Microsoft’s Purna Virji on Lifelong Learning, Lifting Others & Positivity [PODCAST]
“So many giants helped me on their shoulders that you must give back. I find it actually more rewarding… I mentor lots of people within Microsoft as well. When I watch them succeed, I find it’s almost 10 times more satisfying.”
Name the biggest search marketing conferences and Purna Virji is most likely going to be there as a keynote speaker.
Arguably the best-known representative of Microsoft in search, Purna has helped thousands of marketers all over the globe by generously sharing her insights and knowledge through speaking and writing.
Yet, despite her accomplishments, she remains grounded and continues to be an inspiration for all of us to be better humans. She’s also a much-needed shining light in an industry that can often become so negative.
In this episode of the Search Engine Journal Show, let’s get to know Purna Virji better – her career journey, real-life struggles, and the lessons she’s learned along the way.
About Purna Virji
Purna Virji is Senior Manager of Global Engagement at Microsoft, where she develops content narratives and evangelizes Microsoft products and services.
You probably already know her as a sought-after speaker and recognized thought leader, but on top of that, she is an avid traveler, aspiring top chef, and amateur knitter.
Prior to joining Microsoft, Purna was an award-winning former journalist and was also the CEO of Purview Marketing.
On 2018, she was named as one of Adweek’s Young Influentials along with 30 other media, marketing, and tech talents innovating fields from AR to activism and data to diversity.
Aside from attending numerous speaking engagements, Purna is busy traveling and visiting clients in the east coast – from Montreal and Toronto to the southernmost tip of the U.S.
During the entire interview, Purna’s positivity and genuine love for people just resonate. She finds fulfillment in mentoring people and watching them succeed, and likewise encourages everyone in the industry to give back.
Purna offers plenty of insights for people aspiring to contribute to industry publications and speak at conferences, as well as tips for newcomers who want to succeed in the industry.
She also addresses the elephant in the room – what sets Bing apart from Google?
- Purna discusses how it is spending her childhood in India, getting good grades in school, being considered cool, and talking a lot in class. [02:18]
- Some of Purna’s dream jobs when she was younger included becoming a vet and then a tennis player. She later found herself interested in journalism. [03:24]
- Her fondness of English and composition, love for reading, and digging deep were early indicators that she’d end up in journalism and marketing. [04:25]
- Purna’s early tech obsession? An Atari gaming system. [05:57]
- What brought Purna over from India to the U.S.? [06:46]
- On starting her career as an optimistic journalist and experiencing fun, enriching, and amazing moments she still cherishes. [07:59]
- What led Purna to cross over to the “dark side” that is traditional PR? [09:29]
- Purna shares how she got into search in the mid-2000s – initiating the SEO program in the startup she was working for and starting her glamorous speaking career at the local rotary club. [10:49]
- Search was still in its early phase at the time. For Purna, the challenge was gathering knowledge and explaining it to clients. [13:32]
- Working in-house was a defining moment in Purna’s career. This is where she learned to think like a CEO and run a business – priceless learnings that made her a better marketer. [14:57]
- A takeaway from Purna’s startup days is “There’s no work that’s too small for you.” She also learned the value of customer-centricity and the importance of leveling up one’s knowledge. [16:29]
- Less than six months into starting her own business, Microsoft reached out to Purna and offered a great opportunity she couldn’t pass up. She’s been a proud “Microsoftie” ever since. [18:45]
- Why Purna doesn’t miss being self-employed. [20:21]
- Microsoft reached out to Purna, but that doesn’t mean she had it easy during the interview process. She went through 5-6 interviews in one intense yet rewarding day. [21:36]
- She shares how the interview questions in Microsoft were like. [23:35]
- What made Microsoft different from all of Purna’s previous startup gigs? [24:43]
- On Microsoft’s culture: wanting to make other people better, championing accessibility, as well as leading the way with diversity and inclusion, ethics in AI, and privacy. [26:11]
- Her biggest challenge in the workplace? Balance. [27:11]
- Being let go from her job early on in her career was a big defining moment for Purna. It gave her the drive to go out and learn, speak, and build a name for herself. [28:21]
- Purna remembers her early speaking days and how she got encouragement and powerful feedback from the likes of Jen Sable Lopez, Wil Reynolds, and Rand Fishkin. [30:00]
- What it’s like doing keynotes in the international stage. [33:16]
- Some networking tips during conferences: give compliments, be sincere, provide feedback, open up, and find common grounds to help you build rapport. And always be nice! [34:51]
- How she transitioned into writing for industry publications starting with Search Engine Watch. [37:33]
- Aspiring to contribute to industry publications? Write when you have value to add and make sure it’s all about the reader, their issues, and how you can be a guide or help to them. [38:46]
- Purna’s recommended resources for people who want to learn SEO and digital marketing. [40:38]
- How she’s able to turn on the charm and be very social despite being an introvert. [42:51]
- What would Purna tell herself back in her early days based on what she knows now? [44:46]
- Purna answers a reader’s question: How do you stay positive when our industry can often be so negative? [46:46]
- On staying grounded despite being well-known in the industry. [49:04]
- If she wasn’t in the search industry, Purna would’ve been a travel journalist or a lifestyle writer. [50:39]
- The best piece of advice that she’s received: “Don’t try to care so much.” [51:22]
- What’s the worst piece of advice Purna has ever heard? [52:25]
- The key to success in this industry right now? Learn as much as you can and specialize in one area. [52:57]
- The two things Purna is most excited about right now in search marketing and Microsoft. [54:35]
- Purna shares her thoughts on voice search: it’s going to continue growing but it won’t kill text. [56:50]
- What game-changing developments set Bing apart from Google? [1:00:58]
- Here’s how marketers can help brands get more insights from customers to inform their content strategy. [1:04:56]
- What’s next for Purna Virji? [1:08:02]
Links from the Episode
How to connect with Purna Virji:
- Purna Virji on the Microsoft Advertising Blog
- Purna Virji on Search Engine Journal
- Purna Virji on Search Engine Land
- Purna Virji on Moz
- 31 Media, Marketing and Tech Talents Innovating From AR to Activism, Data to Diversity (Adweek)
- Awards for Excellence in Broadcasting (Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters)
- Purna Virji on Search Engine Watch
- Seer Interactive
- State of Search
- Marie Kondo
- Brad Geddes
- Wil Reynolds
- Arnout Hellemans
- Satya Nadella
- Melissa Fach
- Jonathan Allen
- Rand Fishkin
- Joanna Lord
- Jen Sable Lopez
- Lisa Lacy
- Jessica Peck
- David Iwanow
- Jason Channell
- Joy Archer
- John Doherty
- Bas van den Beld
- Fabrice Canel
- Frédéric Dubut
- Lisa Williams
- Avinash Kaushik
- Alan Bleiweiss
- Aaron Levy
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Featured Image: Paulo Bobita