Ending the Waiting

With the rise of online employment marketplaces, landing your dream job has never been easier. Or has it?

I’ve been self-employed for almost seven years. So I don’t have a lot of first-hand experience applying for jobs through online marketplaces like SEEK.

But after the recent experiences of my family and friends, I learned that searching and applying for jobs online was anything but easy.

For starters, the job descriptions are often inaccurate. Plus, the application processes are often repetitive and complicated. But never hearing back about an application is perhaps the most common pain point.

What’s worse than not hearing back about a job at all? Getting an interview for the job of your dreams … after you’ve given up hope and moved on to another opportunity!

It’s not just bad for the user, it’s bad for business. Do you think that top candidates are hanging around waiting to hear back about job applications?

That’s why when it came to my personal project as part of UX Design Transform at Academy Xi, I knew exactly which problem to tackle.

The Problem

An online job seeker who feels frustrated about applying for jobs, wants to get a new job, but faces a lack of feedback on the progress and outcomes of their applications.

Using the “5W’s and a H” process together with a “concept card”, I defined my “how might we” statement:

How might we reduce the frustration, lack of feedback and unknown outcomes for online job seekers, so that they can stay motivated and find suitable jobs more easily?

The Process

This personal project was done as part of my UX Design Transform Course at Academy Xi, Sydney, from Feb–Apr 2019.

My process involved:

  • Desktop Research
  • Competitor Analysis
  • Quantitative Research (online survey)
  • Qualitative Research (user interviews)
  • Analysis and Insights
  • Creating a Persona
  • Customer Journey Mapping
  • Ideation and MVP
  • User Flow & Information Architecture
  • Analogous Solutions
  • Sketching Wireframes
  • Prototyping
  • User Testing & Iteration


Desktop Research

Before conducting any quantitative or qualitative research, I undertook some initial desktop research. I considered this an important first step as existing research could potentially provide insights to better inform the design of my quantitative and qualitative research.

My initial desktop discovery led me to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald reporting on a study of 2000 office workers in Australia by recruitment company Robert Half. While I attempted to get further details on the design of the study, the company only published key results in a press release.

Overall, the study by Robert Half found that waiting to hear back about applications and interviews was the most frustrating part of job seeking. More specifically, the study found:

  • 25% of job seekers lose interest in a role if they do not hear back from a company within a week.
  • 63% of job seekers lose interest in a role if they do not hear back within two weeks.

These results not only confirmed my anecdotal evidence, but also provided valuable insights for my quantitative survey. Importantly, while my sample size was likely to be much smaller, I wanted to examine whether patterns were consistent between surveys.

This previous research also revealed additional insights that supported my initial hunches including:

  • 32% of job seekers found it frustrating when an interviewer described a different role than the one that was advertised.
  • 57% of human resource managers had lost a qualified candidate to another opportunity because of a lengthy hiring process.
  • 55% of managers said the hiring process had become more lengthy in recent years (so much for technology making the process faster).


Competitor Analysis

I identified and examined every online employment marketplace in Australia. While most marketplaces allow applications to be submitted “on platform”, none allow the status of a job application to be tracked at different stages of the recruitment process. The only “tracking” is the ability to see the jobs you’ve applied for or saved.

Not only that, the process often changes depending on the particular company. For example, instead of being able to apply “on platform”, the user is often redirected to an application form on an external website (usually the company website). In many cases, the application process is not mobile friendly. Nor does it offer the ability to track the progress of an application.

Further abroad, Startwire is an American employment marketplace where users can apparently track the status of job applications. Nevertheless, it does not keep the application process and tracking within the one platform. It’s an aggregator.

Further, without actually applying for a job, it was not possible for me to test the tracking feature. What’s more, the platform does not give an overview of the tracking feature before applying for a job.

Quantitative Research

I designed a quantitative survey using SurveyMonkey.

