Travels through tech leadership and accountability in marketing

September 3, 2021

What makes great leadership? Is it strategic and critical thinking or the ability to share a clear vision of the path forward for a business? What about humor or even the absurd? How do they play a role in leadership?

In this week’s episode of Here to Help, we meet Jessica Jensen, Indeed’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Indeed. Jensen, who is passionate about coaching and motivating diverse global teams, shares her lessons from 20 years of working in technology in Silicon Valley — and what it’s like to lead high-performance teams at Yahoo!, Apple and Facebook.

We also learn what’s in store for the world of marketing in a post-COVID world, how being mission-driven helps Indeed’s marketing efforts and how to stay true to your values and advance your career.

- Hello and 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 August 30th. We are on day 545 of global work from home. And today is our 60th episode of Here to Help. And looking back over the discussions we've had, one thing is crystal clear is the importance of work and vocation to people's happiness and to their lives. Over the past 18 months, how we work and where we work has changed but the pandemic has also had a profound impact on how we think about work, the jobs we're doing now and the ones that we want to have in the future. Recent reports on what is being called the Great Resignation have highlighted that somewhere between 20 and 40% of employees in the U.S. and the U.K. are considering leaving their current job. My guest today has thought quite a lot about these issues. Jessica Jensen is Indeed's Chief Marketing Officer, and the work that she and her team do is critical to helping people get jobs all over the world. Jessica joined Indeed earlier this year after serving in senior marketing roles at Facebook, Apple, and most recently Jessica, thank you so much for joining me today.

- Thank you for having me, Chris. This is a delight.

- Let's start where we always start these discussions with a check-in, how are you doing today, right now?

- Thank you for asking. I'm well, my family as well. So I feel very fortunate about that. But I think there's so many people around the world suffering now in Haiti, and Afghanistan, and now Hurricane Ida lashing our own country. I feel both great fortune but also deep sadness about how many people are suffering right now. How are you doing?

- I am doing well and thinking about all the same things that you are, and that's really kind of a centerpiece of a lot of the conversations that we've had on Here to Help over the last year and a half. There's so much going on that affects so many people and part of what we're going to talk about today is how that motivates and drives us to do the work that we do. So let's start out by just giving a little background. So you joined this year as the CMO of Indeed. Can you talk a little bit about what attracted you to Indeed and what it was like taking over the entire marketing function remotely from your home where you are today?

- Sure, well, I mean, as you know more than anyone that our mission to help people get jobs is incredibly inspiring and socially critical. And I was just absolutely overjoyed when Indeed reached out to me and then learned so much more about the breadth and depth of the company, the global reach, being part of Recruit Holdings and the Japanese businesses. The fact that Glassdoor is part of our family as well. I think there's so much more to Indeed than I understood and then got to know a lot of the people in the organization. And I just think it's the most committed, motivated, open-minded, helpful, generous down-to-earth group of people that I've gotten the honor to work with. I think that you are a very low ego conscientious leader and you set a really amazing tone for everyone who works here. So the social impact of the business and the people and the products that I get to get to work on every day are just absolutely delightful.

- Well, we're certainly glad you're here. But before we move forward and talk more about the work that you're doing today, I'd love to talk a little bit about your career journey. In particular you mentioned Recruit Holdings, our parent company, I know that Japan has played a special role for you in your life. Can you talk about how growing up in Kansas you became fascinated with and in love with Japanese culture.

- Yeah, it's a very obvious connection I know. So yeah, born and raised in Kansas City, and my dad is a painter and both of my parents are obsessed with art history. And I basically grew up going to museums and studying art. And I fell in love with Chinese and Japanese art and in particular brush painting and a lot of the East Asian art techniques. I started studying Japanese in high school. I studied Japanese and art history for about a decade. I lived in Japan for four years. So some people on this will remember the song, "I'm Turning Japanese", I really think so. That was definitely my personal theme song for a while. I just could not get enough of Japan. So the joyous irony of now joining a company that is owned by a Japanese company and getting to speak Japanese again and having a good-sized Japanese team is just a total hoot for me, just super fun.

- So how did that experience in terms of the fascination with other cultures and with art, how did that lead you to Silicon Valley and what brought you into the world of technology?

