Who are the people behind the product?

October 26, 2021

Have you ever wondered what it takes to make sure the Indeed homepage gives job seekers the best experience possible?

Indeed CEO Chris Hyams catches up with Ezra Rufino, a product manager at Indeed. His team’s goal is to make sure the Indeed homepage is always helping people get jobs.

Ezra, an entrepreneur at heart, worked in the hospitality industry as a restaurant manager before delving into the world of product management. He is passionate about offering a best-in-class and personalized experience to all job seekers that visit Indeed.

- Hello and welcome everyone. I am Chris Hyams CEO of Indeed. And welcome to the next episode of "Here to Help". Today is October 18th. We are on day 594 of global work from home. Our mission at Indeed is to help people get jobs. This is what gets us out of bed in the morning and what keeps us up at night. And what powers that mission is our people. "Here to Help" first started as a look at how Indeed has been navigating the impact of COVID-19. But through these weekly conversations, it evolved into a look at how people's experiences and stories inspire them to want to help others. Indeed was founded with the commitment to put job seekers first. With every decision about our products and our business we ask what's best for the job seeker. And this means that sometimes we make decisions that are inconvenient for employers and ourselves by ensuring we've made it simpler and faster for someone to get a job. My guest today spends most of his time thinking about how to put job seekers first, Ezra Rufino is a Senior Product Manager and he and his team are responsible for Indeed's homepage, which is one of the most important experiences for job seekers on Indeed. Ezra, thank you so much for joining me today.

- Thanks. Thanks Chris. Happy to be here.

- Let's start where we always start these conversations by checking in. How are you doing today, right now?

- I'm doing well. Yeah, I'm doing really well. I'm excited to be here. I'm a little nervous obviously, but I'm just, yeah, I'm excited to kick off my Monday with this conversation.

- Fantastic. Well, I'm excited to be here also, and let's start by talking about what it is that your job focuses on every day and how you help people get jobs.

- Yeah. So as you said, I'm a Senior Product Manager here and the product that I work on, the product team I work on, we're responsible for the homepage and we have one other product manager on the team, we have an amazing, you know, cross-functional product team. And what we do is I guess, our product has multiple components to it, but one of the most important for sure, one of the most impactful things we do for job seekers is definitely trying to understand what they're looking for and using that to deliver them a personalized set of jobs, so we call it the job feed. That's like, I think, what we've been calling it internally, but actually also externally with job seekers, but on top of that as the homepage product manager and the homepage team, we definitely, you know, think a lot about the fact that when you type in indeed.com, what you see is what we're responsible for and, you know, the what where, the recent searches, just like some of these kinds of simple foundational components of Indeed and the way that users, job seekers really like interact with Indeed. So we think about the first time experience, we think about the way we represent the brand itself and how job seekers, you know, find their way around Indeed. So, yeah.

- Great. Well, we're going to come back to a lot more of what happens on the homepage, but let's back up a little bit and talk about how you got here. Like me, your background doesn't start out in tech. Can you talk a little bit about your career experiences and how the things that you did along the way shaped your work today?