See the survey (opens below) … 👇
  1. Are you an Australian Resident (an initial screener to disqualify international respondents).
  2. What is your age group? (18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 65+)
  3. What is your highest level of education? (HSC, Diploma, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, PhD, other).
  4. How many jobs would you estimate you’ve applied for in the last 6 months? (none, less than 5, 5-10, 10-50, more than 50).
  5. What is the most frustrating thing about applying for jobs online?
  6. Which is your favourite job search website or platform? (Seek, LinkedIn, CareerOne, Jora, Indeed, other–please specify).
  7. How long after applying for a job do you expect to hear back? (1 week or less, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks or longer).
  8. How would you prefer to be kept updated on the status of a job application? (select up tp 3 options: email, phone, facebook messenger, website, app, SMS, other–please specify).
  9. How likely are you to follow up with an employer if you haven’t heard back about a job application? (very unlikely, unlikely, neither likely nor unlikely, likely, very likely).
  10. After a job interview, how long would you wait to hear back before moving on to another job opportunity? (1 week or less, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks or longer).

The survey ran for approximately three weeks and received n= 46 responses. Ideally, I would have preferred a minimum of 100 responses to provide some generality of results. This is based on my previous experience as a research scientist.

Another limitation of my quantitative survey was that respondents were not selected at random. I promoted the survey on my personal social media accounts. Unsurprisingly, the demographic with the largest proportion of respondents was from my own age group (35-44). Therefore, the results are biased and unrepresentative of the general population.

Despite the limitations of the survey, the results were consistent with the study conducted by Robert Half. Respondents expected to hear back within 1-2 weeks of either applying for a role or attending an interview:

  • 61% of respondents expected to hear back about a job application with one week (89% within two weeks).
  • After an interview, 52% of respondents would move on to another job opportunity if they did not hear back within one week (93% within two weeks).

Affinity mapping of the responses to the open-ended question in my online survey revealed that not hearing back about an application was by far the most frustrating aspect of applying for jobs online.

Cluster of sticky notes from affinity mapping
Not hearing back about an application was the most frustrating thing about applying for jobs according to respondents in my online survey.

My quantitative survey uncovered a number of additional insights including:

  • The most popular employment marketplaces were Seek (48%), LinkedIn (26%) and Indeed (9%) .
  • Respondents preferred to be kept updated on the status of job applications via Email (85%), SMS (46%) and telephone (44%) – respondents could select up to 3 options.
  • Long application processes and lack of information in job descriptions were common pain points.


Qualitative Research

I conducted 1:1 user interviews with n=5 participants. Participants were aged between 21 and 43, with three who were 25 or younger.

See the interview script (opens below) … 👇

I used the following script with the final question providing an opportunity for ideation and co-design.

  1. Do you have experience searching and applying for jobs online? [yes/no screener]
  2. What qualifications do you have?
  3. What do you do for a living? (If not working – tell me about your previous role).
  4. What computers and devices do you own?
  5. When it comes to searching for jobs online, which website or app do you use the most?Why? What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it.
  6. What other job search apps or websites have you used? What did you like or dislike about them?
  7. Tell me about the last time you applied for a job online? What was the process?
  8. What was the most frustrating thing about that process?Why did that frustrate you? Did you come up with any solutions or workarounds?How do you think the process could be made less frustrating?
  9. How long after applying for a job did you expect to hear back?Why is that important to you?
  10. When you didn’t hear back about a job application, what did you do next?Why did you do that? How did that make you feel?
  11. How have you been kept updated on the status of job applications (if at all)?What did you like about that? What didn’t you like about it?
  12. After previous job interviews, how long have you waited before moving on to another opportunity … and why?Did you follow up with them first? Why or why not? How did you follow up?
  13. What do you think the “perfect” job application process should look like? From the initial job search … right through to being offered the position?


Analysis and Insights

Each user interview was recorded and later transcribed onto sticky notes. Next, I affinity mapped the data to create clusters of similar information.



Primary cluster of sticky notes from affinity mapping of data from user interviews.
The primary cluster from affinity mapping of data from user interviews.


From affinity mapping and analysis of my quantitative and qualitative data, I formed the following insights and story cards:

1. As an online job seeker, I need clear and precise job descriptions, salary guides and contact information, so that I know that it’s the right fit and I’m not wasting my time applying.



2. As an online job seeker, I need a quick and easy application process, so that I’m not wasting time providing information that’s already included in my resume and cover letter.



4. As on online job seeker … I need to be kept updated at every stage of the recruitment process, so that I can feel like I’m making progress, avoid wasting time following up, and focus on the roles I’m most interested in.