- Right, yeah, I mean, I would say throughout my teens, college, 20's, I was trying to go to as many countries and experience as much of the world as possible. So I did some work for the UN in the Ivory Coast in 1991 during the Liberian Civil War. I went to business school in France. I traveled through Central America for four months. So I was really trying to just suck as much world experience into my life as possible. Ended up going to grad school for Japan studies in San Diego and really thought I wanted to be a diplomat. I was like I'm going to go to work for the State Department, that whole thing. And then also just on a luck decided to interview with management consulting companies 'cause they were on campus. And I interviewed with the Boston Consulting Group and I absolutely loved the people and the variety of the work. And I think kind of viewed it as a way to get dunked in business and learn what that was all about and try on a lot of different sweaters. So decided to move to L.A. and thought I would do it for a couple of years, and check it out and then either go into the State Department or do a PhD in Japanese politics, lo and behold, six years at BCG, loved every minute of it. It was super fascinating. And that was when the internet was blossoming. So that was the late '90s for people who remember that. I worked on eToys and a lot of the amazing early internet businesses and just realized that I was witnessing an absolute explosion in human connection and technology and the power of the internet to shrink the world and really fell in love with it. And realized that I could make a life out of working on businesses or organizations that leverage that technology. So ended up leaving the Boston Consulting Group, and I won't take you through every fascinating and bizarre twist and turn, but moved to the Bay Area about 11 years ago and then worked for Yahoo, Apple, Facebook, bookings. So I've pretty much been in internet businesses since there were internet businesses.

- So one thing that is very clear to anyone that gets to know you is that you are extraordinarily driven by values. And I know that in talking to you that there has been some of the experience in the business world of a clash between the values you grew up with and the things that mean something to you personally, and the culture you experienced in Silicon Valley. Can you talk a little bit about that?

- Yeah, I mean, I think I don't know if it's my Kansas roots or my family or a combination of things but I really believe that no one is capable of achieving something solely on their own. I really believe in the power of the group, the power of teams, generosity, honesty. And I will say I have witnessed, and it's not unique to Silicon Valley, but there's definitely a level of chest beating and hero worship, and frankly a bro culture, a typically male dominated culture. And I think working at Apple and really feeling like people there and people outside of Apple thought Steve Jobs was kind of the Messiah. And I believe that organizations are built by large droves of people all rowing the boat hard together. Certainly leadership matters as you know, and in your own life. But yeah, I think there's some arrogance and some hero worship stuff that has really not sat very well with me.

- So more recently, obviously the Me Too movement exposed a lot of toxicity in the world and in business in general but in particular certainly in many tech companies. What was your experience like early on?

- Yeah, well, I mean, I would say when I was in management consulting in the '90s, I was routinely the only female in a CEO meeting or a board meeting or all of the clients that I worked with, with very few exceptions were male. And I think BCG was and is very committed to getting women into senior positions. And so I think the experience of women in consulting now is quite different than it was when I was there. And we used to wear pantyhose every day to work. So a lot was wrong with the '90s. But then moving to Silicon Valley, yeah, I mean, it's interesting I decided to go to Yahoo. That was the first company I worked for up here, female CEO, female EVP of the Americas, Head of IR was a woman. And that was really, really rare at that time. And it's one of the reasons I chose that company. And then I went to Apple and there was not a single female on the executive team. I mean, this was not that long ago. They've made some progress since then. But yeah, I mean, I think I have seen technology environments and companies where women are both thriving and extremely marginalized. And I think the level of consciousness now, thanks to me too and to women really pushing and holding people accountable, it's gotten a lot better. And when I was at Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg was the COO, Carolyn Everson, the head of sales, lots and lots of senior women. But I would say still I know so many women particularly coming up through the VC process and through fundraising who really feel that it's still a bro culture. And so we have to beat, we have to call that out. We have to be vigilant about that. I'm really excited that California has passed the requirement for female representation on boards. I definitely believe that until women are 50% of corporate boards, we will not see the kind of female representation that is required, and not just female, diversity in general. I mean, I think that there's so many areas that we need to work on. But slow progress on women in the corporate setting, and certainly California is a lot better than a lot of parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world. So it's a match.

- So what responsibility do you feel as a woman leader and as a marketer to bring that perspective and to impact the world in some positive way?

