Growing Up In A Single-Parent Household, Shanghavy Karunakaran Overcame Numerous Challenges To Become A Successful Technology Professional and Career Consultant

How did you think your childhood, or your formative teenage years play a part in you developing a passion for community building & women empowerment? 

As a child I grew up in a single parent household watching my mother work hard to make ends meet. By the age of 8, I had experienced living in a women’s shelter, visited food banks, and dealt with many financial obstacles throughout my formative years. As the eldest child growing up under these circumstances, I naturally felt a strong sense of responsibility to take care of my family and ensure my mother’s sacrifices were not in vain. I always told myself that as soon as I grow up, I would help others in need so that no one experiences the same hardships. Now that passion has translated into career coaching, mentoring, empowering women and creating initiatives that contribute to enriching communities.

You’ve been part of IBM for the last 3 years.  I know the tech world, there might be a misconception that IBM isn’t as “innovative” as say the Google’s, Amazon’s, etc of the world.  Why are you excited about being part of the IBM team?

As a Senior SAP Consultant, I guide multinational clients through one of the largest business transformations an organization can undergo – SAP implementations. These are multimillion dollar transformations that clients are entrusting us with. Similar to how we entrust the purchasing of a home with a realtor, businesses entrust consultants like us with the purchasing of enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions in order to modernize, transform, and enhance the efficiency of their operational processes.

What makes IBM unique is that it not only provides clients with transformational software solutions, but it also provides excellence in consulting services to support clients with the adoption of new technology. While the FAANG community is popularly known for innovative technology, IBM is renowned for transformational technology. Recent acquisitions such as Red Hat attest to the strength in IBM’s competitive offering and I’m excited to be on the forefront of multinational business transformations.           

When you were at Ryerson for both your Bachelor and Master’s degrees, it seemed like you were quite involved in various clubs & competitions.  What drove this decision to be as involved as you were?  

I have always aspired to be impactful in everything I do, and as student I did not want to follow the conventional route of going to school to solely graduate.  I wanted to utilize my time as a student attending a massive institution to not only challenge myself academically, but professionally and personally. Getting involved in extracurriculars meant leading meaningful advocacy, give back, and community building activities which became a launch pad that led me to incredible student leadership opportunities. During my undergraduate years I was fortunate to be elected onto the Ted Rogers Students Society (TRSS) Board of Directors where the Board and I represented over 13,000 Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM) students and distributed a $2.4 million dollar budget across campus. Through my involvement in case competitions alone, I was able to win multiple international opportunities, including: traveling to New York City where I built connections with C-Suite executives from the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, traveling to the U.A.E. where I developed a start-up alongside students from the Canadian University of Dubai to address a socioeconomic challenge, and traveling to Bulgaria where I taught web development to international students at the American University of Bulgaria. These experiences were not only rewarding but enabled confidence in my ability to make massive impact, and I’m grateful I dared to take an unconventional path as a student.

In addition to your day job, you also provide consulting services to job seekers looking to take that next step in their careers.  How were you able to turn your expertise doing this into a business?  Is this something that you would consider doing full-time in the future?  What do you love most about this experience?

Through my career coaching services, I help applicants maximize their chances of landing a job by training and guiding them throughout their career journey. It all started when I was in my master’s program, during this time I was at rock bottom in my finances because I had quit my part-time job to dedicate my full-time commitment to complete my thesis. Having no income nor savings pushed me to find a full-time role I could jump into after graduation, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought. I spent almost a year struggling to land a job, simultaneously experiencing the most professional growth during this time. I spent months at career centers learning how to revise my applications, attended webinars on how to land a job, and set-up several coffee talks via LinkedIn to network with real professionals to gain expertise. By the end of my career hunting journey, I received two competitive full-time offers, one for a coveted rotational program at one of the Big 4 banks in Canada, and the second offer was for my current role today in consulting. 

After I landed my role at IBM, a friend reached out for help in applying. I coached and guided her throughout the application process and soon after she landed the exact same role in the exact same company as me. That was when it hit me – if I could help myself and a friend land a competitive role at a competitive firm overcoming job insecurity, I could perhaps help the world with this skill. 

What I love the most about career coaching is that it’s one of the most fulfilling things I do. As a daughter of a Tamil immigrant who could only qualify to work in manual labour to make ends meet, meant that this achievement not only changed the trajectory of my life, but generations to come. To be able to help others like me also achieve financial stability, gives me the greatest fulfillment. I can definitely see myself doing this full-time in the future, however I prefer having a multi-hyphenate career where I get to pursue a variety of passions, career coaching being a significant one.

Most jobs are found through informal networks via networking.  Even though people know this, I find that a lot of people don’t invest time building up their network.  Why do you think this is?  What is your definition of networking and how do you go about doing this?

When we think of investing in ourselves, we think of reading books or going to the gym, but what we fail to recognize is that building your network is one of the greatest ways to invest in yourself. Building your network is like building an infinite pool of resources that can expand your wealth, knowledge, and capacity for impact. For me, social media has been a powerful tool to connect with like-minded individuals and expand my network. Through LinkedIn I was able to build connections that helped me land two competitive offers, through Instagram I’ve received countless speaking engagements at non-for-profit and educational institutions that have expanded my impact, and through word of mouth I’ve received countless referrals for my career coaching services. When you invest in yourself and build a network that you can count on, it pays dividends.

Having a great mentor can potentially be a life-changing relationship.  Do you have a mentor?  If so, what’s been their impact?  If you don’t have a mentor, why not?

I have had several mentors throughout my journey, those within proximity and those past proximity because I believe you can learn from others regardless of their proximity to you. When I think of the most impactful mentor that has left a deep impression on me, I consider Bozoma St John (the former CMO of Netflix) a mentor. Bozoma is an incredible storyteller and shares powerful messages that I have learned so much from. In one of her interviews, she speaks about the importance of showing up as your authentic self to work. Often times as women, we tend to diminish parts of our identities (style, appearance, and even childcare commitments) to assimilate in traditional and historically patriarchal work cultures. In the past I too used to mute parts of myself, wearing neutral makeup, embodying masculinity, and avoiding conflict so I could fit in. Studying Bozoma’s journey on how she has been able to not only rise but thrive as a C-Suite executive without compromising her unique qualities, has taught me that your physical presence has no bearing on your intellect or capabilities. I hope to carry her message and empower other women that beauty, femininity, respect, and credibility can mutually exist and that is exactly what I choose to showcase on my social media platforms.  

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