- Yeah, yeah, for sure. I mean, you know, for me, I think just like going back a bit to like, how did I find my way even into my initial kind of careers. Really, I always as a kid and this is going to sound weird, but I actually always loved business. And even as like a young, I was like seven or eight years old, you know, and I would be selling, going to the supermarket with my mom, I'd use my allowance money to buy like the big thing of chips with like 25 bags of chips. And then I'd resell them to my younger sister and my older sister. And that was just like who I was. I just always loved this kind of pursuit, this business pursuit. And then I upgraded a bit, you know, nine years old, maybe you're selling "Pokemon" cards on eBay, you know, things like that. So just like, I think there's many motivations I think, for why business was attractive to me, but I definitely liked the problem solving and like the ownership, I guess, that came with it, you know? That was really big for me. And I think, I mean, transparently generating my own income, you know, like being able to see how I can take control of my own life, I guess that way. And then there's like this other side of me, which is just creative and I've always had that. I love to draw, you know, selling "Pokemon" cards on eBay, but also, you know, drawing "Pokemon" with my friends. I love to play instruments. So I played guitar, I played trombone. I mean, I still play guitar and music is a huge part of my life. So I think those two things, they always guided me in my career pursuit. Let's see, like, I guess, you know, like when it came to deciding where to go to school or like what to do in school, I think a lot of people, they didn't know, you know, what do I want to major in, you know, that sort of thing. But for me actually, I mean, there was a decision between music, going to school for music or going to school for business. And that was a tough decision. But I did decide to go to school for business. And I went to Rutgers Business School and throughout literally, I mean, throughout all four years of school, I worked full-time. So I worked full-time in restaurants and that was actually more than full-time many semesters. And that was a great experience for me. I just loved right away, like freshman year starting in restaurants. I mean, actually, even in high school, I worked in some restaurants, but really the ones that guided me the most, started in college. And working in restaurants, I loved it. I just loved everything about it. I loved my coworkers. I loved just like hanging out with them, talking. I loved the culture, I loved the food, the drinking, you know, like the kind of craft of putting things together. And then I even really loved service. Like I loved giving good service. And I even just, like thinking about this conversation, I started to think about some of the like personalization aspect of service and the personalization that we do at Indeed. And kind of that translation, like good service is not one size fits all at all. You know, like you have to read your table, you have to know what are they looking for? Do they want to have a conversation with you or are they just focused on each other? And different people want different things out of their restaurant experience, so I think anyway. I just loved every aspect of working in restaurants. So eventually, you know, I kind of got that bug and I decided or I thought in my head, like after school, I'm going to become a restaurateur. You know, I'm like, I'm going to become someone who owns restaurants. So let me find my way towards restaurant management. And I started working at like one of the top restaurants in New Jersey. It had a Michelin starred chef, the restaurant itself wasn't Michelin starred, but our chef was, and that was, eventually, I became a manager there after school. So graduated, started restaurant management. I loved doing that. I think that was a really interesting challenge for me, being like 20, 22, having a staff of over a hundred people, trying to learn how, you know, like a diverse set of people, how do you motivate them? How do I help guide these people to become better servers, learn more about the food and the wine that they're serving? Things like that. Definitely really interesting. At the same time I started to, I think, become a little, I became burnt out for sure, actually. It was, I was working between two different restaurants actually, and it was 60 hours a week. The pay wasn't amazing. And I realized also I had 10 days off a year and that I needed to kind of take a break and see the world actually. Like, 10 days off a year, you know, I wasn't going to be able to see anything. So I quit my job actually. And I spent about a year traveling. So I traveled through Europe, made it all the way from Ireland to Turkey and everywhere in between doing all sorts of things, volunteering, meeting people. And by the end of the trip, I basically decided to start my own business. And that was something that I kind of, like I was thinking throughout my life that I would want to own my own business. But I kind of lost track of that, I think, over time, I wasn't sure if that was still what I wanted, but through the trip, basically landed there. So I started a small company. It was just working with, you know, American made producers of cycling gear. And I can kind of talk about how I got there. It was really inspired by the cycling culture that I saw all around Europe, just people commuting by bike. And that really inspired this kind of bug in me where that was the lifestyle that I wanted to live. So I started, you know, kind of curating this selection of cycling gear. And I worked on building that business, it was just an online store, building that business while I was working in a restaurant when I came back home. And I built that up for about a year and got it to a place where I could have run it with a pretty small amount of time investment on my side. So it was pretty self-sustaining at the point, it was definitely not at a place where I could survive on the income. So I decided to move to San Francisco. That was just like a decision I made because of always wanting to live in California. So I moved out here. I hooked up with a friend who helped me out. I stayed on his couch and within the first week I didn't have a job or anything like that. I actually found a job temping at a company called FabKids. And I met there just like an amazing group of people. So this was just like a small startup, they'd actually recently been bought by a bigger company. And I was there, really just supposed to be typing for my boss because she had carpal tunnel. So she had carpal tunnel, she needed someone to type for her. So I went and I sat on her desk all day and she would just stand over me and like, tell me what to type in or email. But after a few weeks there, I learned a lot and I loved the people there. So smart, such, just an amazing, incredible group of people. And I was the only man in the office too. So that was really interesting and unique for tech, obviously, because this was more of a tech fashion company. So anyway, within a couple of weeks, they offered me the job as a product manager. And I honestly, I accepted the job and I had to Google, like, what is a product manager? I had no idea what a product manager was, but I learned a lot there. So many people there taught me a ton. I had an amazing mentor in my boss there. And eventually I grew to become the director of product management, hired a team of product managers. I also led our customer acquisition team basically doing advertising across social media and SCM. And so I was there for about three years. And then I decided to take some time off again and took a few months to travel again. And that's when I found Indeed. And I've been here for about four and a half years, so yeah, that's kind of my journey.

