Helping small & medium businesses (SMBs) with their hiring needs

May 24, 2021

In this episode of Here to Help, host and CEO of Indeed, Chris Hyams, speaks to Anna Rowe, Indeed’s Senior Director of User Experience.

Anna shares how her background in psychology helps her to really understand the people behind the businesses, and how Indeed can create tools and products to help SMB’s with their hiring needs.

- Welcome, everyone. I am Chris Hyams, CEO of Indeed. And welcome to the next episode of Here to Help. This is our look at how Indeed has been navigating the global impact of COVID-19. Today is May 17th. We are on day 440 of global work from home. Indeed's mission is to help people get jobs, and one of the most important ways we do that is helping small and medium businesses, or SMBs, to hire. This work has never been so important. Over the past 14 months, SMBs in every sector have had to adapt to many challenges of the pandemic. What is clear is that many employers are now entering a recovery phase and building their staff back up. And today we are talking with Anna Rowe, Senior Director of User Experience here at Indeed. Anna has a deep understanding of the people within these SMBs, and is here today to share their stories and explain how Indeed is here to help. Anna, thank you so much for joining me today.

- Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here.

- Fantastic, well, we'll start off where we always start off with these conversations with just tell me how you're doing right now.

- My office space is a bit more lively than usual, thanks to a Mother's Day gift from my kids. They had my cat's portrait made by one of their classmates. My cat is usually in the office with me in person, and cat Dom, he is behind me, but now I've got this lively picture back there. So that makes me happy. And I have to tell you, Chris, I am exceptionally relieved because my family is fully vaccinated. And last week my youngest son attended in-person high school classes for the first time in over a year. And he was so happy to see his teachers and some friends again. And my dad, he has a new lease on life now that he can safely see people in person again. So I feel really hopeful that things are getting better where vaccinations are available. At the same time, I am heartbroken about what is happening in India and I sincerely hope that infections get under control soon there.

- Well, thank you for sharing that. And yeah, I have to say it's been really remarkable to see that, I've asked that same question for every single episode. I think today is our 51st episode, and it's really amazing to see how the answers to those questions have evolved over time. And also just to be honest to anyone who's tuning in right now, your camera just died right at the start of this. So I also appreciate that, how are you doing right now? Your flexibility to just weird, we're going with the computer camera and going on with this. And that's a big part, honestly, I think, of the story of the last year, is just being flexible with whatever is going on around us and being adaptable. So thank you for being adaptable here. So we have a lot of stuff to talk about today that I'm really excited about, but let's start with a definition of what an SMB is. I think if you asked 100 people you might get 100 different answers. You have one answer having spent the last five years really thinking about this deeply from the Indeed perspective. How would you describe what an SMB is?

- So SMB, it stands for small and medium business. And here at Indeed, we consider companies who have between one and a thousand employees as SMBs. Now that is a huge SWAT, and there's also a world of variation in those employers. So an employer could be a restaurant, it could be a law office, it could be a landscaping business, it could be an automotive repair shop, it could be a memory care facility. I mean, the list goes on and on. So it's a hugely diverse group and it's a huge challenge to understand and serve them effectively. So people come from a wide variety of backgrounds and they're hiring for a wide variety of roles. Not only that, but the complexity of their organization can vary as well. So larger SMBs might have an HR department where someone can focus on HR and on hiring, but frankly, a lot of the time for our SMBs, it's an owner or a manager who's doing hiring in their spare time. So their focus is on running their business and keeping the business moving forward. And hiring is just this tiny fraction of what they need to care about. And in fact, most of them they'd rather be thinking about the core of their business. And to give you an example of that, I'll relate to you my brother, you've heard about him before. But I like to tell stories about my brother, Will. He is a farmer in Idaho and yes, he grows Idaho potatoes. He has a staff of seven full-time employees, and you also has seasonal hiring needs where he has to staff up to over two dozen for some points in the year of employees that he needs to quickly get things done. So it's a pretty high stakes, high stress time, and hiring stresses him out. He would so much rather be in the tractor, in the combine and not thinking about hiring. In fact, he's told me, "I don't get to do the fun stuff anymore." And I think most SMBs that they would rather get back to doing that fun stuff. And we can partner with them, take that burden, take that load of hiring off of their shoulders, and in the process, we'll make it a better experience for both the employer and the job seeker, and the employer can get back to doing the fun stuff.

