When starting their career, many people imagine their future development as a fairly straightforward path — climbing the corporate ladder to a senior position and eventually leading a team. However, this isn’t the only way to professional advancement. Several members of the InterNations team share how switching to a different department has been their personal key to success.
From Community Support to Human Resources
After almost three years of working in the Community Support Team, Michael decided it was time for a change. “I wanted to start a different career,” he remembers. “I was interested in a position in human resources, but I didn’t quite know how to go about finding one.”
His interest in HR stemmed from his customer-centric work experience. Both at InterNations and at previous employers, Michael spent a lot of time interacting with and supporting people. “I enjoy being the go-to person for others,” he stresses. “However, in customer service, you often focus on the negative side of things. You’re always dealing with complaints and issues that need fixing. And successes tend to be short-lived. After you’ve established a connection with the customers, they’re usually gone once their problem is solved.” While he wanted a similar role, he wanted one that would allow him to build lasting relationships. Helping his peers within an organization seemed like an obvious choice.
An unexpected coincidence prompted him to take action. “One day, out of the blue, I logged in to our company wiki, and a job ad for a recruiter had just been posted,” Michael remembers. “I thought I must be imagining it!” He immediately clicked on the ad and sent his application for Junior Recruiting Manager the same day. The reply from Christa, our Team Lead Human Resources, came just as quickly. “Christa seemed a bit shocked — in a good way — because she hadn’t expected anyone to apply from within InterNations, let alone me.”
Michael’s transition from Community Support to Human Resources happened incredibly fast. After he’d informed his team lead about the application, the HR Team arranged an interview a few days later. “I have very fond memories of our meeting — it felt more like a friendly conversation rather than a job interview. Since I had no official experience in recruiting, they mostly wanted to know all about my motivations.” He was offered the job the following week. “It was very quick and completely unexpected,” Michael says. “I signed my new contract less than two weeks after seeing the ad.”
“A strong interest in the new job and a high intrinsic motivation are often more valuable than formal qualifications,” says Christa. “It all comes down to how motivated someone is to learn new things, develop their career, and grow as a person. They just need to have the potential to grow into their new role.”
When Michael joined the HR Team, his tasks were solely related to recruiting efforts at first. As time went on, though, he began to branch out into a more general role. When Ira, the Senior Human Resources Manager, went on parental leave, it was his turn to take on many more responsibilities. He now takes care of the employment cycle from start to finish.
“The administrative part is probably my favorite — not just because I actually enjoy paperwork,” he jokes. “I know exactly how difficult living and moving abroad can be, being an expat myself and having friends who’ve been in rather challenging situations as non-EU nationals. Germany isn’t the easiest country to relocate to. This is one of the things I like best about HR at InterNations — we do go the extra mile for new employees. Hiring so many people from abroad, we need to take good care of our expat workforce and be proactive about helping them find their feet.”
The mission and vision of InterNations were among the reasons Michael hesitated so long to change his career. “I knew InterNations before working here, and it’s always been a company I’ve identified with. I’m really glad I could stay. I just went from one wonderful team to another, and I couldn’t have asked for a better switch.”
From Community Engagement to Corporate Partnerships
Unlike the other two team members featured here, Renata didn’t kick-start a new career at InterNations; rather, she returned to familiar territory in the Corporate Partnerships Team.
“Back in Brazil, I graduated with a communications degree with a special focus on advertising,” she says. “I worked as an account manager in the advertising industry for almost nine years. Though I dealt with international clients, especially from Latin America, all my jobs were based in Brazil. I had never worked abroad, although I had studied in San Francisco for a while.”
This was about to change when Renata moved to Germany in 2017, a rather different experience from her carefree time as an international student. “Coming to Germany wasn’t easy, especially due to the language barrier,” she remembers. “I was planning to study German for a year after moving. Then I’d be fluent enough to work in advertising — or that’s what I thought.”
When Renata realized it would be much harder than expected to acquire the necessary German skills, it was time for a change of plans. For a while, she juggled two part-time jobs: an English-only admin position in real estate and a retail job to improve her German language proficiency. “Working at a department store with a mainly German clientele helped me overcome my reticence to speak German,” she explains.
One of Renata’s friends drew her attention to InterNations, sending her an ad for a maternity cover in the Community Engagement Team. In spring 2020, she started her new job, looking after our Ambassadors and Consuls who host official events and activities across Southern Europe. “I worked with volunteers for the first time, which was an interesting experience,” she says. “Still, it’s all about communication. Talking to people and keeping them engaged is what I’ve always done and what I enjoy the most.”
