Mobile Recruitment App
During the Obama administration, the diminishing number of Millennials working in the Federal government was recognized and called to attention. It was originally hypothesized that the Feds were having trouble attracting young talent due to a combination of a poor image of working in the government along with generational differences. The White House decided to take action and signed the Federal Hiring Reform Bill in 2015, which propelled agencies like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to prioritize hiring and reform recruitment processes.
This is the story of how I designed the app that would modernize recruitment and marketing for the CBP.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Federal Law Enforcement
UX, UI, Mobile
There were two main goals that we wanted to achieve with the new CBP recruitment app:
Market to and attract a younger demographic
Simplify the job search and application process
I was subcontracted to create the mobile recruitment app for the CBP, by a marketing/technology firm. I was responsible for defining the product, conducting UX research, creating process flows and UI mock-ups, and handing off specifications to developers. I led the UX work, producing all major deliverables, which I presented to the subcontracting team of engineers and managers in 2016.
This project was already severely behind, having missed several major milestones at the time I joined the team. At the second project kick-off, I realized that this was going to be quite a challenge as I was given just 6 weeks to deliver final designs and specs for development.
Since the government had mandated improvement efforts for recruitment and hiring, research was readily available from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the White House, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) — to name a few. Many concluded that the job application process was confusing, opaque and lengthy. In addition, agencies lacked recruitment efforts in general and had disparities between the applicants and vacant positions. It wasn’t a secret how terrible USAJOBS.gov, the federal jobs applications system, was to use.
Target Employee Insights
In 2015, the federal sector found itself struggling to attract the younger demographic, which made up just 7% percent of all government employees. In addition, a separate survey by the Chamber of Commerce determined that only 2% of Millennials planned on pursuing a federal career. At the onset of the project, the general assumption was that it was difficult to appeal to Millennials due to generation-specific presumptions. For example, Millennials being unrealistic about career goals or being too finicky to stick to one job.
On the contrary, a 2015 Deloitte survey titled Understanding Millennials in Government, found that although the percentage of Millennials in government had declined, it was not due to a lack of interest, but rather due to a decrease in government hiring as a whole, regardless of one’s generation.
At a time when Millennials were attempting to find jobs, there was a slowdown in government hiring. Since federal job openings could not meet the demands of those searching, many sought out similar fields in the commercial and non-profit sectors, which were increasing in the number of options available. Due to a lack of government options, the number of incoming Millennials could not keep pace with the number of those leaving federal jobs.
Additionally, the survey illustrated that generalizations about Millennials were not as accurate as people believed, and that the government should improve their recruitment technologies and processes by targeting campaigns by job type and industry rather than cohorts based on age. The survey also revealed that Millennials had a higher commitment to working for causes and giving back, especially those who may have had been affected by Sept 11 during their childhood. Leveraging a sense of patriotism, especially for an agency like the CBP, seemed to be a promising recruitment strategy.
We dissected the data and analysis of top consulting firms and educational organizations to obtain deep insights to the behaviors and motivations of Millenials. Although during the project kick-off, the consulting team believed we needed to target Millennials who lived in the southern regions of the United States (who were located physically near the southern border), the new data-backed findings pointed to a better strategy in increasing the talent pool, regardless of age.
Defined Product Goals:
- More transparency across the application process
- Provide clearer and easily understood job descriptions so that applicants could better assess whether they met the minimum requirements.
- Application progress tracking once submitted, to provide transparency for users on their application status.
- Make the application process easier and user friendly (decrease cognitive load)
- Equip applicants with a quick way to filter qualifiable jobs (reduce application abandonment), despite dependencies on USAJOBS.gov.
- Reduce “government-speak” and replace job descriptions with clear, obvious terminology.
- Provide users with a two-way communication channel, where they can ask for clarifications or provide feedback.
- Appeal to applicant’s core values, beliefs and emotions
- Display acts of public service and link it to a sense of giving back to one’s country.
- Especially impactful for agencies, such as the CBP, where one takes action to help guard the U.S. and where job titles include: Border Patrol Agent, CBP Officer and Aviation Enforcement Agent.
- Appeal to those seeking self fulfillment through service.
What Users Think
At this point, we had a good idea of the product’s goals and to decided it would be helpful to engage with the user base for some feedback. I came up with a qualitative survey using open-ended questions to help gather information specifically on how we could improve the job search and application process.
