scott, because it wasn't just about finding a job, it was about finding my place in a community, and being able to show folks that I wasn't there, just to find something I was literally, oh I'm sorry, legitimately, I should say, interested in our conversation beyond the Mike needs a place to land in Seattle eventually. And that's really paid off, well, because I've been able to keep folks who I've gotten to know, even if I'm not working with them, like we've been signed up to go, you know, grab lunch sometime in the next couple of weeks, or, you know, we're gonna get together for something fun later on, or grab some beers or whatever. And that's really kind of neat, because I'm getting to know these folks, not just professionals, but as people who are interested in hiking, or grilling, or video games, or whatever else they're interested in, like, there's so much more to what we do than our labor and our work. And those are always very important parts of our day, and our week and all that, but at the same time, that's only one dimension of people and to be able to recognize that, you know, there are ways that you can help people either in their career or what problems they're working on, in these conversations but it can be something more fun and personal, like, you know, "hey, we talked about your kids being into this branch of science, or here's this one video I found, let me know what you think." And you know, it's those kinds of things that make this less about finding work and finding a thing to do for money and more about creating a career that you like, finding people that you can connect with, and being able to feel like you've given at least as much as you've received in these sorts of things.

Scott Anthony Barlow 26:47

Yeah, well, here's what's really interesting about what you just said, and also how you've gone about this is, so many of us are interested in having those things in our community of people that we actually get along with and like and, you know, in some cases, a boss that supports us and that we connect with and you know, have a good fit with the company and all of these other pieces, and yet we go looking for a job. So when we make a job change, we go and look for a job and then we find a job, miracly, because we go find what it is that we aim ourself towards in nearly every case. So then we're surprised somehow when it's just a job or it doesn't have all of these other things versus I would advocate that what you did is wholeheartedly different, because you went looking for some of the things that were most important to you and acted as those things were actually important and started with those things, rather than going in searching for a job. And ironically, you got way better, not ironically, not coincidentally, at all, you got way better results, than nearly everybody else. I forget the stats, but it's really, really low percentage of people that will get multiple job offers at the same time. Let alone, I do know the stats for people that will actually end up in a role that they actually enjoy in our content when satisfied with and experience continuous levels of satisfaction that is very low, and depending on which study you look at, it's someplace between about 30% on the high end, all the way down to about 12% on the low end.

Mike Bigelow 28:25

Wow, that's a very surprising statistics right there.

Scott Anthony Barlow 28:27

It's horrible.

Mike Bigelow 28:28

Yeah, that's pretty rough. At the same time, I feel though, that I personally have had very good supervisors and bosses throughout my career. And I honestly wouldn't be where I am today without a lot of their guidance and their tutelage, if you will. And I'm really excited for the folks that I'm joining as well, because though, like you talked about finding kind of a fit in a community, I really do feel like I'm joining a great community of folks that are doing good work in ways that I think are going to make an impact that we're going to be satisfied with at the end of the day. And that's been a wonderful thing. The flip side of that is that you've pointed out that, you know, you have to go about maybe doing the search and maybe a broader with a bit of a broader focus, it did take a little bit more effort. And in terms of like, you know, it was a little scary to be kind of vulnerable and saying like, I kind of like this video, and it's sort of, it's a scientific show, it's kind of fun and goofy, you know, to a business contact, you know, like we did projects that were worth multi millions of dollars. And you know, I'm just okay, "your kids might like this, what do you think?" That was sort of a scary and vulnerable point for me, but and I'm just thinking back across all the different conversations I've had over the last 11 years[29:39] [f]or so my career, I can think of maybe two or three that were negative, and the rest of all have been positive. And so it's one of those things that it is scary. And it does make you feel a little vulnerable to go outside of that standard script that we think that folks want to kind of talk about. But there's a lot out there. And even if it's just somebody saying, "Hey, that was cool, thanks." And nothing else ever comes of that conversation. It was important for me to feel like that I wasn't talking just about the work or the job, or the recommendation or the advice or the whatever. And that for me, made the process something that I could devote more energy too, because it gave more energy back to me. Does that make sense?