- Great, so that's a helpful baseline to have one term defined. Before we move on, maybe we should work on the second one, which is your job and your focus for many years is on user experience or sometimes called UX. Maybe for the folks who are not in UX or haven't worked with folks in UX, if you could talk a little bit about what user experience is all about, and in particular, you have a really interesting background. So how has your background in psychology informed your work in user experience in particular with small businesses?

- Yeah, so let's start with UX. UX focuses on how people interact with everyday products and services. So that could mean websites or applications. It could mean hardware like the camera that just died. It could mean the layout of your control panel in your car. I guarantee you, you are interacting with devices that a UX person has had their hands on because they're thinking about how can we create this layout, this interaction in such a way that it's easy to use, it fits well with the way you think, it's easy to troubleshoot. This particular camera doesn't make high marks on that. But UX is all about creating those trends of workflows where a product or a service just naturally fits in to what people are doing, and supports them in that process. UX does combine aspects of psychology, business, market research, design, and technology. So and our ultimate goal really is to create amazing experiences that meet customer's needs. And they might be needs that the customer may not know that they have, but we can study and understand what those needs are and create products and services that will delight them because we've solved a problem that, as again, they may not have really even realize that they had. Then you asked about my background in psychology. I have a PhD, and it's called Engineering Psychology, which is essentially applied cognitive psychology. Now psychology, it essentially gives us theories for understanding people, how they experience the world, and why they behave as they do. And you know we are a data-driven organization here at Indeed, and experimental design, objective research methodologies, those are the foundation of psychology. So psychology helps us to understand our users both job seekers and employers, and it gives us tools to look at really complex, messy world through an objective lens. Essentially psychology keeps us from making the mistake of thinking that we are the users because we're not. And so in a nutshell, psychology helps us understand how people interact with complex systems. It gives us that objective lens for looking at that complexity. And hiring is pretty darn complex. Oh, I want to add that my background is in psychology, but there are a myriad of skills in our Indeed UX team. We've got interaction designers, visual designers, content designers, researchers, which is my background, design technologists and UX developers. And all of those skills are brought to bear as we partner with our product teams to create great experiences for our customers.

- That's great. Very, very helpful. So, now let's talk about what it is that you've been focused on. And one of the things you mentioned just before we're a data-driven organization. We certainly spend a lot of time looking at a lot of data and trying to understand what we can do to improve the hiring process by looking at that data. But the data can never actually tell us why people are making decisions. They can just give us a lot of insight about what's actually happening. And so you and your teams and all the research teams at Indeed spend a lot of time talking to human beings. It's a people business after all. And one of the things that we've been doing over the past several months is having your team come and just present these stories and insights to the senior leadership team about the things that you're learning and the insights that you're gaining from these human conversations. Can you talk about maybe some of the things that have just stuck out as being particularly interesting or inspiring to you?

