Svenja Gudell is Chief Economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Association for Business Economics. Prior to joining Indeed, Svenja was Chief Economist at Zillow Group. Previously, Svenja worked on economic, financial and strategic consulting for Analysis Group, and was an assistant economist in the research group of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Svenja has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Rochester, a master’s degree in economics from New York University, a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Rochester, and a Ph.D. in finance from the University of Rochester.Follow
On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Svenja Gudell from Indeed about what goes on inside the Indeed Hiring Lab.
Some Conversation Highlights:
What are you guys doing at the hiring lab?
From a personal perspective, I love telling interesting data driven stories that give people insights, and help them make better decisions. That is exactly what we do at Indeed’s Hiring Lab. We are Indeed’s Economic Research Team, and a Team of International Economists scattered throughout the world, and Analyst Data Scientists. We provide insights that help drive the global market conversation.
How do we actually do that? Well, we produce research on labor market topics that are relevant in different countries using either Indeed’s proprietor data or publicly available data sources. We try to stitch together interesting insights and stories that really give people some relevant information so they can make better decisions.
This is obviously interesting for job seekers, employers, policy makers. We talk to reporters in the media a whole bunch, and really lets everyone navigate the world of work in a better way.
Tune in for the full conversation.
Listening time: 25 minutes
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Music: This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup
William: Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Svenja on from Indeed, and we’ll be talking about inside the Indeed Hiring Lab. I can’t wait to learn about the Hiring Lab and the work that she and her coworkers are doing there. So without any further ado, Svenja would you, A, make sure I pronounce your name correctly, B, most people know Indeed, but they might not know the Indeed Hiring Lab, so why don’t we talk to the audience a little bit about what you’re doing at the hiring lab?
Svenja: Sure. William, thank you so much for having me. It’s Svenja, it’s a tricky one.
William: The J is a Y, that’s the key.
Svenja: That’s correct.
William: Got it.
Svenja: That is the key. It’s a great conversation starter as I’ve learned over the years, so it’s all good. Thank you so much for having me on your show. I’m delighted to be here. From a personal perspective, I love telling interesting data driven stories that give people insights, and help them make better decisions. That is exactly what we do at Indeed’s Hiring Lab. We are Indeed’s Economic Research Team, and a Team of International Economists scattered throughout the world, and Analyst Data Scientists. We provide insights that help drive the global market conversation. How do we actually do that? Well, we produce research on labor market topics that are relevant in different countries using either Indeed’s proprietor data or publicly available data sources. We try to stitch together interesting insights and stories that really give people some relevant information so they can make better decisions. This is obviously interesting for job seekers, employers, policy makers. We talk to reporters in the media a whole bunch, and really lets everyone navigate the world of work in a better way.
William: I love that. Remember years ago, when ADP started hiring economists to look at jobs? They were looking at payroll because they were sitting on top of all of this payroll data. It was just wonderful because obviously the government comes out with the jobs report, and ADP comes out with a jobs report. Sometimes it jives, and sometimes it doesn’t. It could be just two different perspectives, and two different data sources, and things like that. But it’s just really interesting the way the market responds to both of those, and y’all sitting on so much jobs data, open jobs, and things like that. Y’all are sitting on so much massive worldwide data of what’s available. I can see people caring a great deal, not just economists, but outside of that, just caring about, what y’all see, trends you’re setting, things like that.
Svenja: The team really, long before I even arrived here has been doing this for years. During the pandemic, it became even more important. Because the pandemic hits and made everything move so rapidly. Everyone was used to a monthly cadence of data, and seeing what would happen. But the pandemic made us move so much faster, and all of a sudden a monthly cadence wasn’t good enough anymore. So then it was extremely powerful, and insightful to have data sources that could move at a daily, or even weekly pace to be able to give you better information about, what direction are we heading in? What changes are we seeing? We felt that at the Hiring Lab as well, where we had to, oftentimes drop some of our longer term research projects, and say, “We really need data stat that gives us an insight into what’s happening right now. We need it at a weekly frequency.”
So we started developing a lot of tracker data to look at remote work, to look at how many postings for different types of jobs are you seeing across different sectors, and all these things, and tracking wages in the UK. Whatever, top of mind, we tried to really dig in, and get a fairly fast pulse on what we could get at.