Scott Anthony Barlow 30:21

Yeah, it completely makes sense. And if we want to, well, you've got an engineering background and engineering discipline and everything like that. So if we want to take this fairly fuzzy and somewhat scary and semi emotional thing that is putting yourself out there to some degree, and turn it into something that is much more logical, if we just look at the logical side and say, "well, hey, we want to hire other people, or we want to work with other people that we like" right? Which means we want to work with other people that we get along with, which means that we want to work with other people that we share something in common or have some way where we are like them. And that's where those types of connections and beginnings of relationships. And that's where it becomes really logical when you trace those things all the way through. It's like, oh, yeah, of course, that's the person who ends up getting hired. Why wouldn't it be? We don't want to hire the person that's robotic. They look good on paper, and they come in, and they may say all the right things per se that, you ask hiring managers about this, that don't necessarily have lots and lots of interview experience. And they'll say things like, "well, it just feels like there's something off about this one." When I sat in the roundtable afterwards, and we discussed candidates, and that's what comes out of hiring managers mouth. Well, you know, they've got all the experience, and it seems like everything's good here. But I really like Johnny, you know, I think Johnny could do the job, or in this case, you know, I think Mike could probably do this with us, I just really liked that guy.

Mike Bigelow 31:53

Well, you're right. And it's one of those things that the likability and the connection certainly do help. But it's one of those things that I really do feel it's both who you know, and how you're connected to them, as well as what you know, it's got to be a combination of those two things, at least in the field that I'm in, because, and I say that mostly because of limited of my experience. I don't know how other fields kind of break down in terms of that. I do know that those good connections would have gotten me opportunities, they did give me opportunities to talk to folks that I might not have had a chance to talk to otherwise, at the same time, the position I did end up accepting was excited about the whole of my experience and what I could bring to the table in terms of what you can do and I have a feeling that most folks who are listening to your podcast and they're reading your blog, then they know how to do the thing. And it's just getting everyone else to kind of understand that there's, you know, a really cool person there. And that's something that takes practice, but is so rewarding at the end. And keep in mind, we're talking in sort of the afterglow of success here, Scott, like, I want to remind folks that I am where I am, because of a lot of hard work. If we go back to our earlier conversation, like the first time I hired a career coach back in 2008, that was four months[33:08][g] of me doing job search stuff, eight hours a day, every day, I took weekends off, but like, that was my full time job was finding some work in 2008. So my point is that there's maybe a tendency for folks because I know I've fallen into this same thing where it's just like, you hear somebody who's done all this, wow, like, that's so great. Like, oh, man, I don't know if I could do that. It's just everyone is got time, and the ability to do good work, and hard work. And I know that the choices that I've made to put in that effort, and the opportunities I've had to put in that effort, which were mostly in my control, but sometimes they weren't, sometimes I simply just got lucky that I talked to somebody at the right time, or had a conversation go one way rather than another. And those things are important to kind of keep in mind as we're talking about all this. It's not just like, oh, this guy like did all these cool things, and now has extra free time to invest a little bit of extra time and talking to people, you know, like the flip side of this is that during this last transition up to Seattle, Scott, when I was working with Lisa, not only was that help just what I needed at the time to kind of take myself from where I know I could go to where I ended up getting. But I gave myself permission to make time in other areas of my day, that time that it took me to find a new position in Seattle, like I said, I'm normally responsible for dinner, if I'm just eating by myself, it's okay for me to get takeout, and it's okay for me to eat something that's frozen. Like I just carte blanche gave myself permission to do that, like I didn't say, you don't have to exercise anymore, I was still up, you know, up on my exercise routine, I still tracked what I was eating and things like that. But I just gave myself permission not to necessarily have to prepare my own food. And that saved me a bit of time or a little mental bandwidth, in order to devote more time to this kind of thing. You know, I also knew that I was going to be most productive on this kind of a thing, about seven o'clock to about nine o'clock at night. So I didn't force myself to do anything. When I got home from my day job, I would give myself permission to watch, you know, a half an hour of Netflix while I ate dinner, or whatever. And then I wouldn't watch any more Netflix, I knew what kind of worked for me, and I gave myself permission to have a little bit of free time in some areas. But I also kept, you know, making sure that essentially four days a week, I was working at least an hour a day on this devote my Sunday afternoons typically it's kind of planning my week and initial emails prep and written or researched. And I devoted time on my calendar that I blocked it out, because that's what worked for me. Other folks have used, you know, checklists or habit apps or whatever, and those you know, whatever works for you just do it, just find that system that allows you to kind of track this progress, know that it's going to take a bit of effort. And there are going to be times when you've just feel kind of stupid, or at least I felt pretty tough, for whatever reason, like there's something didn't go the way I wanted or somebody cancelled on me at the last minute or they you know, for whatever reason, like we weren't able to make a clone call or something, I kind of feel bad, like I didn't give them enough heads up, I didn't send a reminder in time or they had something come up. And you know, maybe they're just blowing me off or whatever, like kind of keeping focused on sort of the next step like, well, if they're blowing me off on this next one, and it's not going to be a big deal, I've got four other people I can talk to, and I'll focus on setting up, you know, another conversation with the person I didn't connect with today. And then I'm going to let that be, that's going to be when it's going to be and we'll move on to talking to these other folks and kind of sending those emails and doing that research about what they may be struggling with or talking to their companies about. So I don't know, I felt like I just kind of went on a bit of a deep dive because that kind of makes sense in the context of what we're talking about.