- I feel a huge responsibility. I mean I feel personally a huge responsibility 'cause I was so lucky to grow up with great education. My parents were always in my camp and telling me I could do anything I put my mind to and worked hard for. And I have benefited from so many wonderful mentors and experiences. So I feel a giant personal respect responsibility to help other people excel and grow and to change social structures. And then as a marketer, I mean, how many people get to speak to tens of millions of people on a monthly basis? I mean, Indeed we have over, across our company is over 250 million people coming to us every month looking for jobs. And then through our media and marketing outreach, we're reaching hundreds of millions of people around the world. So yes, the weight is on my shoulders. What we say and how we say it and how we inspire people to find jobs and re-imagine their lives and find new economic opportunity and break through social barriers, it's something I think about night and day.

- Well, so let's talk a little bit about that. So can you walk us through a little bit of the priorities that you have for the marketing team specifically around this mission of helping all people get jobs?

- Yeah, so we have a 400-person marketing team around the world, hi everybody, wonderful group of people, Japan, Germany, all over the place, and we try to reach job seekers around the world to engage them, let them know that Indeed has the most jobs, the best place for them to find new opportunity. And so as marketers we're constantly trying to find new pockets of people, engage them in new ways. So we're doing a lot of vertical industry, vertical outreach and engagement. So how do we really speak effectively to nurses and warehouse workers and tech employees and accountants? And so really getting more specific with our messaging and our media use to reach people in those new ways. We're trying to grow in a lot of new countries like India and other countries in Southeast Asia. So really thinking really critically about what are the right ways to reach people in those countries. And then what are the emotional messages that people need? We've been through so much suffering and challenged through COVID and women have left the workforce in droves, how do we re-engage women to help them think about new career opportunities? How do we help people coming out of incarceration? How do we help veterans? How do we help people find jobs who confront barriers or don't necessarily know how to navigate the job search world? So we create a lot of content to help people know what are the opportunities available? What are the skills that I need? What kind of certifications? How do I prepare for interviews? How do I think about virtual interviewing? What are the opportunities around remote work? So it's a multi multi-pronged approach across media and countries to try to really get people to embrace the possibility to improve their lives with new jobs.

- So Indeed, as is pretty clear from that list of issues that you just went through, which is just a small slice of the things that we think about. So we're clearly a mission-driven company and our whole purposes is very clear but in the wake of the last few years that the world has been through with me too, Black Lives Matter, issues like climate change and COVID, what is the role of purpose in marketing in general and how do we think about responding to what's going on in the world around us and how should other brands think about this?

- Well, I think there's a real awakening going on in the business world and the marketing world that we can't hide from the social challenges and ills and dynamics and conversations going on. And that again as you know, if you are using media and social channels and reaching out and spending money on promoting a product or service to do that in a vacuum and quotes, just sell cookies, or just sell shoes, it's not aware of the environment that we're in. It's not accepting our responsibility to try to change the conversation. And so I think we at Indeed and this work on the marketing team predates me. We have a huge commitment to empathy at work and doing a lot. We've done I think really compelling, the team has done really compelling work around Black History Month, women's history month, pride, these kinds of cultural moments where we can go into the market and say around women, "Work needs women." The retreat of women from the workforce during COVID is not good for women, not good for workforces, not good for society. And so that we as Indeed need to be part of helping women reengage with work. And the same goes at pride, we ran I think some really, really compelling work about the experience of gay, lesbian, trans people, going through the interview and hiring process and the special issues they face, trying to help prepare all the social conversation around meeting people where they are as employers and as candidates for jobs. So I think our mission is to help people get jobs, but the how of that and the emotional and social fabric that people are in given racial awareness, COVID, et cetera, has changed so drastically that we are trying to speak in a way that is reflective of where the world is and I think a lot of brands are figuring that out.

- So one of the things that as a leadership team we spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about, and I know is deeply meaningful to you is this, we're a business and we have goals and we're trying to do things and your responsibility is to motivate your team and to set objectives for them which are ambitious. And at the same time to remain human and empathetic and deal with the context of everything that's going on in the world around us. How do you think about balancing all of those things?