- Yeah, absolutely. I have to say, anytime you're getting a little bit in the doldrums about your job, watch some user research because it is so inspiring. Like this is why we're doing what we're doing. And public service announcement that anybody at Indeed can watch user research. We'll figure out a way to communicate out the calendars that we've got both job seeker and employer research. Just really want to connect people. So I want to tell you about an employer that, I'll call him Eddie, that's not his real name, but it's close. So Eddie owns and operates several chicken joints here in Texas, and he owns them along with his father-in-law. And he came and talked to us about his hiring evolution. So he joined that business straight out of college, he had no prior experience hiring. And I think the best way to understand the story is through Eddie's own words. So I want to read to you what he had to say when we talked. As a researcher, also an FYI, if I'm doing an interview session, I'm usually taking verbatim notes. So it's just the best way to get out that customer's voice. So this is what Eddie told me. He said, "My first restaurant was a high-volume store. I would work 60 hours a week, keeping things afloat. And over the months you lose employees, people graduate or just move on. Before I knew it, my staff was so thin, that I was working more and more shifts. It affected my health and stress level. I need to figure something out. I thought the harder I work, the easier it will be. I ended up doing more and more and didn't focus on the fact that I needed other people. My father-in-law told me, 'You've got to have people.' But I didn't know how to get them. How do I attract good candidates?" So, what did Eddie do? He actually reached out to other counterparts who operate similar kinds of businesses, and one of them asked him, "Hey, have you tried Indeed?" And he was like, "No." And this person said, "Well, it works for me, you should give it a try." He decided to give it a try, he posted a job and he had great results. So he was able to make a hire, connect with candidates and make a hire, and it's just become part of his process. So I found it really inspiring that Indeed found, excuse me, that Eddie found a hiring partner in Indeed, and that he could focus on running the business, and getting some balance back in his life.

- Great.

- Well, I actually wanted to ask you a question at this point.

- Great.

- So, I've been at Indeed for just over five years, and I've focused on employers and SMBs in particular since I joined. I would love to hear from you a little bit more about the history of how Indeed started thinking about serving SMBs.

- That is a great question. And so I joined Indeed a little over 10 years ago, and at that time, Indeed really was purely a search engine. And what that meant is that we found jobs that had been posted on other sites all over the world. So jobs on individual companies' career sites, also back in that day, newspapers had job boards, there were other job boards as well. And what that meant though, is that we really didn't have anyone coming and posting their jobs directly to Indeed. And so what that also meant was that we were in some ways limited to the kinds of employers who actually had career sites or who were posting new jobs elsewhere. And so our whole focus as a business is really on the job seeker. As you mentioned, we try to look at every problem and say, what's best for the job seeker here? And the answer back then was very clearly that more jobs, there were clearly more jobs out there and what can we do to help more people get their jobs easily onto Indeed? So we built a very simple self-service product to allow people to come and post their jobs. And what we found was that it was actually a lot of small businesses that were doing it, because they did not have a career site. They didn't have a big HR team and a lot of these other sites were expensive or complicated, we made it free and easy for people to come and post their jobs. And what happened as a result of that is we were able to not just get more jobs, but actually really transform the job seeker experience. So we had the ability for job seekers to then create a resume and apply to those jobs. We could simplify much more of the hiring process if it was happening on Indeed. It allowed us to actually find out what information about jobs that job seekers needed so we could actually get better job data from employers and that helped them to hire better. And in that process, though, we really started to learn some of the things that you were talking about. In particular, just how completely different all of these small businesses were. In some ways large businesses, even in different industries, they behave a lot more similarly than small businesses do maybe even in the same industry. And that SMBs are as different as job seekers. So what we found is that the more we understood about these small businesses, which are really the drivers of the economy certainly here in the US and in many countries around the world, that the more that we learned about them the more that we could learn about job seekers and that just has made us better at our mission of helping people get jobs. So it's been quite an evolution, and I would love to just go back to talking about some of what your team has seen in your research, specifically, a series of interviews that you've done recently about how COVID-19 has affected SMBs. And we'd love to just hear a little bit about what COVID revealed about some things that really have just been challenges all along, and then what are some of the new things that you've seen as well?

