Getting to Know Darden Alumni Career Services Coach Sameer Sankaran
How did you become a career coach?
My path really began while I was working for Microsoft (the first time around). I found myself gravitating towards helping MBAs who were seeking jobs there, and always getting feedback that whatever I provided was especially helpful in their job search. From there, I sought out an opportunity at work where I coached MBAs at Microsoft during their first year at the company, which inevitably led to career-related conversations. At that point, I realized career coaching might be “a thing” for me, but I wasn’t sure where to go from there. After all, I had a job. A few years later, I left my job at Amazon to consult for various startups, and I received an offer to join one of those startups in a senior role. That’s when I had an epiphany (I can actually remember the moment) that it was the right time to pursue career coaching as more than a hobby. So I turned that startup down to give this path the consideration it deserved.
Once I began to pursue career coaching, it became obvious that I made the right decision. I decided to accept a part-time role as a career coach for Darden MBA students focused on the tech industry. Soon after, I also joined Alumni Career Services as a career coach for Darden alumni. I chose these part-time opportunities while heading back to a full-time role at Microsoft for a variety of reasons. From a career coaching standpoint, though, I knew that much of my strength came from my background in the tech industry. In this constantly evolving space, that knowledge can get stale over time. By keeping one foot in both camps, I feel like I have the best of both worlds and get to use one to fuel the other.
What is your favorite aspect of coaching Darden alumni?
I love that everyone approaches our conversations with humility and a willingness to listen to different ideas. One of the first hurdles in any situation where you’re trying to advocate for change is convincing your audience to rethink their current view on a topic in which they already have some expertise. In all my meetings with Darden alumni — spanning very recent grads to industry veterans — we always begin 10 yards ahead, past that first hurdle. I’ve continually been impressed with the open-mindedness alumni show from the first introductory call. That not only makes my job easier, but it also improves the quality of our meetings — and, ultimately, the quality of the alum’s job search as well.
What hiring trend(s) are you seeing in the technology industry?
Data, data, data. Super original, right? But really, it’s been interesting to see the shift in the tech industry over the last 10 years. Not only are companies that were traditionally less data-focused bringing it to the forefront of their business, some functions that would have previously seen “data skills” as extraneous, now seek that skillset out more directly when hiring. If you know SQL, you can pull your own data and go straight to the source. If you can use Tableau, Power BI, or advanced Excel functionality, you can display data in a consumable fashion. At the end of the day, being able to work with and understand data makes someone a better and more efficient communicator, so it’s definitely important to highlight those skills on your resume.
What are you doing when you aren’t coaching?
I have a full-time job at Microsoft that keeps me pretty busy. Outside work, I’m a pretty big sports fan. This past year, I was lucky enough to get to see two of the teams I follow win championships: the Houston Astros and the Washington Capitals! Seeing Game 5 of the 2017 World Series in person was a pretty magical and unforgettable moment. On the nonprofessional side (at least until the NBA decides to add a few million players to their rosters), I’m a mildly capable rec league player and find my way onto softball, flag football, basketball, ultimate Frisbee teams (and the list keeps going) whenever I can. I also like to travel and see new places, though lately I’ve preferred to book my trips to Dallas to hang out with my niece and nephew whenever I get a chance.