5. As on online job seeker … I need to hear back within one week of applying for a job (via email or SMS) so that I can move on, apply for other jobs and feel like I’m making progress.



6. As an online job seeker … I need to be contacted (by phone) within one week of an interview, so that I can get feedback, move on to other opportunities and avoid wasting time following up.



Cluster of sticky notes showing user quotes and feelings.
User quotes and feelings from 1:1 interviews


Persona Non Grata?

Personas are supposed to be a “fictional representation” of users from our research. But one thing about creating personas that troubles me is the amount of fiction that goes into creating the demographic minutia like age, sex, occupation, hobbies, income, personality, motivations, preferred channels, bio, etc.

I understand that demographic information helps us empathise with the user. But much of the demographic minutiae is subjective and fictional. How does it help us design solutions that help users achieve their goals?

After doing some research on the topic of personas, I found that I’m not alone in my concerns about the way in which typical personas are presented. In this excellent article at UX collective, the author argues that to make personas usable, we need to remove the minutiae of “chart junk” and focus on the essentials.

This includes:

  1. Concise snippets of information (i.e get rid of the made-up bios)
  2. Clarity on who the persona represents (i.e use contextual illustrations of user groups rather than stock photos of individuals).
  3. Insight into user goals and priorities (e.g. a goal quote).
  4. Details about their tasks that frustrate them (i.e pain points)
  5. Details about their tasks that delight them (i.e pleasure points).

Using this approach, I created the following context-specific and task-oriented persona.

A persona representing online job seekers

Nevertheless, my teacher disagreed with this approach. Apparently, it gives no indication of the technical aptitude or attributes of the user to which solutions can be designed. Fair point, perhaps? Nevertheless, while I’d discovered which devices and platforms that users preferred (iPhones), no data were collected on their levels of technical proficiency.

As a group of online job seekers, the pain points and pleasure points were consistent among all participants. So I disagreed with the need to create an individual persona for a specific demographic without the appropriate research. So I was asked, if this was a business decision, which demographic would I focus on?

Given that millennials are at the start of their careers, they are an obvious choice in terms of lifetime customer value. Plus, three of my participants were millennials (21-25 years). So I was challenged to create a persona based on that demographic.

Meet Jack Ramsay

A persona representing a fresh graduate.


Jack’s Journey

I initially created an extremely detailed customer journey map for my persona using UXPressia (not shown due to poor resolution related to its size – A2 landscape!). While it helped with ideation and the design of my prototype, I created a simplified version below for my final poster presentation.

A simplified version of my personas user journey.


Ideation and MVP

From my research, persona creation and customer journey, it was clear that a minimum viable product (MVP) needed to be a device friendly way to quickly search and apply for jobs and be kept in the loop at all stages.

I decided that my MVP would be a mobile-first web application where searching, applying and tracking jobs was completed on the one platform. From a development point of view, building and launching a mobile first website is faster and cheaper than developing native applications.

Plus, when it comes to deliverability and discoverability, some pundits argue that the future is without apps. To put it simply, nobody wants to install your damn app!

My research revealed that users wanted improvements to existing features on employment marketplaces such as:

  • Improved search engines and filters
  • Quick and easy application processes
  • Job ads that provide clearer and more precise descriptions.

But the crucial missing feature across all existing platforms was a feedback engine/dashboard powered by SMS and email. So that became the key focus of my MVP.

Photo highlighting the focus of my MVP
Identifying the key feature of my MVP.

Branding

Once my MVP was nailed down, I created a brand, logo and tagline that reflected the unique selling proposition (USP) of my product:

boomerang.careers – hear back about every job application … every time. I also registered the domain name.

Logo for boomerang.careers



User Flow and IA

User flow and information architecture for boomerang.careers
User flow for a mobile first web application. Note that the backstage flow is a simplified representation that requires further research to design and develop.



Analogous Solutions

I examined a number of tracking features and dashboards from unrelated industries. For example, Domino’s developed the ability to track the progress of making and delivering pizza. Their “Pizza Tracker” feature uses an animated progress bar containing six stages from left to right, which moves in real time.