- Absolutely. So I want to start with big shout out to Mary Gribbons and the SMB UX Research team. They came together and had conversations with employers that we could understand this information. So when the pandemic began, many SMBs faced incredibly difficult situations where their businesses were reduced to a trickle or came to a complete halt. And they had to furlough staff and do what they could to stay afloat. And frankly, they just weren't sure what was happening month to month. So for example, we talked to an employer that I'll call David. His family owns and operates an all-inclusive wedding and event party business in California. And he described the challenges that they went through as they just tried to figure out when people could gather again. And at first they thought, "Oh, it'll be a few months." But now here we are a year later. So David and his family, they had to make some really tough choices to keep the business afloat. But the exciting thing is that they are now anticipating pent up demand for events and they began to hire. So they hung in and they made those tough choices. They hung in and they're ready to come back and help bring people together through their events. So, one of the themes that really surfaces up is that these SMBs, they're go getters. They are entrepreneurial, they are scrappy, and they're going to innovate to make it through tough times. I'm sure that you've all seen restaurants pivoted to figure out how to provide takeout, how to use technologies that they weren't using before. That's annoying. Shops shops, pivoted to e-commerce and services like auto repair pivoted to figure out, "Well, how can we accommodate social distancing?" All of these things together, it just really underscored how SMBs are these scrappy entrepreneurs. We also heard some employers talk to us how they're hiring, actually, that they continued to hire, and in some cases they ramped up during COVID. For example, we talked to an employer who they hire security guards, but they were asked to hire a whole bunch of temperature screeners. They'd never hired temperature screeners before. And so they had to figure out, "Well, how do we do this? And how do we do it with social distancing in place?" They tried virtual interviewing, but they ran into a lot of difficulties. So being scrappy entrepreneurs, they figured out, "Hey, let's do a drive-through hiring event where we can have a hiring event, but from your car and it'll be a drive-through." It worked, it had its own challenges because she said that they were crushed by paperwork. So they had to figure out how to bring that online and pivot along the way. So I think that just that whole scrappy nature of we're going to do what it takes to help the business to grow and continue to be successful, is something that SMBs exhibit and we saw throughout these interviews. The other thing that we saw consistently is that real need to make a connection with the job seeker. So some of them did try going to virtual across the interviews that we conducted. There were a lot of challenges. People had struggles with technology or they just didn't feel comfortable. And there's a real opportunity for us to help create those kinds of human connections quickly, and in such a way that it just feels like it's natural. It's just part of the flow. This is what you do at this point, because that need to connect, it didn't change. And it's something that we can innovate on, and make even better.

- In that last question, you really did hit on a number of things that are different about certainly the experience over the last year plus for SMBs. Can you talk a little bit about just the difference from our perspective of what's different about how they hire?

- Yeah, honestly, we typically use this phrase of many hats. So if you think back about Eddie, the chicken joint owner, he wears many hats. So he needs to make sure that the operations are running smoothly across all of the restaurants. He needs to handle all of the ordering and managing of profit and loss. He's the maintenance person who is called when something is broken, he's in there fixing it. If someone doesn't show up for a shift, he's putting on the apron and he's filling in and he's cooking some chicken. And if there's a hiring issue, he's the one to fix it. So essentially one of the things that's really different about SMBs is this need to wear many hats and context switch. And as I said before, hiring is not their favorite activities, so it's not their favorite hat in many cases. They would rather get back to doing the business itself, doing what they love. The other big theme that applies across SMBs typically, is the fact that they never have enough time. They are moving from activity to activity to activity, and as much savings that they can have, so much the better. Thirdly, many are new to hiring, or they're self-taught. So they're kind of feeling their way through the dark as they goes through the hiring process. And lastly, and I think one of the most important is many of them are just fiercely proud and confident about what they're doing, even if what they're doing is not the best way to do it. So let me give you an example of that. Employers frequently tell us, "Ah, if only I had a short list of candidates. I don't want to deal with all these candidates." So when we talk about ideas we think, I remember walking through mock-ups with employers, and showing them concepts that gave us, well, what if we auto rejected some folks that clearly didn't meet the requirements that you laid out? A lot of employers were like, "No, no, no, no, no, hold on, hold on! I need to see everybody because I know my business, you don't really know my business. I know my business and I need to feel confident that I've seen everybody, because there've been times when I've found a candidate that was." They've called the diamond in the rough. So somebody who may not have exactly fit the criteria that they'd laid out, but was really successful in their role. So they have a real fear of missing out and a need to be in control. I mean, this is their business. So they want to feel confident about what's happening. And so the bottom line for us is that we really can take the burden and take the burden off of these employers at the right moment. And we can be a partner in the hiring process, but we've got to make sure that they feel confident. They understand what it is that we're doing and that they are ultimately in control. So that they feel like, as I said before, this is their business and they want to feel good about what's happening.

