Babbel Bytes

Insights from the Babbel engineering team

How I got the job I wanted (even though I wasn’t qualified)

Clyde & Jeanny

At Babbel, we’re constantly looking for new and unconventional ways to get our customers over the hurdle of speaking in a foreign language. As a result, finding talented people to help move our organization forward can also come in unexpected ways. This week, we invited Jeanny (Director of Product) and Clyde (Product Specialist) to share one of our more amusing hiring stories.


Jeanny: So, after almost six months here at Babbel, we thought it’d be fun to tell your whole story from the beginning. What led you to seek out a job here in the first place?

Clyde: Well, I had just finished a Masters Degree in International Relations, but was having doubts about my career options. At the time, I was also using Babbel to try and learn Spanish, and since I’m a huge language nerd, I liked the product, but also saw tons of room for improvement. I realized then, that I wanted to pursue this passion of creating an exceptional language learning product. There was only one problem: I had no experience in product management.

Jeanny: It’s funny you mention that because I remember when I started out in the field over a decade ago, product managers were predominantly engineers and business managers. I myself came from a liberal arts background and had to get creative in order break into the tech industry. I immersed myself into the field by plowing through books, listening to almost every single IT Conversation talk, going to local meetups and teaching myself to code. The deeper I delved into the topic, the more excited I got! It was intense!

Clyde: It’s slightly embarrassing to admit that, in contrast to your approach, my journey started by pure chance =P. A friend sent me an article entitled How to Get Any Job You Want (even if you’re unqualified) which explained how to create an application that would stand out. Using this as inspiration, I created a survey on how to improve Babbel and found creative ways to send it to hundreds of fellow users. After a few weeks, I got a surprise email from Customer Service which made me realize that I had triggered some questions within the company. What actually happened?

Who was this guy?? Why was he surveying our users?

Jeanny: I still remember Chris from Customer Service approaching us to ask if we were conducting a customer survey, which we do regularly to help improve our product. However, we didn’t have any initiatives at that time, so we dug deeper into your case. We quickly found out that you were from the US, studied law in Boston, and somehow ended up in Vienna, so you obviously weren’t trying very hard to cover your tracks ;). Conspiracy theories flew: Who was this guy?? Why was he surveying our users? We figured you must have a good reason, So we told Chris to get in touch with you, and hook you up with our User Research team. If anything, the field of language learning is broad, and we’re always keen on exchanging insights and ideas with those interested.

Clyde: I did worry slightly that I might’ve ruffled a few feathers, thereby torpedoing my chances, but at that point, what could I do? By the time I got Chris’ email, I’d already received enough responses, so I stopped the survey and created a slide deck summarizing my results. I sent it to the company and eventually, it found its way to you?

Jeanny: Right, you never did get back in touch with our User Research team. But, a month later, your application ended up in my inbox. While your CV wasn’t a fit for the product management role, I looked through your presentation on how to improve our customer experience, and I was pleasantly surprised. Your resourcefulness, the way you conducted your research, the questions you asked, and how that tied in with your proposal – you showed qualities I was looking for in a PM.

Clyde: You have no idea how thrilled I was to hear from you; I’d started to think maybe my email had gotten lost in the vast netherworld of the “Inbox.”

Jeanny: Yeah, I could tell you were pretty thrilled when we first contacted you. But you also put me in a dilemma! I saw the potential, but I was still growing the team, and my priority at that point was to look for experienced PMs. I decided to send you our challenge anyway, giving you a tough deadline and a few basic instructions. To be frank, I wasn’t sure you’d pull through.

Clyde: Seriously, when I first looked at it, I despaired a little. User Flows? Behavior Driven Development?? In the end, after a fair amount of googling, I just tried to send in something logical and cohesive. To my surprise, you wanted to interview me, and after getting through a few rounds, I thought I’d made it through. But then you started our final call by saying you were impressed but that hiring me would be a huge risk. I felt my heart sink because I thought that was the end of the road! Luckily, you went on with “let’s give it a shot.” The next few months were filled with telling everyone I’d landed my dream job, so as you can imagine, my expectations were high =D.

Jeanny: So, how has your Babbel experience been so far?

Clyde: Honestly, it’s been demanding to combine joining a new company, moving to a new city, and starting a new role all at once! Keeping up with the technical lingo, as well as learning to ask the right questions, have all been part of the challenge. Even when I make mistakes, the most important thing has been to learn from them and remain open to being corrected – not so different from learning a language, in fact. Sometimes you gotta just say “let’s do this” and make it happen.

Jeanny: Yes, your unconventional and bold ways definitely got you noticed! But, it was your undeniable passion for languages, your problem solving skills and ability to learn quickly that got you through the door. And, nearly six months in, it looks like I made the right choice!

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