Scott Anthony Barlow 36:48

Yeah, let me pull out a couple of things that I think are really, really powerful out of that. First of all, let me reach way back and say that, the method that we were talking about where you're giving value first, and you're looking for those opportunities to give value and even have shifted the mindset and you're having conversations without the intent to immediately get a job, give me a job now, which is by the way, like asking for marriage on the first date. So just don't do that ever again ever. But what you did we often call that the 'test drive method' here and something else that I don't think we said that I think was very, very valuable and you kind of alluded to it was the fact that hey, look, people have to believe that you can do the job. I think one of the other values that people often miss when you're going in and getting to have these types of conversations in the level that you did and build relationships which in some cases, evolve into continuous conversations, then you get the ability to demonstrate in front of them in a totally different capacity than you would if you're coming through a, I don't know, an application or something else, you get the ability to demonstrate in front of them and interact with them while you're demonstrating your ability to do the thing. And that's completely different, like other people don't get that opportunity, if you go about it the traditional way. Or if you're asking for marriage on the first day, as we said.

Mike Bigelow 38:12

Agreed. Part of my experience that's maybe related to but slightly different than what you talked about there is I feel that in an interview situation, you have a very limited amount of time to show people what you really bring to the table. And you can be very well prepared for this with great stories, anecdotes about how your experience matches to their needs, and you can solve what they're talking about. But at the same time, if you've had a chance to talk to somebody who might be your future coworker, or your future supervisor or boss in a more informal setting, and you've had time to, in a more conversational way, you show them that you've got a lot of these stories, and you're interesting and interested and all that. But you can also kind of figure out sort of what they're really top concerns are. And if you're fortunate enough to be introduced to some other folks in the organization and get to see a broader perspective, you're absolutely right, Scott, in saying that it's a very different game to have those informal conversations with people beforehand. Because as you're going through the formal process, you have much greater amounts of insight into the particular issues that that team is facing, what experience you have can match that and how they want to kind of hear about those pieces. It doesn't have to be something like, you know, I do realize that I'm coming at this with pretty solid set of projects under my belt and jobs and things like that. If you don't have that level of experience, still being able to tell those stories, even if it's something that started maybe sounds silly in your head, like, well, I did this one thing in college or I was a camp counselor that did you know, this thing, if you can kind of connect what you did, even in those situations that don't seem all that high stakes, and they don't have seven figures of project or budget, writing on it, just being able to talk about those things really allows folks to kind of see that you're thinking through the sorts of questions that they're asking, and that you're able to, again, paint that picture of yourself, had those other experiences and that better conversation. And that can put somebody who is more prepared and more engaged ahead of somebody with more experience, who might look better on paper. So I feel that your points are very well taken here, Scott, in terms of these informal conversations do allow you to play the game a lot differently.