- Yeah, it's a great question. And I think one I've dealt with in my own life over the last couple of years. I think all of us feel like things have gotten pretty wacky and we're trying to maintain careers and families and sanity and mental health, and everyone is dealing with that. But I would say specifically to answer your question, I try to help people understand kind of what is the summit of the mountain that we're trying to take as a business and as an organization, but also be really open and honest about the fact that as we climb that mountain we're going to have a loose scramp on, we're going to hit a boulder, we're going to be hit by a sleet storm and maybe take a few steps back and regroup and have some beef jerky, and then keep going up the mountain. And it's a down up, down up movement that eventually yields to significant growth and taking that summit. But I just think of over the last year and a half, I mean the number of times that people on my team slack me or contact me and they're like, daycare closed due to COVID, children at home, sick kid, grandma sick, across the country. And they can't make it all fit. They just can't execute at work in the way that they would like to and are accustomed to because there's too much else going on that is too hard. And we have to flex and make allowances for that. And I want to thank you, Chris. I mean, as you recall about a week after I joined Indeed, I was diagnosed with a tumor in my pancreas, which is not what you're looking for when you're starting a new job or ever, and you were incredibly supportive and empathetic and you said, "You're going to hopefully be here a long time. And so if you have to go a bit slower at the start and ramp up at a different rate to accommodate your health." It was really, really touching for me and you were really supportive and I really appreciate that. And fortunately I'm fine now, but I think it really illustrated to me that as leaders we have to take care of people and we have to take care of ourselves. And we can run a great business at the same time.

- Thank you, thank you for sharing that. I certainly have been thinking a lot about the fact that as a business like ours that really spends a lot of time thinking about the future, what is the process of looking for a job 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now? What are the problems that we're trying to solve which are real long-term investments? I think a lot of businesses think about that and it's very easy to forget that the people who are responsible for doing that need to be part of that long-term thinking-

- Yeah, that's right.

- And that it's very easy to get focused and we've been having this conversation as a senior leadership team very recently that it is impossible to have urgency and move quickly while really thinking about the future. And that means, like when I joined Indeed almost 11 years ago and we were 130 people, we're 11,000 people now. And sometimes we still operate like just a very, very big startup. And there's a whole lot where, and early stage startups don't think about people on their team and what they're doing 10 years from now. But if we do think about this, this is definitely a long-term investment in the business, and if people are our business then we should be thinking about things like that. So I guess, well, so one question for you then is you've been leading global teams for many, many years but especially in the last year and a half through everything that the world has been through. And some of the things that you mentioned and global teams and diverse teams, what has changed for you about how you think about the world through that experience of trying to lead these teams with all of these individual experiences through not just your own experience, but through everyone's experience through all of this?

- Yeah, well, I think you and I have talked about this too. Once upon a time, you and I would be on the road two times a month, three times a month, right? Like if I had started this job three years ago I would have gone to Texas, Dublin, Tokyo, Canada. I literally would have been all over meeting teams and clients, and now a thousand percent of that is on video, which is both wonderful in a way in that you and I get to spend more time with our families and we spend less time lighting time on fire and airports, et cetera. However, that real connection and being able to go out to dinner with my teams and meet clients in person and hear from them. I mean it's a really radically different situation and it has some real downsides. And people are so tired of being on video 10 hours a day. I mean, it's just insane. So trying to navigate how to connect with people in a really meaningful way through video, and yet respect the fact that people need a break and can't just go, go, go, go, go in the same way. I mean, it's a huge mental adjustment. And I don't think I'd have it iced at all. I reached out to somebody on my team recently and I said, "I want to get you and your team together and just really have fun and do something." And they were like, "Impossible on video, we're over it." And they were just being really honest, right? Like another video happy hour, oh. So trying to find new things to do. And as you know I did some improv comedy in the past. And so I'm always trying to find ways to insert humor and keep things a bit lighter that works for some people. Some people think I'm silly. But trying to just always perceive where people are in this long journey and adjust to that and find different ways. But I think you, you know what you're doing weekly or every other Q and As and series like this here to help. Over communicating through the channels we have and trying to help people understand where the greater organism is going and what's happening and answer their questions in a generous and thoughtful way is probably probably the best we can do. And everybody is dealing with their own bag of goods and it's not easy. But I love what you said, I do think. Thinking about teams and business growth in 10 year increments helps us, I always say we're running sprints and a marathon at the same time, and they both require rest and hydration and sleep. But I think what you said about thinking about who are the teams and the people that we need for a decade, and how do we keep them engaged and fresh and going is something I'm doing a lot more thinking about.