Because I lived 15 minutes from Washington, D.C., I decided take the survey and hit the streets with a partner. We also emailed people we knew and asked them to participate as well. By keeping the survey to five questions, we successfully found 18 respondents who have had applied to a Federal job or was at least familiar with USAJOBS.gov.
Overall, people felt that USAJOBS.gov was cumbersome to use and that applying was bulky and outdated.
Research and Solid Grounds
In addition to the survey, I leveraged a broad-range of public studies by industry experts. I analyzed qualitative and quantitative data from focus groups, ethnographic field studies, in-depth interviews, surveys, customer feedback, and analysis by consulting firms, such as Accenture and Deloitte.
Using the gathered information, we formed three personas. In the interest of time, we decided to focus on the primary persona, Jimmy, for the first release with plans on taking into consideration the others at a later time. The persona was used to guide every step of the UX process and to garner empathy when presenting to the team and client.
PRODUCT DEFINITION & REQUIREMENTS
Using the persona, I created a user journey map to establish the user’s pain points and behaviors in a visual format. It also gave us a holistic look at the end-to-end experience across various touchpoints. By mapping out the user’s emotions, we were able to set our intentions and design strategically.
User journey maps help ensure that everyone is on the same page
Unfortunately, not all phases of the user’s experience were under our control. Although much of the frustrations during a user’s application process came directly from the Apply phase, we faced strict limitations here as all government job applications were required to go through USAJOBS.gov. It did, however, seem that the OPM were intent on making strides in modernizing the USAJOBS.gov site and the media ran publications reflecting their promises.
With only a vague idea of how the upcoming site redesign would affect the overall process and no evident timeline, we decided to focus on the aspects we did have control over, which included Research, Evaluate and Wait.
On the Road to Product Definition
With a good idea of where we were headed, we brainstormed potential features of the app based off the three defined product goals, which included providing transparency, making the process more user-friendly, and appealing to one’s core values/emotions. After several in-person team ideation sessions, we ended up with a list of must-have features. I outlined the information architecture of the app, detailing each screen and its active contents.
Since users were directed from our app to USAJOBS.gov for the application, it was our intention to provide as much information and transparency before the redirect as possible. We decided to achieve this through features such as, additional educational material on career pathways, the use of easy-to-understand, common terms (no jargon), a filter function to show only jobs within a set query, a newsfeed for updates in the CBP realm, and a way to communicate with someone in CBP recruitment directly (through the app). This all made up the product feature roadmap and product backlog.
So even though the user would eventually have to leave the app to fill out the application, we wanted them to be as equipped as possible in order to reduce application drop rates, decrease confusion about the process and decrease time spent applying. We also wanted to offer a channel where users could follow-up directly through the app and track the progress of their application.
I took a top-down approach by starting broad to create the overall structure of the experience. I then mapped out the process flows visually with wireframes, which we iterated on until we had a good basis to start with. Throughout this time, I was constantly working with the engineering team to confirm feasibility of each of the primary pathways.
Lean On Time
Running low on time, I decided to borrow methods from lean UX and prototype in low-fidelity. This way, we were able to focus on the functionality and validate quickly. Without UI-related distractions, we were able to be more agile and make framework revisions on-the-fly.
I created a low fidelity interactive prototype using Adobe XD as it was readily available. Unfortunately, I no longer have access to the program at this time, and am unable to show examples of it, however, the image below can give you an idea of how it worked.
Using the prototype, I performed moderated user testing on five random users with the sole criteria of owning a smartphone since we were testing for general app usability only at this time. The users each sat at my laptop while I read a scenario and asked them to attempt to perform a series of tasks.
Fortunately, there was a high success rate for tasks performed because it was understood from the start the limitations of the project. Therefore, we kept the interactions extremely simple, with little to no required learning curve. No bells and whistles here; only the most standard Android or iOS interaction models were used.
Look & Feel
Once the skeletons of the framework were handed off to the engineers, I experimented visually to set the right tone based off our persona. Using the U.S. Department of Homeland Security logo, which was a requirement to be used on the log-in screen, I came up with complementary colors and iconography that would highlight the content while giving the brand a face-lift. I strived for something clean, uncluttered and well spaced.
The client informed us of the CBP’s new brand strategy after our first iteration. We incorporated the new branding in the second version, which instantly gained approval. I worked quickly to create the design standard and guides, which I handed off to their internal design team to flush out frame-by-frame.
Lastly, I put together specifications and interaction guidelines for the front-end developers, and kept communications open to provide clarifications and answer any questions.