But when it comes to recruitment, the process is much slower and likely to change from company to company. Therefore, rigid pre-defined states would not necessarily work in this context. Similarly, a circular progress bar, which Domino’s use in an international version of their “Pizza Tracker”, would also be constrained in a long recruitment process. Plus, it would be difficult to add more detailed text and crucial information like dates for interviews or work tasks.


So, I examined an industry where the status of a delivery often experiences many different and often unexpected events: eCommerce. When I owned a retail business, I used a web application called Shippit to book and manage my eCommerce orders.

Using email and SMS notifications for key events, Shippit was a game changer when it came to keeping customers updated on the arrival, time and place of a delivery e.g. order despatched, in transit, scanned at depot, out for delivery, failed delivery, lost parcel, investigation in progress, parcel left at a pickup point, etc. In fact, it was so good that Australia Post formed a strategic alliance with Shippit.

The design of the Shippit tracker was a key source of ideation and inspiration. Nevertheless, I made several significant and crucial design changes to the UI and the chronological order in which events are displayed. For example, Shippit displays the most recent event first. But early testing of my wireframe sketches indicated that users preferred to see a linear order of chronological events.

The tracking feature in Shippit provided a major source of design inspiration and ideation.

Sketching Wireframes

All ideation and wireframing was done using sketches.

Some examples of my wireframe sketches.

Some examples of my wireframe sketches.


Prototyping

Once my wireframe sketches were completed, I built a high fidelity prototype using Figma. I’m a minimalist designer. So, after I creating a simple design palette, prototyping in high fidelity was no more difficult or time consuming than designing in mid fidelity. Plus, with a background in copywriting, I’m not a fan of “lorem ipsum” placeholder text and use it sparingly.

Images of my high fidelity prototype.

User Testing and Iteration

I tested my prototype with n=4 users (three of whom had been participants in my user interviews).

In general, users liked the simple and clean UI, value proposition, tracking feature and “fun” tone of voice.

While the tracking feature included an expected date for the next update, one user expected to see the entire process and know exactly how long it would take. Nevertheless, all users remarked what a dramatic improvement the tracking feature was over current employment marketplaces.

Two users suggested renaming the “My Jobs” dropdown in the dashboard menu (which included current and past applications) to “My Applications”. Another user noted that I had not included a “Saved Jobs” drop down in the dashboard, which was an oversight.

Other comments and suggestions for improvement included:

  • Adding logos of the company to job advertisements (I’d considered this but used fictional companies in the prototype).
  • Including dates for application deadlines in the job description.
  • Include contact details of the job poster and a biography.
  • Remove the company star ratings – these are common to other platforms but how are they calculated? Who cares?
  • Would like an option to include a link to a portfolio and a comment box during application process.
  • Would like to be able to see the contents of the cover letter and resume files during the “review application” stage to make sure they’re the correct files (with an option to edit).
  • Would like to be able to categorise stored resumes based on different types of jobs.
  • Would like reminders of interviews to be pushed to a widget on the home screen of iPhone.



Despite the need for iteration and improvement, had I built the right usable thing? Yes, according to this quote:

I would love to use this app!

A happy user



Future Opportunities

This project focussed on improving the user experience of online job seekers. Testing of the prototype validated the MVP solution – with all users expressing their desire for it to be a “real thing”.

Nevertheless, the next stage of the project would involve repeating the UX process to develop the product for the backstage user i.e. human resource managers. While it wasn’t feasible to do this within the scope of the current project, it is the logical next step.

My hunch is that the boomerang platform could take a lot of the hassles out of HR (perhaps even removing the need for recruiters or intermediators). Upon completing the initial shortlisting of candidates, a hiring manager could automatically inform dozens (or hundreds) of unsuccessful candidates. This would save large amounts of time fielding phone calls and responding to emails from applicants who want to be kept in the loop.

Further, the scheduling of work tasks and interviews could be entirely automated. Not only that, increasing the speed of the recruitment process would enable businesses to secure the top candidates.

Mature versions of the product could potentially offer more detailed qualitative feedback to unsuccessful applicants. Again, this could be automated through machine learning or AI – which is already used to screen job applicants. Plus, there are commercial opportunities to provide affiliate training to up-skill unsuccessful applicants.

Despite the potential of the platform, until the pain points and insights of human resource managers have been uncovered, only then will it be possible to design and develop a solution that meets the needs of all users.

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