Scott Anthony Barlow 40:34

Oh, yeah, absolutely. And the other thing I don't want to get lost that you had mentioned as well, and I think we talked about this on a few different episodes. For example, most recent one, I believe, was our episode on making sure that you have the energy and the ability to make the change. But also, I would put this in the category of what I heard you doing was making this much easier on yourself in a variety of different ways, some of the mental energy it might take by allowing yourself to pre make the decision of, look, on Wednesday nights, I'm going to eat this thing in this way. And it's just not a big deal. And, you know, we're done with it. And I don't have to think about it anymore. And then the other side of it too, and I think we talked about this in Episode 128 with Eric, who was another coaching client, past coaching client, actually, ironically, also an engineer. And we worked with him quite a bit on, hey, how do we make this a much easier situation? How do we... have you take action on some of this stuff where you're at your best? And just naturally, you know, at some of your best energy levels, how do we leverage the time that is already in your day where it's going to be easier to be able to make some of these things happen versus more difficult? How do we set the chessboard up, so it's very easy to get the checkmate versus having to bring the Queen from all the way here to all the way over there. Why not just make it easier? And I think you did a particularly good job of that. So kudos to you first of all.

Mike Bigelow 42:03

Thank you.

Scott Anthony Barlow 42:04

Yeah. And consequently, it sounds like, you know, this transition was much easier in some respects, than the 2008 transition, just in terms of sheer time almost, that it takes. If I'm doing the math, right.

Mike Bigelow 42:16

Yeah, I mean, this one was about two months versus four months back in 2008[42:18][h]. Obviously, slightly different circumstances. But at the same time, your point is well taken that, at that point in my career, I was very focused on just the fundamentals of how to talk to people better in a professional capacity. And that worked out fairly well. At the same time, you know, I got myself to the point through that, that I was like, you know, I did okay, but there are other things that I could do better. And that's what I really felt like I was able to grow into this time is doing that second half of it better. And of course, you know, that's part of the reason why I feel that coaching is a very valuable thing is that, you know, if you just take a look at my own career, my own success, it's been because I've had people able to kind of show me better ways to do things, or to challenge me to do more than I have been. Because sometimes you can stretch yourself, and sometimes, you need a team of people to kind of stretch you beyond your best. And that's something that I think the biggest value for me from coaching is that you have somebody in your corner, who is looking out for your best interest. And if they're doing their job, as well, as Lisa did hers, they're pushing you to be the best version of yourself, and to stretch and grow yourself consistently towards that best self.

Scott Anthony Barlow 43:32

Well, I'm certainly a huge fan of Lisa. And she kept me in the loop for your entire journey. So that was fun because I got to, for every person that we work with, I sort of get to live vicariously through them. And as we bring more and more coaches onto the team, then I get more and more of that. So that makes it a lot of fun for me. But as I mentioned already, I think you did particularly nice job just because you were looking, well, I mean, this wasn't your first time around. So I think we got to see advances even and I think that was one of the reasons I was interested in having you come on and talk about this. So one other question that I would ask you, Mike, before we go is, you know, if somebody is getting started, and somebody is on the other end of this, maybe we're back where you were in 2008, or they haven't made several of these transitions in this particular type of way, what would you advise them to do to get started using this type of what we call the test drive method, which is a variation of informational interviews or informational interviews themselves, or any other method that really requires being able to get out there and begin building relationships with people?

