Digital career coaching
The client is a social enterprise start-up, building a digital career coaching platform to make this process accessible to all users, whatever their career objectives.
Career coaching is a process through which a user is guided through exercises to help them reflect and understand their goals, preferences, desires and abilities. This information is then compared against career profiles to find those which offer a good match. A career coach will also support activities such as CV writing, interview technique and moral support throughout the process.
The goal of the partnership between Accenture and the client was to address the needs of a specific persona, that of those most at risk of losing their jobs through automation and then struggle to find and move into new careers. These users would be introduced to the platform via charitable partners, who would be helping with a wider support structure, for example training and networking.
By achieving this goal, the client's entire user base would also benefit from an improved platform experience.
The goal was to assess and update the existing platform journey for the ‘at risk’ persona and then build new, core functionality around occupation matching, career profiles and skills.
I led a team of Accenture and client designers, together with the client Product Owner. We worked as a discovery and design team, researching, designing and user testing the platform.
I also worked with other combined Accenture-client project teams who looked at areas such as; technical replatforming, big-data occupation matching and sales/marketing support.
- No personas - Client had previously not had time to understand their current users and how they use the platform, making it difficult to know what was and wasn’t working, before even considering the new ‘at risk’ persona and functionality
- Design inconsistency - style, components and screens designed by different people over time
- Accessibility - No work on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliance had been undertaken
- New concept - [Uncovered during interviews] majority of target persona users do not know what ‘career coaching’ is or why they should engage with the process
- Low tech literacy - [Uncovered during interviews] Target users often do not use computers for their work and generally use their phone over a tablet or desktop
Interviews & personas
Sessions with users were arranged through a charitable partner. I and my Accenture colleague interviewed the users about their employment situation and existing knowledge around career coaching. From the interviews, the key findings were:
- Internet access - Confirmation that phones are the most common way to access the internet, although several users commented that for job hunting they would use a laptop
- Job hunting - Confirmation that ‘career coaching’ was not a known concept, and users assumed it was another term for job hunting
- English terminology - Users with English as a foreign language often do not recognise alternative names, for example job titles
- Guidance - Users want to make a change to their career, but do not know how to go about it
- Content length - we thought the users would skip over the lengthy cognitive assessment summary reports, which are several thousand words. In fact they were willing (even happy!) to read them as it was often the first time they’d had the opportunity to “learn about [themselves]”.
Assumptions aren’t bad, but not testing them is.
The interview output was fed into three personas:
- At risk from job loss through automation (the main focus of Accenture's interest)
- Employed but not at risk of job loss through automation
- Unemployed with immediate financial needs
The third persona represents a user group who were actively out-of-scope for the project; those who were out of work and needed immediate employment to earn money. Career coaching requires time and reflection over several weeks and so is not suitable for people in this situation.
Out-of-scope personas add value by clarifying who you aren't designing for, as much as who you are.
After the initial interviews and testing were completed, the charitable partner sessions were converted to individual usability testing sessions for new designs. These were run on a two week cycle. I facilitated the first few months of sessions, whilst giving others in the team opportunities to up-skill and eventually take ownership.
Each session had 5-6 users, booked by the charitable partner, in line with the Nielsen Norman Group research findings to do ‘little and often’ testing. Participants were given tasks to accomplish on an Axure or Sketch prototype of our latest designs, focusing on a specific functional area.
Key observations from across the users were documented and fed into the next two week plan of work where appropriate. Common observations included:
- Following instructions - users were often able to complete a task, but did not understand why they had done it, or what value it would bring later in the process
- Emoji blindness - emojis were occasionally used with messaging (e.g. “You’ve got new occupation matches 😃”) but most users did not remember seeing them when asked. This does not mean they had a negative impact, just not a positive effect as intended.
- Explaining matches - when presented with suggested occupations, users always wanted more information about why these were high matches
Whatever you think users will stumble over in testing, they’ll always do something different.
In conversations with users, the difference between ‘career coaching’ and ‘job hunting’ was not just unclear, the concept of career coaching was unknown. We took a two pronged approach to inform users:
The first was to help users understand what career coaching even is, by showing the ‘wood’ without the ‘trees’, at least initially. A simple ‘5 point journey’ was ideated, tested with users and added to the public website, partner introduction emails and shown during the registration process.
With a framework in place, it was repeated at various points of the journey to refresh a user’s memory, while also clearly showing where in their journey they are and explaining more detail relevant to the user’s actions.
The second prong was to simplify the plethora of available tasks for a user, while not restricting everyone to the same linear flow. This would support those who felt ‘lost’ but not stifle those with more specific needs of the platform.
The solution was to create a ‘next step’ widget on the homepage, that would always sign users along a recommended path, but keeping all other functionality available.
The matching algorithm used between a user’s profile and careers used a 7-dimensional model to produce a percentage match. Exposing enough detail to users without overwhelming them was met by overlaying the user’s talent scores with the occupation score’s as a ‘web’ graph. The closer the two shapes, the better the match, which was quickly understood by users.
Style guide & library
The inconsistencies across screens were a result of several different client designers being involved at different times. I was able to go through the existing screens and build out a draft style guide, which also highlighted the areas of inconsistency (e.g. slightly different colour shades for the same icon). As a team we then discussed these and agreed on a single version of the truth.
I built the style guide as an atomic-based Sketch library so it could be shared across the team, and ensure consistency. As we re-worked screens based on user feedback, they were first recreated using the library, to avoid up-front nugatory work of doing all the screens.
I undertook a quick, high-level accessibility audit, following the WCAG, to help
- identify immediate issues for the backlog, and
- to help educate the wider project team that accessibility is not ‘just a design concern’
Following this, the developers integrated automated accessibility testing into their DevOps pipeline and I added accessibility as part of design reviews.
Before I left the project, I arranged for a complete accessibility audit by a 3rd party Accenture team to more precisely understand the remaining gap to WCAG AA compliance.
I left the project as v2.0 of the platform was being released. During this time I had:
- Interviewed users and created three personas
- Mapped out the existing and future journeys to guide feature prioritisation
- Designed and user tested new and updated platform features
- Identified style issues and developed Sketch style guide to improve design efficiencies and consistency.
- Completed accessibility audits and upskilled the team on how to meet WCAG