- That's such an amazing story. So you grew up in Brooklyn and I know that your parents had a big influence on you. Can you talk a little bit about that?

- Yeah, definitely. So, yeah, I grew up in Brooklyn. and my parents met at a yoga center, so they were both yoga teachers. And as a part of this yoga studio that they were in, it was really part of a bigger organization called the UGB and this organization, the Universal Great Brotherhood has a lot of, sort of, I think principles to it. And the principals were really like kindness to animals, like love to all people. Like we grew up vegetarian, actually, we were vegan for some of it. My mom, like there was no caffeine, like no consumption of any kind of drugs of any sort. And there was definitely like, I think, if there was two big themes, it was like kindness and empathy and health, for sure as two big pieces of it. So this was like the kind of culture that I grew up in. And I even, I mean, we literally lived in the yoga center for some of my childhood. So, so much of my, I think upbringing is kind of, you know, shaped by that. And at the same time, a big part of my personality, I think comes from the fact that my parents are so different. So my mom, for example, my mom is White Jewish and grew up in a pretty like wealthy household. My grandfather was like a success businessman. So that's my mom's upbringing. And my dad on the other hand, he is Black Dominican, English as a second language immigrant. He came here when he was 16 on his own. And they, I think, I actually think that a big part of what guided me, for example into business too, is seeing my family struggle for sure. You know, seeing that my parents, seeing my father struggle, you know, having a hundred different jobs, you know, not having a college education, those sorts of things, kind of having that against him. You know, so, and seeing on the other side, my mom and her family and my grandfather who was able to succeed as a businessman. So I think that this upbringing, this history definitely guides me a lot. You know, there's many ways in which obviously, like we all can't see the way in which our history guides us, but I'm definitely certain that a lot of my thinking and the way that I approach life comes from the culture of health and empathy that I came from. And also seeing just so many different sides of the world, like growing up in Brooklyn, seeing just the differences in my parents and my family, my parents family.

- Well, so let's talk about then how that translates into the work day to day. And clearly, empathy comes up when we talk about product management all the time, and being able to understand not just who your end users are, but what it is that they're trying to overcome, what their challenges are and trying to find ways to lighten that load. And so, you know, the homepage, many people, I think, who might be listening here might not think too much. They think the homepage is, well when you land on something, where do you start? But for us, that really is you know, the starting point of the entire search journey. And, you know, we have hundreds of millions of people that come to Indeed every single month. And the first thing they see is those search boxes, the what are you looking for? Where are you looking? You and your team have really evolved this experience over the last couple of years. Can you talk about that work?

- Yeah. I mean, yeah, we definitely, you know, I think a lot about, and the responsibility, you know, of having a hundred million people, you know, come to Indeed. How many people interact with the homepage and how the decisions we make guide job seekers in different ways. For sure. And the work we've been doing really is, at least over the last couple of years and I think there's ways that we're thinking about new ways of approaching new, you know, brand new job seekers, for sure, but we've really been focusing on returning job seekers. And for new users, I think our philosophy in a lot of ways, is kind of like getting out of the user's way and giving them those tools, which is just to run a search, you know, and we learn a lot from that first search. We learn a lot from the first 10 searches. Job seekers run a lot of searches on Indeed. And we learn from that. And then we take that and then we translate it into a better returning experience for them. So what we've tried to do over the last few years is figure out when a job seeker returns, how can we make it easier for them to pick up where they left off? And that's where we just take our initial shot at this, at least is just taking what they told us, you know, what is the what and the where that they gave us previously and running that for them. Pulling in all of the jobs from all the different searches that they've ran. And then we rank that in the most personalized way that we can for that job seeker. Now, we're evolving. We really have a vision of using everything we know about the job seeker, not just the what and the where, to build a better job feed and to build, I mean, really, to deliver the best possible jobs we can for every job seeker. So we're working, this is definitely not a homepage only initiative. This is tons of teams we work with to make this possible. So many people, honestly at Indeed that make this possible. And so some of the teams are working on, including ourselves, are doing things like matching jobs based on the user's resume, matching jobs based on preferences that the user tells us, you know, they actually have the opportunity to tell us, what are they actually looking for rather than just us assuming it based on their search and all sorts of ways that we have that opportunity, I think, to personalize the experience.

