Can a better user experience fix the job crisis?

Once in awhile we ask whether we are in a position to solve the bigger problems. What about the really big problems facing the world right now? Are we as a profession having impact on the economic crises we face? Jobs are critical to the economy. Economists say that getting people into the right jobs more quickly is what our economic engines need. How are user experience professionals rising to the challenge?

We think the user experience is playing a big role – improving how people research, get alerts, and use social networks to find jobs. Web services are delivering data from a variety of databases so users can see it all in one website. Data from many sources is brought right to the page the job-seeker is on. Alerts are keeping users up to the minute. Here are some examples of the ways the user experience is solving these big problems of helping people find better jobs faster.

People analyse the data within job postings

trends in job postings using the words usability, user experience, or social meidia

People receive alerts when new jobs are posted


People use social networks to find jobs

  • Use LinkedIn or other social networks to keep colleagues aware of what you’ve worked on and what you can do. 85% of jobs are still found through people’s personal networks.
  • Micro-blog about your work and interests through Twitter or similar services. If you don’t know what micro-blogging is, get started by looking at our Twitter page.
  • Set up a Facebook group to support your job search or career development.

If you are an employer, the user experience is changing for you too. Similar methods are helping hiring managers research wage conditions, seek out candidates, design training, and post jobs. You can perhaps see how scanning for key words in job postings helps people write a new job posting, or see wage differences across job titles or job markets. Or use the National Occupation Classification as a starting point to describe your jobs.

If you manage a website, keep in touch with how your users are adopting the above behaviours. You already know “Jobs” is one of your users’ top tasks. Look for ways to make your users more effective or efficient at it. You could save your employer a bundle in recruiting.

If you know someone looking for a better job, forward this article to them. Perhaps a small effort on your part will help them find more productive employment faster. If it does – tell somebody that the user experience makes a difference.

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Your user is in “get there” mode

Users read and scan web pages differently en route to their desired content versus when they get to it. When users are en route, they scan quite quickly. They scan for relevant content or for links to take them closer to it. When they finally arrive at the content they want, they read more than they scan. When your web visitors are en route to their target content, they are in “get there” mode.

To design for “get there” mode, identify the pages where your users arrive. If the pages where your users arrive are navigation pages, test what links are most important to users. They will not want to read. They are in “get there” mode and want to scan for the relevant links as quickly as possible. In “get there” mode users treat navigational menus as a driver treats highway signs – they glance at them, skim through them, find the next link in their quest, and move on quickly.

When users arrive at the content they need, they scroll more slowly. They compare links and content. Links that are well-organized for reading may be too complicated for users in “get there” mode. Even the best-structured content for reading is a poor fit for a user in “get there” mode.

In our usability testing, participants have referred to navigational menus as “highway signs” or “handlebars” – saying they prefer to keep their eyes “on the road”. They were in “get there” mode, scanning the middle of the page for links. Perhaps the following fictional example will help illustrate.

what a highway sign might look like with too much information

The highway sign on the left is optimized for “get there” mode. The fictional sign at right is not. It is a bit like what happens to web pages when people do not design navigation and links for the user’s “get-there” mode. Yet if the user is in “read” mode (and is not driving) the groups themselves might work.

Think of the sign at right as a web page carefully crafted for reading. There are seven groups of information, with several phrases each, that get to the point. Great!. The words are meaningful and descriptive. Good thing! They appear accurate and up-to-date. Job well done! Users appreciate all those things – if they have time to read. But users in “get there” mode will just see noise or a blur. They are scanning quickly, sizing up the key message, glancing at the key information, taking action, and moving on. Don’t design pages for “get there” mode the same as you design pages for users in reading mode. Even if your information is well-structured, too much information can obscure key content. As Rene Magritte said “everything we see hides another thing we want to see”.

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“Too many people create websites that look beautiful. But we need web teams that relentlessly focus on creating websites that WORK beautifully. It’s not enough to put some content up. It’s not enough to launch and leave an application or a new website design. That will most definitely NOT deliver value to your organization. It will most definitely NOT save money. In fact it has a greater chance to waste time of your customers and lose money for your organization.”

Gerry McGovern 2009


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