William: So, the audience is going to be hearing this, and they’re going to go, “Well, she and her team sees all kinds of crazy things, and trends way before everyone else sees them.” I remember in talking to some Indeed folks, this was probably early in the pandemic and I’m like, “What are you seeing in the search?” They were like, “Remote and, remote work” It’s crazy the number of positions that now include that straight up in the position descriptions, and even philosophy around remote, and things like that. That was two years ago, that data is way out of date. What kind of things are you seeing right now? What’s some of the more interesting things, trends-wise that you’re seeing?
Svenja: What’s really interesting is what we’re seeing in the data is that, even though we talk a whole lot about remote work, and everyone’s going to start working from home, in terms of what the data is showing us across our entire universe of postings is that, only slightly below 10 percent of postings actually are classified as remote or hybrid jobs that offer that flexibility. The rest are still more traditional looking, and that’s of course, due to the fact that not every job can actually go remote or be hybrid. Even though it’s a fascinated conversation topic, and there’s a lot of movement there in trying to figure out what flexibility can you give certain employees in certain occupations, it’s not as widespread as you might expect. We’re seeing, like I said, roughly, I forget the exact number, it’s nine point something percent of our job postings data includes remote terms.
On the search side, we see somewhere around six to seven percent of the searches that go specifically searching for remote enabled positions. So, there’s still that acknowledgement that if you’re a teacher, if you’re a healthcare provider, and a lot of the jobs that have to be done in person, and are oftentimes frontline workers, they still don’t have that flexibility. Whereas, if you’re in tech or one of the industries that lends itself to more working from home, then you’re more likely to demand it, or ask for that flexibility.
William: I love that. So what are we learning about the folks that aren’t, so the opposite side of that? The folks that are knowledge workers, there is a freedom that’s actually come with being a knowledge worker? So remote isn’t as traumatic for those folks, but bank tellers, and folks that work in hospitality, or retail, or hourly nursing, et cetera, if I say, we’ve got a great [inaudible 00:07:42] nation, it’s like a drinking game at this point, but what are we learning about the hourly market or high volume market?
Svenja: I think there’s some interesting trends there because we run a regular survey to get a pulse on job seekers. What is keeping job seekers out of the market right now? Because, of course, we’re dealing still with a situation where labor force participation, how many people are actually actively employed, or actively looking for employment is still depressed from pre-pandemic levels. When you take a look at the reasons why that is, you do encounter fear of COVID, and not wanting to go back quite yet, having responsibilities as a child provider, or a caretaker of children, or having enough of a financial cushion that you don’t have to actually urgently look for new work quite yet. So we’re at that cusp in the pandemic where you still have some people waiting on the sidelines, and we do expect those job seekers to come back into the market, probably in 2022, and start to look for a job.
They certainly have that intention to start looking for a job more actively over the next year. What has been helping, and one of the biggest trends we’ve been observing on that trend is that wages, particularly at the lower end of the income to distribution have climbed rapidly. Partly because there’s such a mismatch between supply and demand of labor. We have a lot of need for labor, yet the available folks out there to work is still limited. So it’s driving up wages quite a bit, and that’s starting to spill over into other buckets of the wage distribution. So even middle, or higher income folks starting to see wage pressures, but it’s extremely cute at the bottom end of the income distribution. That is driven by the fact that we just have fewer people working right now.
William: So you mentioned something at the very beginning about telling stories about data, which I think folks are going to find fascinating, and also for a lot of practitioners that are listening, this is probably a blind spot for us, and you’re skilled at it, so while we have you, we might as well ask you. How do you do that? Break that down, and tell us, “Here’s a piece of data that I just saw. Now, let me tell you a story about it.”
Svenja: To me, I mean, it’s a process. You think about looking at interesting data, and there’s a lot to unpack in that. You have to figure out, what data am I looking at? Is it representative? Does it make sense in the context? I have to clean it up, particularly with administrative business generated data. You have to be mindful of, what am I actually looking at here? What am I measuring? Once you figured all that out, and you cleaned up your data, and you have it in a good spot, and you’re like, “Hmm, there’s some interesting trends in here.” Then you can start asking questions and coming up with a hypothesis to say, “Do I believe X, Y, and Z is happening?”