- Yeah, it's interesting. 'Cause you know, we're a search engine, but we're different than say a search engine like Google where often, not always, but typically, I would go to Google and ask a specific question for which there's an answer. Whereas with Indeed, there's a relationship we're building up over time to try to get closer and closer to the right opportunity for someone and make that connection where they can actually get a job and change their life. And one of the things that you talked about was this idea of personalization. So no two job seekers are the same. And you know, you gave this example of when you were working in the restaurant business of wanting to understand what people need and being able to meet those needs. And so what we're trying to do is, you know, we talk about it as this sort of concept of, we want people to come to Indeed and feel Indeed gets me. And we want to be able to do that across hundreds of millions of people from different countries and different industries. And we want to do that so everyone feels like the site is built just for them. So how do you think about this sort of massive personalization in terms of making sure that every single person who comes to Indeed has the best experience for them?

- Yeah . That's a big question. And I think it comes down to, there's a few things that come to mind for me. On the one hand we need to, actually, the first thing that's coming to mind with that question is making it clear to the job seeker, I guess it's transparency, right? It's like, how do we be clear to the job seeker about what we're doing, how we're doing it, you know, why we need some information from them, for example, because like a huge component of this, I think, is we ask the job seeker, you start at Indeed, right? And we get some foundational information about you. And there's a few different ways that we can get that foundational information. It could be upload a resume, create an Indeed resume, it could be running your first searches, clicking on your first jobs. That's all information to us about what you're looking for and also about what you're qualified for, you know, that like we take that information, right? And then we try to use that to create jobs for you. Like the best jobs we can. And then once we deliver those jobs, we have to give the job seeker the opportunity to tell us when we've gotten it right and when we've gotten it wrong and how to improve. So that's like the next layer of information. It's feedback, it's customization. And from that information that we gather, which is something that I think we have to do on an ongoing basis, this is something that we're like really just at the beginnings of. There's so much opportunity here. We have barely scratched the surface at this point and we really need to just be diligent about making it clear what mechanisms are available for the job seeker to tell us how we're doing, and then using that, being diligent about using that information in the right way. And I think how we use the information is actually to me, one of the biggest questions that I have is like, what is the right way to use this information? And then that last layer, just going to just bring it back to the beginning, is definitely the transparency aspect. It's like, we have to be clear about what we're doing, how we're doing it, how it helps you, you know, because I think that's going to feed into the entire cycle and it just makes it really clear to job seekers. So yeah, that definitely how I've been thinking about it. And there's just so much opportunity there.

- So this experience with any technology like this is it's equal parts, I think, the intelligence, so how good are we at at understanding a job seeker and putting the right opportunities in front of them, and then also the design. How is that being presented in a way that is intuitive and simple? I know one of the things that you talk about is building flexibility into the design so we can get better and better at this personalization. Can you talk about what that means to you and why that's important?

- So there's, I guess there's a few ways we can think about flexibility of the design, but one of the ways, and here's two ways. One is the flexibility of the design that is exposed to the user, which is, this is, you can tell me what you want. You can tell me maybe even how you want to rank these jobs. You can sort, you can filter, you know, you can give feedback to me on these jobs. I think that's one way of thinking about flexibility. Another is on the way in which we even present content to users. So the design is flexible to the state you're in. Am I a new job seeker or am I returning? How much information do we have about you, about our search? Like how confident are we that we can deliver you good jobs. Maybe we need to prioritize things that aren't jobs for you for one reason or another, like collecting, like helping us understand you better. Things like that. Another aspect is the flexibility in mechanisms for generating good matches for job seekers. So I think about on our side, using relevant jobs platform, for example, which is a technology that we use to generate good matches for the job seeker. And there's a lot of flexibility built into the design of that to let anyone any at Indeed really deliver matches to the job feed that they think are good for job seekers. So I think the flexibility is important because, I mean, I guess it just comes back to what we've been talking about with personalization. No two job seekers are the same and we need to adapt to each user.

