Here at The Muse, we know that there's no better way to understand how to ace your own employer brand than by seeing some best practices in action.
Well, you're in luck, because that's exactly what our Employer Spotlight Series does. We feature all sorts of helpful advice and insights from companies that get employer branding right so that you can learn from their success.
This month, we chatted with Luna Rajbhandari, Senior Director of Data Management and Platforms at Cars.com, about using data to inform decision-making, leading high-performing, diverse teams, and more.
Tell us a little bit about your career journey. How did you get to where you are today?
I studied electrical engineering in college and, in my final year, I focused heavily on computer engineering and programming systems. This gave me a clear path to finding roles in software engineering and building applications. During the first few years, I worked in smaller companies that allowed me to get my hands dirty with everything from Unix and database administration to building web applications. Along the way, I took managerial roles and found myself deeply interested in building high-performing teams and delivering systems and capabilities as a whole.
A pivot point came in my career when I made the switch to building a data engineering and analytics team for Northwestern University. This role allowed me to understand the organizational and business complexities of a large enterprise, and how data plays a key role in enabling decision-making across all lines of business. I enjoyed being at the intersection of data, technology, and the business. To deepen my understanding of business, I enrolled at Kellogg for an MBA. Every role I have sought since then, I have looked for opportunities where I can align my experiences and educational training with my passion for working in technology-driven companies.
I initially joined Cars.com to lead data engineering teams that were building backend data systems for CARS. In my first year here, I saw the opportunities that big data presented and subsequently made a case to invest in machine learning and data science. This was funded fully in 2018 and since then, we have made amazing progress in this area. I now have expanded responsibilities that include managing data science, data engineering, and business intelligence functions.
What is one tool or piece of advice you wish you'd known about when you first started working at Cars.com?
Cars.com might seem like a simple business at first glance but there are many nuances to the CARS business model. For anyone starting as a new team member, spending time with experts in the different areas of the company (Marketing, Product, Technology, Business Development, and Sales) can really accelerate their learning and help them become more successful in their role. There are resources available online to onboard new employees. The culture at CARS is also very supportive and people go out of their way to help others—whether it's learning a new technical area or a part of the business—so it’s important to take full advantage.
Your role combines data engineering and data science—with the ultimate goal of creating the best possible experience for your customers. Can you tell us more about how data informs business and technology decisions at Cars.com?
The Cars.com platform itself is powered by data and machine learning. The goal of this platform is to help connect car buyers with car sellers. Enhancing the shopping experience means that our platform is able to recommend the most optimal cars to meet a buyer’s needs, that the search results are personalized, and that dealers get the highest intent shoppers to visit their dealerships through Cars.com.
Data also informs our everyday decision making at CARS. For instance, all of our Cars.com analytical data is housed in our enterprise data lake. Decision-makers, data scientists, and analysts in the company have access to this authoritative data for all analysis and decision-making purposes, whether it’s analyzing demand and supply of inventory by geography, or building customer lifetime value models to drive the next best actions.
As a female leader in a technology role, what advice do you have for women and minorities who want to build a career in STEM?
If you’re interested in building a career in STEM—either in general or in technology specifically— absolutely pursue it passionately. The opportunities are plenty, and you get to constantly challenge yourself, learn, and grow in so many different ways. The skills are applicable and transferable to a variety of industries. Find time to work on things that you care about. I would also advise finding role models and mentors who can support you in your goals.
If you’re passionate about data and interested in working at CARS, there are a number of engineering, scientist, and analyst roles open that I will be recruiting for this year. We also recruit interns every year. Follow us on LinkedIn, plus regularly check our Careers page for more insight.
CARS' culture is open to different ideas and perspectives. It doesn’t matter what your role or title is, you’re able to share your ideas with your teams or leaders at all levels.
We love that one of your core values at Cars.com is to Stay Open and embrace diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. How does the company enable this kind of open-mindedness among teams and employees?
CARS' culture is open to different ideas and perspectives. It doesn’t matter what your role or title is, you’re able to share your ideas with your teams or leaders at all levels. Highly successful employees at CARS are curious, willing to learn, and comfortable challenging the status quo.
What is the role of leadership in building a team and culture that values diversity and inclusivity?
Leaders model the values that the rest of the organization embraces. Leaders that are globally aware and open-minded tend to build organizations that are diverse and high performing. Diversity—whether it’s in gender, background, or experiences—brings a lot of creative potential to a team, but it’s on the leader to be able to harness that creativity. Leaders that create an inclusive culture are successful in tapping into this creativity, while leaders that don’t, stifle it. Diverse teams are a lot more difficult to lead compared to homogenous teams, but therein lies the potential that can help transform a company.
I’m a big believer in the need to create balance in life and maintain overall well-being so you can sustainably bring your best self to work. For me, that means finding time to decompress and enjoy activities outside of work.
What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
There are three things I find the most rewarding:
- Being able to solve complex business problems through data and technology
- Seeing individuals on my team grow professionally and succeed in their careers
- Working with highly intelligent individuals from whom I learn so much every day
What's something you do outside of work that makes you a better employee?
I’m a big believer in the need to create balance in life and maintain overall well-being so you can sustainably bring your best self to work. For me, that means finding time to decompress and enjoy activities outside of work. Hiking and being in nature helps me do that. I’m out in the forest preserves with my family most weekends from spring to fall (and whenever we can in the winter months).