- So what are some of the things that your team is focused on right now in terms of helping connect SMBs with job seekers?

- Absolutely, so you mentioned earlier this getting high quality jobs. That task is an ongoing one. So the training of the job, It all starts with understanding the hiring need. So SMBs are not great, typically, at describing their hiring need. They don't always include information that we know job seekers need. And partly it's because they just don't understand why job seekers would need it. They have their own assumptions. But we know what job seekers need, and we can help employers by nudging them and giving them information to help support that decision to include certain information. It's information like, where is the location of the job? What is the compensation? And employers have kind of balked at both of those for rational reasons. One, for a location, they'd say, "Oh, I don't want people to show up at the doorstep." For compensation, that was like, "Oh, not ready to have that conversation yet." But once they understood why job seekers needed that information, it gave them a lot more context for understanding the value of providing it. And really what we want to do is ensure not only that job seekers have the information that they need, but we want to make sure we understand the job, because we can help make introductions to employers. So if we have the right information about the job, we can make those kinds of introductions. And for people who may not have even been looking for the job, and we can just facilitate that whole process of matching and getting those conversations started. So once those introductions are made, it's time to start facilitating that conversation. And that's again, where we go back to how do we make those connections as seamless as possible? It's just like part of the workflow. It's very natural. It doesn't feel awkward or weird, is you just click through and the conversation has started. So ideally we'd like to have them start very quickly and start on our platform so that we can ensure that it's a quality conversation, and we can understand what's happening so we can facilitate that process. We're also looking for more ways that we can do more on behalf of employers. So what would it look like if we automatically scheduled interviews on behalf of the employer? Because that whole back and forth, "Hey, can you talk on Tuesday? No. How about Wednesday? No. How about Thursday?" And by that time, the person has gone on to another job. Well, what if we just facilitated that whole interchange so that they can have the conversation quickly and make that connection? And finally we help with tracking because it can be tough for SMBs to keep track of everything that's going on. And given just how much they're juggling. So we provide tools to help employers keep track of the things so that both sides know, "Hey, the ball's in your court." And nothing slips through the cracks.

- One of the things that we're seeing right now is certainly in the US, as vaccines are rolling out hiring is starting to pick up. There's a bit of, maybe what might be a reboot of the economy. It's obviously very different in different countries around the world in terms of where they are, but what are some of the things in particular that we're focused on right now with helping SMBs during this rebooting?

- You know, honestly, I feel like what's top of mind for me, as we think about this rebooting is that it's not business as usual, and this is our opportunity to make a huge difference in hiring and to, honestly we can help put the world back to work. And employers are going to be more open than ever to thinking about Indeed as a hiring partner. So historically employers have thought of Indeed as a job board, it's a place where I go advertise my job. With the surge in hiring, they're going to need a hiring partner, and more than ever. And we can introduce ourselves in that way, and we can offer the right tools and the right help at the right time, so that we just naturally become their hiring partner. And honestly, I feel like this surge, this economy reboot, it's the optimal time to facilitate that mind shift. And frankly, I'd love to hear your thoughts on SMBs and the challenges that they face as the economy restarts and just how do we help them think about Indeed as their hiring partner? Making that mind shift.

- Yeah, I mean, I think you kind of hit on some of the key. It's always tough to get anyone to change their mind about how they do things. It's tough to get me to change my mind about things, but, it's the old necessity is the mother of invention. And we definitely saw over the last year that people were willing to try new things because they needed additional help. And so video interviewing in particular was one thing that we saw. The demand for video interviews shot up 1500% in the course of a couple of months, and we built this new platform that's integrated into the Indeed experience. It's great for job seekers. And what we found is the employers who have embraced that while there are new things and technology challenges, they're trying to figure out, that we've been able to dramatically cut the time and effort of hiring. And so I think ultimately what connects us, that I've seen, to employers the most is that we're in the same business. So our mission is to help people get jobs, and these employers they're helping people get jobs as well. And so, as long as we continue to work with them and build that trust, we can partner together to help more people. I would love to hear your thoughts on as we continue to innovate and build more products that help people hire, how are we ensuring that we're doing what's best for employers and job seekers in that process?