- You know, ultimately the mission of the business is to help people get jobs. And that means that the most important thing we're doing is this matching. And that is an ongoing journey. We're evolving, we're getting better and better. How do we know when we've gotten there?

- My first inclination was like, we're pretty much never there. There's no perfect end state, I guess, but maybe another way to think about it is we're there when we've achieved Indeed's vision, you know, of one click to get a job. I think that's, you know, that's the ultimate sort of vision for users. They can come here and they get their perfect job in a single click. I think something that I know Andrew talks about, Andrew Hudson, is also not just about getting a job, helping people get jobs, but helping people get better jobs. And I think that's definitely a huge part of it, but it's, you know, like how do we know? We need to, I think to really be at the final end state, we need to know that we're delivering a better job, that that user is getting a better job. We need to know that their actually getting the job. There's a lot of components to it. So in some ways I don't think there's ever an end where we can't continue to improve. But one way of thinking about an end state is Indeed's vision, I guess.

- So I know it's almost a joke. I think it was in season one of "Silicon Valley" where there was a bunch of companies at some pitch competition and every single one was saying that they were making the world a better place, you know, for X, Y, or Z. But obviously we really believe that the work that we're doing makes people's lives better in a measurable way that impacts not just themselves, their families and their communities. How do you think about your work day to day and how it impacts the world around you?

- Yeah. Yeah. I'm remembering that episode and it is so true. I think just like an interesting thing is like, I think as product managers, as CEOs, right? Like part of our job is trying to inspire our team. You know, part of our job is trying to inspire the organization and the people we work with. And as a part of that, I think like one of the tools is a mission, one of the tools is a vision and that those tools end up sort of driving people towards that, towards trying to figure out what is the biggest impact, you know, of my product? So I just kind of thinking about like, why does everybody end up thinking they're changing the world? And one of the things that drove me to Indeed was, and actually out of my last company, out of my last company, one of the things that drove me out was not having a mission that I cared about at all. And the thing that drove me to a Indeed was the mission and hearing people in every interview that I had when I had interviews here, everyone talked about the job seeker. Everyone talked about helping people get jobs. That was incredible to me. And that is a huge part of what drives me at Indeed. And it's definitely, I think a tool that I use, you know, when I talk to my team or other people, you know, it is really reiterating that. And I think about, well, sometimes I don't always think about, you know, what the individual impact is of what we do, like the impact on individual people. But a lot of the time we're talking about, like we've said before, hundreds of millions of users, or the tens of millions that cross through our metrics in an A/B test, you know, but when you step back and you think about the real impact to an individual person, then you realize how powerful it really is. Like our design decisions, the decisions of our algorithms, like all of these things actually can, it's not they can, they do change people's lives. They actually change people's lives. So I think that's a really important thing for us to remember, you know, as we do our work.

- So, you know, one of the things, obviously with the number of people that we touch, there's a responsibility that comes with that scale. You know, we like to pull out the old Spider-Man quote, you know, "With great power comes, great responsibility." You know, we're in this extraordinary moment in time where on the one hand, we've never been more reliant on technology, certainly throughout the pandemic for so many people, their connection to their jobs, to their family has been through technology. And at the same time, the trust and faith in technology and tech leaders is, I think quite reasonably at, you know, an all time low. So what is the responsibility of leaders in tech to build and gain the trust and confidence of people who use our technology?