- Yeah, and I think from the experience for me of having now been at Indeed for a little over a decade and thinking about those teams, in some cases we need someone from the outside with different experience like you. So many of the people who are in these really critical leadership roles at every level of Indeed are people who also grew up here. And so we need to find people but we also need to grow them. And that's a really, when you're thinking in terms of what hires do I need to make next quarter? You're going to make a certain set of decisions. When I think about, what is the team we need five years from now? Some of those are seeds that we're going to plant today and we can come up with whatever analogy analogies we want there but grow into the team that we need and it's not all one or the other. And the the longterm view allows for more options than just what do I have to do right now.

- Well, on my team I have a lot of people who've been doing essentially the same job, 3, 4, 5 years. And so I'm talking to my leadership team and people like, "We got to mix it up for people." People who've worked in job secret marketing need to go do time in SMB, and SMB people need to go work on enterprise. And functional swap and bringing in a lot of more speakers and training from people from the outside. I think that we do need perspectives from other companies and organizations. So yeah, keeping people fresh and experiencing different parts of the business, I think is a really key thing we need to work on.

- Well, as we wrap up I'm going to ask you this question but I actually want to share a little bit myself first about one of the things that we always close with is sort of what has happened over the course of the pandemic that gives you some optimism for the future. And this might seem a little counterintuitive but what you were just talking about a couple of minutes ago about our teams and everything they're going through and being done with video, part of the experience of the last year and a half for me has been a real sort of exposure of the humanity of every single person in a way that some people might have lasted 12 months without cracking. Some people made it 12 hours, but we've been at this long enough and especially now with the experience that that many of us had in some countries and it's different in other places, but where things were looking up in the early summer and then we're back certainly in Texas as bad as it's ever been with this. Everyone has reached a breaking point at some point. And that's not a wonderful thing other than it's a shared experience now that everyone has been like, we've all reached a point where we've all had to admit in a larger or a small group that we're wiped out. And that the experience of seeing other people, especially people who you might think are on some kind of a higher plane that to see humanity at all levels is really a powerful thing. And that while we have been more separate physically, I mean, I just got to meet you last month for the first time after working with you for quite some time now. And there clearly is something really powerful about us all coming together but at the same time we've all had to connect at this sort of base level of the shared humanity of all of the stuff going on in our lives, and it's different. So many people have had so many different experiences through this time. And that has really given me some hope that when we start to come back together, whenever that is going to be, that we don't just sort of lock that up and put it in the closet and turn the key and pretend that that didn't happen. That the recognition of the basic humanity that connects, there's this concept that one of our problems as humans is that we compare our insides to other people's outsides. And that comparison, generally we come up short in that comparison. You look at the Instagram view of the world and everyone looks like they're doing better than you. One of the things about Zoom is that I feel like we've all been sort of showing our insides a little bit to each other. And when you compare your insides with other people's insides you come away with a little more feeling of connection.

- I love that.

- So let me turn around and then ask you that as we're closing out here. What in your experience over the last year and a half has given you some optimism for the future?

- Well, I will echo what you said and build on. I've been in therapy various times in my life. My husband and I have been in couple's therapy. And I used to talk about that openly and people were, they were shocked. I mean, they were like, "Wow, something is really wrong with her," which is a different topic. And now it's quite normal. So I think like you said, people have acknowledged that they can't do it all and that they have hit a wall and that they need help. So I am really excited that mental health, my husband and I used to joke that when we move to Silicon Valley, everybody like bikes, really hardcore and runs really hardcore and fast and eats weird food, but like nobody talks about going to therapy 'cause they don't need it and they're strong. And now we know so many people in therapy and talking about it and I think that that is fabulous. So I'm really excited about that. And then I think just generally the open conversation about social inequality and the need for people to take a more active role in society and not stand by and be watching what is happening in the world is also really heartening to me. And then I think in the business world, I think the fact that we've proved to ourselves that we don't need to be on planes all the time and that you can do a lot with people virtually, I'm not saying virtual world does not replace physical connection, but I think people will travel less for work. And I think that that is better for humans and families and frankly also the environment. So, and we can't possibly do enough fast enough for that friend .

- Well, I am just so grateful to get to work with you and get to know you-

- I feel so the same.

- This was really a fantastic conversation. Thank you for joining me and thank you for bringing yourself to this conversation. Not that it would have gone to any other way but that's what I was-

- I'm sorry there's no other option .

- That's what I was really hoping for here. And thank you for everything. And thank you for everything you do to help people get jobs all over the world.

- It is an honor to be in your army. So thank you for having me with you.