- Absolutely. I think this is the real value of user experience. Our focus is putting the user at the heart of the products that we offer. So by starting with deep insights into who our customers are and understanding both their commonalities and their differences, we can create products and solutions for them that really meet their needs. Now, as I see it for a company to be successful, you have to have happy customers. And you can't really have happy customers unless you know them well. And that's where UX comes in. So to put it in another way, I'll borrow a phrase from Paul Jay. He is SMB's UX Research Director. And if you've been in a meeting with Paul, you've probably heard him say something to the effect of, "If we understand our customers well enough to give them experiences that they value, we will unlock value for Indeed in return." So honestly, I like that kind of mindset of like understand the customer and all else will follow. And our goal is to create that level of understanding so that we can then build those amazing experiences for job seekers and employers.

- Well as we're coming to the end of our time here together, I always like to ask at the end, as you look back over the last 14, 15 months, on a personal level, what have you seen or experienced that has left you with some optimism for the future?

- Sure. Well, I'm going to tell you two stories. First off, again hearkening back to the interviews that our research team did with employers. We talked to an employer who I'll call Jenny. She owns a landscape business in the Northeast along with her husband. Now, they have about 15 employees and they've been quite busy as people have been spending more time at home and subsequently want nicer patios and outdoor living spaces. So business has been really busy, but the pandemic impacted the business, her particular business, in that the team dynamic changed. Jenny told us that they have historically grappled with turnover. But she believes that the pandemic has resulted in stronger relationships with her team. For example, they have more conversations about scheduling and juggling that the team members are doing with other demands with their families, and safety concerns that people have. And those kinds of conversations have resulted in a better understanding and just more give and take. So in Jenny's own words, I wanted to tell you how she said it. She said, "The pandemic has definitely knocked everyone down a peg and just made everyone human again. I think that's a good thing. It's helping us with building our core group and maintaining our permanent employees. It's a challenge and it brings everyone back down to humanity. So we have to work together. We have to consider each other." So I think the moral of that story is that we're all in this together. And that makes me feel very optimistic. So, and I'll wrap up with a final story about a small business. This is the power of a small business, it's located in Power County, Idaho. So as you mentioned earlier, Chris, small business are the heart of the economy at least here in the US. And in my business, excuse me, in my opinion, they are the heart of the community that they serve. So a specific case in point is this small, locally owned independent pharmacy in my hometown. So this is a rural area and that local pharmacy is not only a pharmacy but it's also a gift shop. It's a place where you can get electronic gadgets like thumb drives, and it's where the old timers of town gather every morning for coffee and gossip. And I know that because my dad is one of those old timers. So when the pandemic struck, the gathering of those old timers changed, but the pharmacy remained the central hub. And importantly, the pharmacist, he became that point person for rolling out vaccinations in the local area. So he figured out the logistics of connecting with vaccine providers. He figured out the communications that he needed to share information with the community and build trust with them. And he took on the hiring of both English and Spanish speaking staff to ensure that the delivery of those vaccinations was effective and smooth. And thanks to his efforts, that rural county has vaccination rates that edge out more populated counties like Travis County, in terms of the percent of individuals of certain high-risk groups who are inoculated. And this small county does not have the same level of access to technology and tools, but what it has is a small business that is there for that community. So kudos to you use small businesses. And I'm thankful that that particular small business has done so much to make my hometown safe. And I'm thankful for what we're all doing here at Indeed to serve small businesses like that one.

- Well, Anna, thank you so much for joining me today and for sharing your insights and your experience and most of all, thank you for everything that you do to help small businesses all over the world and to help people get jobs.

- Thanks, Chris.