- I do think, I'm trying to really think about that question because I do think there's a responsibility of the leaders in tech, for sure. I mean, it's our responsibility as human beings, you know, it's our responsibility as like people as a part of society, I guess. I do think though, that leaders in tech and tech industry, isn't the only responsible party here though as well. And what I mean by that is like, we can't expect that leaders in tech are going to do the right thing all the time. We can't actually expect anybody to do the right thing all the time. That's just not, it's not really feasible. So we need mechanisms in place that are not just relying on leaders in tech to do right thing, I guess. On the one hand we need, and it can start with leaders in tech. You know, one of the things that I think that we need, and this doesn't apply to tech only, is just for profit not to be the primary motive. Maybe it's not even the secondary motive, you know, like we need the greater good of the community, of society, to be the primary motive of what we do. And if you take that lens, you will make decisions differently if that's the primary lens. So maybe you do move slower. Maybe you take more time to learn of what the impact is, you know, before you make a final decision on something. I guess at the end of the day, I think that that change may need to come from somewhere else. Not just organically from leaders in tech, maybe the government, you know, society itself. I'm not sure, but if we want to, if we're just talking about leaders in tech and we're just talking about trying to gain back some trust, then I think that might be a good start.

- When you talk about this, you know, one of the things that you and your team have to do every day is you have a set of things that you're trying to achieve with the product. So the product has a set of needs, and then there's the set of needs of the people that we're helping. Are those ever in conflict and how do you balance those two?

- I guess I might just reframe the question a little bit. Like, I think the product is a thing that serves a few different stakeholders, right? The product, I guess, doesn't have its own needs. The product serves job seekers, the product serves employers, the product serves the company, right? And those three stakeholders are the ones with different needs that we need to balance. I think we think about that balance in the framework that Indeed as a company thinks about, you know, making decisions. So job seeker first, we focus on every decision. So let me try to give an example, like right now we have a goal of increasing sponsored job applies. That's an explicit goal of the job seeker organization. There is nothing inherently job seeker focused about that goal, so that's a business goal, right? That's one of the stakeholders is the business and that matters. But when we make decisions around sponsored job applies, we actually always make it, with a job seeker first approach. So if there's any indication that increasing sponsored job applies actually negatively impacts job seekers, then we don't do that. That's the way in which you make that decision. So just to be explicit, for example, we might look at total expected hires as a metric or we might look at positive outcomes as a metric. And if those are moving down, when sponsored job applies are moving up, then that's just not the right thing to do. And we just don't make, we wouldn't make that call in that direction. So I think that those are the ways that we balance. We obviously make decisions though, even at the outset of prioritization and the roadmap that are balancing these three things, you know, we're thinking about what is the, we don't do this explicitly, but when we're laying out a roadmap, we largely think about what are the things we're going to do to make this better for job seekers. Like that's the starting point for every decision when it comes to the roadmap too. So yeah, these are always really challenging and tricky decisions. And one of the things that I think Indeed does really well here, and I know this is something that you've been a part of in the past too, is product managers mostly do not make decisions alone. We have something we call loop, which is like product managers get into a room and vet each other's decisions, look at analysis together, things like that. And you make recommendations and the group may push back for one reason or another. And most of the reasons are for job seekers or for employers, you know, some of the time. Absolutely. And that helps you, I think, grow your muscles at making better decisions and doing things for the right reasons.

- Yeah. And I think that's a fantastic example because clearly everything in business is around balancing different priorities and the simplest way to do that is if you know who's most important. And so that's where the disambiguation of job seekers come first in everything really I think helps with with decisions like that. So that's a great illustration. Well, as our time is coming to a close here, I always like to close up by asking, as you look back over the last 20 months or so of the pandemic, what has happened in your life that has left you with some optimism for the future?

- The first thing that came to mind for me is outdoor seating for restaurants. I just love that, but if there's something bigger than that, that I think is really leaving me with some optimism. Maybe it comes back to some of the first things that we're talking about with empathy. Like I've really seen how everybody is kind of taking care of each other a little bit more, you know, there's a lot more understanding and empathy going around now than there was before I think. Kind of like a shock to everybody's system and seeing everybody, you know, more at least, you know, like want to support local community, supporting their local business and I think a big part of that comes from understanding that there's something really, we can see how special and important our local communities are to us now, you know, more than ever before. So, you know, I think a lot of that leaves me with some optimism for the future.

- Well Ezra, thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your story and your perspective, but especially thank you for all the work that you and your team do to help people get jobs every day.

- Thanks. Yeah. I'm happy to be here. I really appreciate it.