Then I look to the data to see if I can actually verify that. Then I always think an interesting story to me is like building a LEGO set. I’m perhaps influenced by the fact that we’ve been doing a whole lot more LEGOs during the pandemic. But, when you’re thinking of building a cool scene with LEGOs, you want to have a lot of different bricks, and colors, and shapes, and put that all together into something that looks really cool afterwards. If it’s a castle you’re building, or a beach scene, or whatever it may be, you have to find just the right parts to form that scene.
To me, that’s very similar to what we do when we tell a story. We use existing data nuggets that we already have. We try to find new data nuggets that we have to unearth, and research in the data. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes you don’t find what you expect to find in the data. Then that’s interesting as well. Other times you find, unearth really different friends that you weren’t even going for. But whatever it is, if at the end of the day, you can form that interesting story, that’s where it’s all at.
William: I love that. It’s normally a question I ask people when they talk to me about a study that they’ve recently done, and usually these are vendors. They have done a small study, 100, 200 person type study. I’ll always ask them the question of, “What was something when you started with this thesis, or when you started with this, that you knew that the data would come back validated, this is going to come back this way, and on the other side of that, what shocked you?” So what came out of left field? You’re like, “Huh, let’s go back and look at the data, that just can’t be right. I mean, there’s just no way that can be right.” Then it turns out it was right. So for you, some of your research, this has happened to you, of course, because it just happens as research. Take us through some of your most recent research, and maybe your most recent research and where something was validated that you’re like, “Yeah, we knew that, we thought of that, that made sense, that’s fair, we needed that to be validated anyhow.” Then something that shocked you.
Svenja: I think perhaps not the most recent piece, but one of the ones where it’s still a bit of a head scratcher for me, and I think for others as well, when you look at the data, and you’re right, you get going with a certain gut feeling. But looking at, where have all the workers gone? When you look at how much demand we have had. I mean, this pandemic has brought a whole host of surprises along the way. We were only in a very short recession, and I think it was surprising that we bounced that back incredibly fast. Then what you really started to see in the data is how strong goods consumption, and service consumption was for a lot of categories.
Because we all had to go and buy desks, standing desks for working from home, or everyone started making bread, so bread makers and flour were in high demand. So, some of those trends actually happened. Then that caused a whole lot of demand for labor. Someone actually had to produce all those goods, and how fast that bounce back was surprising. Then also seeing how despite wages increasing quite quickly, we haven’t yet seen, or until most recently hadn’t seen the bounce back in employees quite yet. So the labor supply just was still lagging. We really had to dig in to be able to figure out, why is that? Why aren’t more people coming back to the table?
We found that there’s a whole bunch of early retirement that happened. We were talking about telling an interesting story, and trying to figure out the pieces, and understanding what’s happening on the ground there. The pieces that fit together there is that, people retired early, oftentimes because their home values shot up so crazy high. In my former life, I was the Chief Economist at Zillow, and I covered housing prices, and we’ve seen some really rapidly increasing housing prices, and that helped people increase their wealth quite a bit in terms of how much their assets are worth. The stock market had been doing quite well and bounced back relatively quickly after the initial COVID shock, and that also built wealth. So more people retired and said, “Hey, we’re just going to exit the workforce now.”
Then we had unemployment payments that went out, we had consolidation of households. So a lot of those trends fed into people sitting on the sidelines. I think it was surprising to me that it has taken longer than expected to unravel those effects, that we didn’t see a stronger bounce back and labor supply. Only more recently, some of the data we just got in the beginning of the year, did we actually start to see some stronger bounce back, and labor force participation. We’re now starting to see more women come back.
Even slightly older age groups are now reentering the workforce, and are coming out of early retirement to join back in. A lot of that, of course, has to do with, for a lot of women having to still take care of kids, even though they’re back in school. I mean, sometimes they’re really not back in school because then the school has to shut down, or daycare shuts down because of that temporary outbreak. There’s still a lot of friction in the system, and that shows up in the data, and that’s been really interesting to go through, and analyze, and was really fascinating to take a closer look at like whose still on the sidelines. When do we think they’re going to come back?
