Ever looked at a working woman in a high-profile job and wondered, “How did she get there?” Same. In our series “How I Got Here,” we speak with women who’ve navigated the ups, downs and sideways maneuvers that make up today’s modern work version of “climbing the ladder.”
Below, a woman who initially wanted to work in the nonprofit sector but soon found her calling on the corporate, business world at some of the biggest tech companies around.
Meet our career woman
Name:Sanjana TandonMy job: Director, Business Development at HuluMy school: B.S. in Economics at Stanford University
Cutting my teeth
My undergraduate degree taught me…
An undergraduate economics degree really just teaches you how to think, along with general, financial modeling skills. You don’t learn a very specific tangible skill, but you learn how to think strategically because economics is all about how you solve the equation, assuming everything in the world stays constant. It taught me to think critically, but it didn’t teach me necessarily any specific skills that I use day to day.
My first internship was…
Like many undergraduates, I focused on investment banking or consulting. I really didn’t know what either of those were or meant, but I was like, “Okay, what does everyone else do?” I got an internship in investment banking and learned very quickly that it wasnotgoing to be my long-term path. I learned some great Excel shortcuts and learned how to model, but besides that it just wasn’t very intellectually stimulating to me.
My first big promotion…
Was getting a business development role within Intuit after participating in a rotational program right after college. I realized all my rotational work had essentially paid off and it was validated that I could actually do something real.
On my work today
What my work consists of…
Strategic partnerships at Hulu basically means I’m thinking: What are inorganic ways for us to find growth? In a subscription business, your growth comes from getting new subscribers and from retaining your existing ones. The way that I think about is you can drive both levers. The more obvious one is acquiring customers, so I’m responsible for partnerships to help acquire new customers that we believe we would not have gotten without that partner.
What I’m proud of…
The best example of a partnership that I’ve led at Hulu is the Spotify and Hulu partnership, where if you’re a student you get Spotify and Hulu together now for $4.99 through Spotify. If you’re not a student, you can add Hulu to your premium account and get them both for $12.99.
What I love about my job…
The beauty of business development or of a partnerships roles is that there isn’t a typical day, which is one of the reasons I’ve stayed in it for as long as I have. When you’re working on a deal, say, a big contract negotiation, you’re working on that from morning to evening. You might be on the phone negotiating with a partner. Or, you might be in a room for hours with your lawyers trying to draft the agreement. Or, you’re in meetings with the product and development team, the finance and marketing team.
But what I really, really love about my job is…
I love negotiating and I love the fact that at some point in this role, you have to step into everyone’s shoes.
You have to be able to talk about the product implications. You have to be able to talk about the marketing and financial implications. You are kind of a jack-of-all-trades. You have to be able to articulate and understand all the different components of the deal and how they impact various functional groups.
On my biggest lessons to date
The most striking piece of work advice I ever got…
In my junior year of college I got some advice that changed my career trajectory. I was speaking with a colleague at the U.S. Agency Brand International Development, where I had done a previous summer internship. I was talking about how slow change is within the industry and this is what I heard:
“Go get some real-world business experience and then learn how to apply it in the development world so that you can make it more effective.”
Because it’s no secret that there’s hundreds of nonprofits and billions of dollars going into aid, and unfortunately there’s still billions of people living in poverty.
That really struck me, and I figured, “Okay, this person seems to know what they’re talking about.” I started looking at, “Okay, what do I want to do in business?” It was such a foreign concept at the time to me, but that’s what I did.
The work lessons with the biggest impact …
When I was at Intuit, I learned the value of picking good managers. It’s something that you often don’t understand the value of or you de-prioritize when you’re younger because you just don’t know what to prioritize. In our rotational selection program, around every six months we were picking what rotations we wanted to do where they were essentially matching you up with a manager who had put out a requisition.
The advice was always, “Don’t go on the role. Go on the manager.”
Of course, we’re young and most people are like, “I want to go work on the coolest product. Or I want to go work on something that I use.” I know better now.
Why I think I’ve been successful…
I think my success at Intuit, and for the most part thereafter, has been due to having amazing managers and knowing to prioritize that. Finding someone who will give you a lot of responsibility, trust in your ability, and coach you where your weaknesses are and give you the opportunity to fail. A good manager will put you in situations that are potentially high-stake but let you learn your own lesson.
Especially in the early days at Intuit, I had some amazing managers who gave me probably more responsibility than I should have had and let me learn from those experiences and from my mistakes. That was definitely the key I think for me.
On why being an “expert” isn’t always all it’s chalked up to be…
Overall, being an expert at something is great, but I think if you’re looking to be a leader you need to be able to understand the context of different roles and different functions. Even if you don’t have the ability to be in a rotational program or that’s not an option, make sure you go talk to people in different parts of the business and you understand what they’re responsible for and how they do their job.
“You never know when you might be called to either answer for someone in that organization or work on a project that requires you to work with that team.”
A lot of people will try and network with the leadership and be really good friends with the people in their organization, which is all of course helpful, but the more connections you have across the company as a whole, I think the more effective you can be as a leader as you progress in your career. That’s definitely something that I learned at Intuit and tried to take with me wherever I’ve gone.