Mike Bigelow 44:42

That's a good and tough question, Scott, I would say, and this is something I've actually talked to some folks that have come to me in the last couple of weeks, say, "Hey, I see that you're doing this job transition thing, how do I do that?" I would say start making this as easy on yourself as you can. Because this finding a different job or starting a career or changing a career, those are all very difficult, energy intensive things that take a lot of your time, your emotional energy and mental bandwidth. It's a big undertaking. So start off by making it easy. Look at your friends who maybe are doing things, or know folks that you could potentially talk to and find at easy ask, you know, if one of, for instance, has a friend that maybe you met at a party or know of through, you know, kind of a friend of a friend thing, and they work in video games, and you were thinking, you know, "maybe I could do this video game thing, because I like programming, or I'm very good at sort of the drawing aspects of coming up with these assets. I love computer animation" or whatever it is that you might think about those kind of things. But you need, I mean, it's a hard industry to get into, ask your friends saying, "hey, I've been really excited about XYZ parts of the video game industry. I know that your friend, you know, works for whatever company that's doing cool stuff. I'm hoping to ask them just to kind of a couple of questions about their experience in getting into the industry. Do you think would you be willing to introduce us? I'll just send him an email with three questions, and if they're too busy, it's totally fine." Something along those lines is the way to get started. The reason I say that is because A; your friend wants to help you out, they know that you're excited about video games, in this case, and their friend maybe works for a company that could help you guys figure that out. You've given a way to start the conversation saying that you're excited about this portion of it, or you've done something like this. And you want to know more about how their story looked, again, you're focused on not what you want, but what their story is, which is, again, easier to talk about if you're a person who is in the industry and somebody who's like a beginner, or trying to make the transition is coming to you. It's easier to kind of talk about your story than it is maybe give specific advice because it also got to think about it from their perspective, like be in a position where they have more knowledge than you, where they have more authority or experience or what have you. But at the same time, it's almost like getting put on the spot be like, what do I do to get in? That's a hard question to answer because there are a lot of complexities and experts or people with you know, a lot of experience can understand that that's a tough thing to nail down well. So make it easy on them to say 'yes' by you know, saying well, "I just want to know a bit about their story about how they got in, maybe ask them a couple of questions about the industry." Because then it's not about, you know, what do I do, it's about what's out there with the problems that are being faced. So you're taking a lot of load off the person you eventually want to talk to and your friend who's gonna be making these introductions. So at the end of all this, you've made it very easy for people to say yes, because they're not committing too much in terms of the length of conversation or the gravity of the conversation. There's not a lot of expectations in terms of like, well, you know, I'll need to find a way to get this person in interview or anything like that, there's none of that, you're just trying to find out what their story is, what issues or challenges are in the industry that they're facing right now. And from there, you'll be able to get a lot more information about how your background could potentially fit those sorts of things, or to, you know, attack the problem in a different way. And this can give you great insights, not only for eventually maybe making that transition, but they're going to allow you to have more in depth conversations as things progress. A great example is that, you know, somebody I know, went ahead and did this, and when they had that conversation, they're prepared a little bit to ask good questions. It wasn't that sort of, oh, I need to find some buddies, you know, interview or next step or give them advice that's going to change their life or anything. They were just talking about, "how did you get in here? What was cool about it? What do you like? And what are some of the problems you're facing?" That led to a couple of introductions to other folks. And now, those introductions are going to be the ones where you have a lot more information from your first couple of conversations. Now, you can have much higher level conversations with those next groups of people. I kind of got a little detailed there. I apologize, Scott, you were asking a more general, right?

Scott Anthony Barlow 49:15

No, that's perfect. I think that helps people understand, one, how to get started, and two, what this can take. The less we're looking at this as a, I go and I talked to the person and then I get the job. The more that we're looking at this as a long term game, how do I actually build relationships? Or how do I set myself up to be able to add value or set myself up to be able to meet more people or set myself up to any number of other things, then I think that ends up getting, over the long term, better results, even though it feels to many people counter intuitively, like a longer way around.