Renata wasn’t even looking for a new challenge when Jürgen, our Team Lead Corporate Partnerships, approached her. He invited her to share her experiences in advertising over lunch. “He didn’t tell me about the open position. We just had a friendly talk, and he also explained what the Corporate Partnerships Team did.” She found out that their casual conversation had been a preliminary job interview only after Jürgen let Renata’s team lead know about the vacancy and encouraged her to apply for the job.
When she was eventually offered the position, she felt a little torn: “I loved the Community Engagement Team, but I couldn’t turn down this opportunity.” Turning a temporary maternity cover into a permanent contract provided her with long-term prospects at a company she really identified with. “In my advertising jobs, I was selling all those things I wasn’t interested in — that’s just how it was!“ Renata says. “When I initially applied at InterNations, a big draw was finally working for a company I believed in.”
As a Sales Manager, Renata searches for other companies that would be a good fit for our members and convinces them to advertise their products and services with us. Her time as a Community Engagement Specialist helped prepare her for this role. “I gained lots of insights into our product,” she points out. “Whenever I call a potential partner, I need to explain what InterNations is, how our communities work, and how we organize events. I now have in-depth knowledge on these topics.”
Renata is really happy about InterNations being open to employees changing careers. “I didn’t get the feeling that one team was trying to keep me, while the other one wanted to ‘poach’ me,” she says. “They seemed open to whatever I would decide. I’d also worked at companies where your boss didn’t care what you preferred and denied opportunities for personal growth. Fortunately, things work differently here at InterNations.”
From Community Support to Product Development
Like Michael, Laura wanted to explore a different field of work after three years in Community Support. “After doing customer support at my previous job and being promoted to Senior Community Support Manager at InterNations, I didn’t see any way to grow further,” she says. “So, I researched other jobs where I could leverage my experience. After all, customer support is a fundamental part of every brand.”
Unlike Michael, however, Laura was interested in a technical career at first: “Since I considered software engineering, I took a course in frontend development. It was okay, but I realized that I need people around me.” She started looking up job profiles that combined task-oriented and people-oriented responsibilities, such as project manager, product owner, and product manager.
“Product managers have a certain vision of the product, steering things into a certain direction,” Laura explains. “This involves interacting with people, bringing them together, and leveraging their expertise. You don’t have to be an expert yourself — your knowledge should be broad rather than deep. To improve the product, you need to find out what users want, think about what’s good for the business, and investigate relevant data. When I found this description, it was exactly what I wanted!”
However, Laura assumed that she’d have to leave InterNations. “On the one hand, I wanted a new career path,” she says. “On the other hand, InterNations checked all the right boxes. I honestly love our product because it can really make a difference in expats’ lives. And I love the warm and helpful people I work with!”
This dilemma probably sounds familiar to HR managers at small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs). “It’s such a pity whenever an SME loses a highly skilled and motivated employee because they’ve outgrown their position,” Christa explains. “From an HR perspective, horizontal moves are the best retention tools! If an employee is happy with the organization in general, offering to switch them to another department is a great option.”
Luckily, Laura chose the right moment for her plan. “I happened to read in our blog that Cornelia, our Head of Product, had started out in customer support,” she recalls. So, she decided to ask for advice on becoming a product manager. “That’s when Cornelia told me a product manager was planning to relocate and there would be a vacancy soon.”
The application process was intense though: “I needed to prove that I could learn how to be a product manager. I had to come up with a plan for implementing a new product feature, create a road map, and explain each step of my plan in detail. My interview was a two-hour meeting with several team members, where I gave an in-depth presentation and answered their questions.”
“If you want to become a product manager, you should have a strong interest in technical issues, as well as in UX (user experience) and UI (user interfaces),” Cornelia says. “However, it’s even more important to be smart, to keep learning, to think analytically, to be very organized, and to have great communication skills. We were looking for a confident person who would defend their own ideas while still considering other people’s input.”
Laura has been working as a Junior Product Manager since August 2019, with her confidence increasing by leaps and bounds. “It helped that I knew our members and our platform inside and out. It takes an outsider much longer to get a feeling for our customers and for the product itself. I got introduced to the best part of the job a lot sooner — running experiments, collecting data, interpreting results, and so on. But I had a lot to learn, and it was mostly learning by doing.”
Despite a stressful onboarding phase, Laura has no regrets: “The main reason I was so stressed was because changing career paths is always difficult. Starting something new can be daunting. But if you really want it, you should give it a try.” And Cornelia agrees: “Since I started working here, I have already seen several people change jobs internally. We have a lot of smart and highly educated team members who want to develop career-wise.”
“I’d encourage our team members to openly share their interest in any field outside their current position,” Christa emphasizes. “They shouldn’t hide it if they’d like to take their career in a different direction. We’d rather keep valuable employees on board. Even if there isn’t anything available now, opportunities will open up — and then we’ll be able to support their next career move.”
Image credt: InterNations / iStockphoto