William: So a little early to tell, but with the stuff that’s going on in the Ukraine and with Russia, obviously there’s a lot of things of worldwide implications, and things that might impact us. One of the things I saw last night is the impact on probably the stock market, and some of the volatility that might happen there, and people’s portfolio shrinking, which might prolong some of that retirement that we probably expected. Again, it’s early, so who knows. But what are you, and your team already looking at, as it relates to some of the things that are going on, on the other side of the planet that will obviously impact us?
Svenja: We’re of course, carefully watching, and our hearts go out to everyone impacted, and you’re absolutely right, some of that will show up in the data. We’re seeing oil prices spike, and that’s going to feed through to the stock market. Eventually we’ll start to see labor impacts as well, and labor movements, and everything. I think it’s still too soon to tell. Some of this takes a while to show up in the data. But it’s something we’re monitoring, and looking at. Some of the things that we carefully look for is, our preferences for where to work, where are we seeing more demand for labor, and are there inflows and outflows? That’s something we look at quite regularly and carefully, so that’s going to start showing up in the data soon.
William: That’s interesting. So take us into, obviously 2022, what are y’all looking to study next? What is next around the corner? What is the lab looking at? I guess you have a research schedule, or a research calendar?
Svenja: We do.
William: Maybe that’s flexible, but what you can tell us, what’s on the table?
Svenja: We never have a shortage of interesting ideas [inaudible 00:19:49], but it’s always great, and it’s fun. I consider myself to be lucky because we really have such a talented team of researchers that it’s really cool to be able to brainstorm, and partner on work with this super talented team. We do have some great ideas on the docket, particularly as we hopefully now exit the pandemic, knock on wood. That’s the 800 pound gorilla still in the room. Will there be another variant that we have to deal with? That’s going to impact what we are able to follow, or look at. But assuming that we get a little bit of a reprieve here, and things continue to return to normal, and we exit the pandemic life, it’s going to be interesting to see who was left behind, and who isn’t recovering quite as quickly. Because the danger looking at the data is, it’s easiest to look at averages, and averages can hide a whole lot in the whole data distribution.
So we want to be mindful of the [inaudible 00:21:00], and see who’s still dealing with issues, and what we can do to shed light on that. So that’s one of our topics that we wanted to dig in a little bit further. Some groups have been set back in terms of wealth creation, in terms of access to jobs, and wages. So looking at that more carefully will be really important. Then I think now, and going forward, these trends have existed even pre-pandemic, we’re going to have to get used to a pretty tight labor force.
We have demographic trends that are tailwinds here that mean that workers will be in the driver seats for quite some time with an aging population, and a still quite strong demand for labor. What that means for companies, are we going to see more people, or more employers offering perks, better benefits, more flexibility? For the jobs that do enable remote or hybrid work, what is that system, or what is that setup going to look like? What is the transition from pandemic life to post pandemic life going to look like, and what will stay with us, and what’s going to change? So we’re digging into a lot of those themes, and I think it’s going to be really interesting.
William: So last question before we roll out because Indeed has customers all over the world, you obviously have customers all over the spectrum in terms of industry and size of company, et cetera. If you can talk about it, how does the lab interact with some of your larger customers? I totally understand how you interact with the press, and how you interact with the external folks, but internal and customers especially, is there a relationship between the lab, and especially your key customers, or your most valued customers?
Svenja: There is. I think it all falls under the umbrella of, we strongly believe in transparency, and data, and being able to tell unbiased, insightful research, and that applies to the media as it does to our clients as well. So we try to offer really interesting research that we talk about publicly to our clients. We provide labor market overviews, try to keep certain trends top of mind for our clients that will help them make better decisions in their day to day actions as they navigate this labor market. So a lot of our research will show up in different locations, and we give overview presentations, or give clients the chance to ask very specific questions of the team to be able to get insights into where the macroeconomic labor trends are heading.
William: I love it. I love it. I’ll tell you what, Svenja, thank you so much for being on the podcast, and thank you for the work that you’re doing. It’s absolutely fascinating, and I’m just glad that you’re doing it.
Svenja: I really, really appreciate that. Thank you so much for having me today. It was a true pleasure. I really enjoyed talking to you, so thank you.
William: All right. Thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast, until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.
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