Mike Bigelow 49:54

It's true, it can feel like a longer way around. But at the end of the day, we want, at least for me, one of the things that I felt was really motivating. And what I've loved seeing in folks who are just starting out who also are very, it's obvious, they want to make, you know, a career change to like the green engineering field or whatever. Like the fact that they've come and they've brought enthusiasm, they've brought decent questions that they've either researched, and at least they've talked to other folks about, those kind of conversations are just amazing to have as somebody who's in an industry that folks have wanted to get into. So I felt great about those conversations, because I've been able to, you know, kind of feel pretty cool about knowing stuff. And be know that the person I'm talking to is acting on that information. It's not just we didn't just have a good conversation. And you know, that was it, like they're taking it seriously. And they're acting on finding solutions or they're part of the solution to some of these issues that we talked about. So I guess, you know, kind of sum up, folks who are at the start, or might not necessarily have a lot of connections, or they don't feel like they can bring a lot to the table, realize that being a person who will listen and act is value in itself. And when you're serious about trying to take these difficult questions that you might wrestle with, in terms of like technical problems and things like that, because there was actually a time that I was talking to one group of engineers, and they threw a modeling problem at me that I had no idea, like, I had not seen this in my research. And I had just, I had dropped the ball and trying to figure this thing out. You know, but I was honest with them, I said, "You know what, I don't have a good solution for you on that one. But here's kind of what about that. Here's how I might approach and okay, that's fine." And we kind of let it go. And we talked about other things. Well, I went back and found out exactly how to do what they had asked me to do, not just the general solution that I kind of threw my hands and was like, maybe this and I was like, "Okay, here's how I was right. Here's how the general solution that I outlined can fail. So here's what you have to do to correct it." And I sent him a one page synopsis of the full solution afterwards. And that really changed the tone of the conversation. There's like, okay, Mike is serious, and he's taking this whole conversation to the next level. So the point of that is that if you don't know, that's okay. The problem isn't you don't know. The problem is if you find out that you don't know about something that's important to the industry that you want to get into, and you don't try and follow up with that, that's the problem. You got to use that sort of beginner's state to your advantage by being able to be sort out there and saying, "Look, this is kind of what I found so far" you know, and people might be able to give you a little bit more insight into what you're missing out. But to have somebody kind of fill in that gap after you talk to them and come back to you, like I said, I've been on both sides of that. And that has been just one of the really cool things about talking about either engineering or any sort of position is finding other folks that are excited enough to kind of try and figure out how these things are going to look differently or to find those solutions to actively fill in that knowledge gap. And even if you're at a more beginner level, or earlier on in your career, like that's what separates folks who are there and are going to grow from folks who are there and are maybe going to eventually get promoted, like enthusiasm. And this sort of self starter drive counts for a lot. And it doesn't have to be something like, you know, you do it the day of I mean, I was a bit extreme in that. It's something that if you know, you get back to folks in a week or two, with a good solution like that, people remember that. So I would say if you're in an early stage, or you feel like a beginner and you don't have a lot to contribute, being a person who's willing to ask questions, you've researched a bit, and to follow up on the answers is going to be the way to really, hey, learn a lot and be set yourself apart, as somebody who's taking what these folks say seriously.

Scott Anthony Barlow 54:03

Hey, many of the stories that you've heard on the podcast are from listeners that have decided they wanted to take action, and taking the first step of having a conversation with our team to try and figure out how we can help. And if you want to implement what you have heard, and you want to completely change your life and your career, then let's figure out how we can help. So here's what I would suggest. Just open your phone right now and open your email app. And I'm gonna give you my personal email address, scott@happentoyourcareer.com just email me and put 'Conversation' in the subject line. And then when you do that, I'll introduce you to the right person on our team, and you can have a conversation with us. We'll try and understand your goals and what you want to accomplish in your career no matter where you're at, and we can figure out the very best way that we can help you and your situation. So open up right now and send me an email with 'Conversation' in the subject line, scott@happentoyourcareer.com.

Scott Anthony Barlow 55:12

I'll share with you what we have coming up on Monday[55:14][i]. This is a conversation that I've been looking forward to since, well, before it was actually on the schedule, I'd say years before it was on the schedule. Because it's someone who I have a ton of respect for, it is also someone who has, in many ways, had a hand in changing my life, only he didn't know it.

Tom Rath 55:34

The more time we have the opportunity to allocate to efforts like that that can grow in our absence in a given day, it also makes days easier and smoother and less stressful, because it takes some of the pressure off of days where you're just responding everything flying at you and maybe looking inward a little too much.

Scott Anthony Barlow 55:53

That's Tom Rath. Who's Tom Rath? Well, he's the author of the book strengthsfinder 2.0. He has also written another book called "Life's Great Question". We'll be talking about how you contribute to the world in much more detail right here next week[56:08] [j]on Happen To Your Career. We'll see you then, until then, I am out. Adios.


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