Two of our product managers at InterNations recently celebrated their tenth anniversary. In times when recruiting and retaining talented employees is increasingly competitive, this is quite the milestone! HR specialists are becoming more and more interested in how to hold on to the company’s biggest assets.
So, we’ve talked to our colleagues to find out what makes a good long-term employer, how they too have grown over the past decade, alongside InterNations,and why they ended up being in a punk band together.
Can you briefly sum up your career at InterNations?
I started as the first official product manager at InterNations, joining the team from XING Events, another NEW WORK SE company. So, you can imagine how surprised I was when InterNations also became a part of NEW WORK SE a few years later.
Since then, I transitioned to the role of team lead, became the father of two daughters and am now working part time as a Senior Product Manager.
I started out in what is now the Community Engagement Team. In 2012, we wanted to start offering smaller, interest-based activities to our members. I was hired to find the first members who would organize these events via the new InterNations Groups. It was also my job to create the first groups and roll them out worldwide.
After a few years, I got an offer to switch to Product Development — coincidentally because Tom went on parental leave. I’m now a Senior Product Manager. My team is responsible for all features related to our events and the members hosting them.
If you had to summarize the past ten years in one word or phrase, how would you describe them?
Diverse — and not just because I’ve filled different roles at InterNations. I can hardly think of any other workplace with such a diverse team. I’ve always enjoyed this tremendously.
The company has also changed a lot in the past ten years. When I started, the atmosphere was very much that of a start-up. But InterNations has really grown up. We’re now part of a large corporate structure, the NEW WORK SE family. It’s been an eventful decade, with a lot of variety.
Challenging but rewarding.
Working on the same product for ten years can be challenging. There are new topics on the product agenda every year. Even if certain patterns start repeating after a while — you can’t just keep doing the same thing. You have new business constraints, new objectives, etc. to consider.
Finding solutions for these challenges, together with colleagues you enjoy working with, is very rewarding.
What’s your biggest professional milestone from the past decade?
The InterNations Groups. They’ve stayed with me right from the beginning. I’ve always belonged to a team responsible for them — first from a community perspective, then from a technical one. Other than that, my work is more about continuous improvement rather than individual milestones. I’ve had the chance to take ownership of a topic and work on it for a long time.
I agree. Being a product manager is not about the big milestones. It’s rather 50 different small-scale initiatives that come to mind. All of them have contributed to making InterNations more user friendly and creating more value for our members.
But as the first product manager, I was also the person to introduce user tests at InterNations. When you develop a product, it’s not only important to talk to your users. You also need to show them your ideas, let them try everything out, and observe their reactions. So, I’d consider this a milestone.
How have you grown professionally at InterNations?
I’ve learned a lot about leadership. First, in Community Engagement, I became a team lead relatively soon. When I later switched to Product Development, I was no longer directly responsible for anyone. But I still need to be able to guide and influence my colleagues without having any formal authority. Lateral leadership is essential in a role with lots of stakeholders among our team and our customers.
I’ve hugely improved my project management skills. I’m now so much better at organizing work for myself and others. This includes quite a bit of stakeholder management — bringing people from other departments on board, keeping the management board updated, and so on.
I’ve also learned a lot about business. I came to product management from software development, and I was really interested in user research and UX design. But I was a bit naïve about the business aspect. I thought you just needed to create an awesome user experience. Money would then start rolling in automatically, or that’s what I assumed. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy.
What are some of your personal highlights from your time at InterNations?
All team events have been lots of fun, but the InterNations Song Contest was a definite highlight. We put on an amazing show at a local club, with a real stage, an actual jury, and a wide range of performances. I joined a Die Ärzte cover band, where I played the guitar and Dominik did the vocals.
Yeah, we were in a band together, weren’t we?
One of my personal favorites was our first team trip in 2017. For our ten-year anniversary, we all went to Chalkidiki together. It was a great way of celebrating the success of InterNations. I could add plenty of other team events, but our trip to Greece is a good stand-in for the rest.
And I met my wife through work. We’ve now been married for five years, so this certainly counts as a personal highlight!
What makes InterNations an attractive long-term employer for you?
First, the people. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s hardly any other place with such a diverse set of team members. It’s not just that we come from 40 different countries. It’s a great mix of people with lots of different degrees. Some have taken a non-traditional, non-linear career path, which I find really inspiring.
InterNations is also a place where people are kind to each other. There are obviously conflicts and disagreements. But they usually get solved in a constructive way.
Second, the product. I feel that I’m working for something worthwhile and have a positive impact on other people. It feels great to hear stories about members whose lives have changed for the better by becoming part of the InterNations community.
Lastly, the general company culture. I appreciate the level of trust I’m given. For example, the flexibility regarding my working hours, which is important to me, as a dad. And I love that we can pitch ideas about anything to anyone, regardless of internal hierarchies.
For me, the number one reason is what Dominik has just explained: the team and the culture.
Number two is definitely the product. For most people working in product management, it makes a big difference who uses their product. It’s important who the customer is, because you’re trying to help them, in a way.
And I do care about our members. Maybe it’s due to my own international background. Since I’m half German, half English, the intercultural aspect of InterNations appeals to me a lot. I find it rewarding to think I’m helping someone who’s moved abroad and is trying to settle in.
Image credit: InterNations / iStockphoto