This month’s guest blogger is Vidya Narayanan (MBA ’13).

The year was 2020, and I found myself job hunting for the second time in three years. I didn’t relish going through the process, but life took a few turns to get me there.

I’ll start my story at Darden, where I met my better half in Section B (Go Birds!). After graduating in 2013, we moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where I started working in marketing at UPS and my husband worked as a consultant. Four years later, we had our son, prompting my husband to find a job that didn’t involve as much travel. He found it at Facebook. I decided to leave UPS and our family moved to the West Coast.

After a few months of searching, I found an opportunity with a small Software-as-a-Service company in the supply chain space, leading its product marketing efforts. The saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast” best sums up my sentiment about this chapter. While the culture was rough, I did gain great experience leading all facets of the product marketing function and came out of it with a fresh perspective about what was most important to me in a career.

In late 2019, we had our daughter and the COVID-19 pandemic hit during my maternity leave. I didn’t go back to my job. I valued the time I spent with my children during those months, and it also gave me the space I needed to reflect on what I most wanted out of my next career move. I came up with a list:

  1. The ability to make an impact (i.e., my job tangibly moves the needle and my voice has the ability to influence)
  2. A strong company culture (i.e., tenured and happy employees, visionary leadership, values and inclusion oriented)
  3. The opportunity to grow professionally (i.e., ability to take on new challenges without leaving the company, continuous learning)

Soon, I found myself networking and interviewing while also bearing the responsibility of childcare. While incredibly challenging, it was also a blessing in disguise. My time was valuable, and it made me stay focused on the things that mattered to me. I didn’t compromise on my list. The search process felt long and forced me to think hard about what makes someone successful or not while going through it.

Some of the things I realized were:

  1. Embrace that it’s OK to take time off. This was a tough one for me because I started out worrying about how my time away from the workforce would be perceived. Over time, I owned my story and openly talked about my choice to focus on my children.
  2. Stay focused. I turned down discussions with companies that didn’t align with my list. It felt risky to look past some options, and at times, it brought me stress. But remembering what was important felt key.
  3. Highlight your differentiators. As a product marketer, my job is to find and highlight key points of differentiation. A job search can be the same way. Being confident and acutely aware of your unique strengths can help you position yourself effectively.
  4. Don’t look back. Take every rejection or path not taken as a part of the journey. Spending time on “what ifs” doesn’t help with the way forward.
  5. Be yourself. As a mid-career professional, I now truly understand the importance of mutual fit. I remained transparent about who I was and what I was looking for. I didn’t want just any job; I wanted the right job for me.
  6. Ask for help and talk it out. A wonderful part of being Darden alumni is the network it gives us. There were points of struggle and self-doubt. I leveraged Alumni Career Services career coaching when I felt stuck and needed someone to listen and provide perspective and reassurance. I also tapped into my network of classmates, one of whom went above and beyond to help me get traction at a dream company. This meant the world and made all the difference.

In the end, I had the happy problem of deciding between two strong offers, both of which aligned with what I was looking for. While the job search was stressful, a few months into my new role I can confidently say it was all worth it. Every career experience, life event and interview led me to the place I am now, and I am sure it is the right one for me.

I decided to share my story with hopes that it resonates with others going through similar transitions. Stay focused on what’s important to you and remain confident in yourself. When the search comes to an end, the journey will all make sense.