Career development is a central issue for college students. As a matter of fact, only 40% of college students feel their college experience has been very helpful preparing for a career according to a survey. Although college students are provided multiple resources and employment opportunities from their institutions, they face difficulty to make the best use of the sources in an organized way due to their lack of experience and low time/task managing skills. As a result, students during their job search and application process often undergo psychological difficulties such as stress, anxiety, depression, and loss of confidence, which could harm their academic performance and life satisfaction.
My initial project focus was on students’ mental health since balancing high academic performance and successful post-graduate planning is greatly demanding for college students. However, it turned out that there are few literature studies that deal with specifically the mental issues of students who go through the job application process because: 1) college students tend to hand their mental problems by themselves, 2) overall job-seeking process is relatively more smooth with on-campus resources for private/public college students than non-college-attending individuals, 3) the job-seeking process itself is not considered to be the source of mental issues; that is, finding a job does not cause the mental issues but individual’s ability to cope with the stress from job seeking causes the mental issues. (Romano, 1992)
Along the literature review, I searched the services for the similar problems of keeping good mental health and job search/application. I could find applications that deal with respective issues, but there were no applications that fit for both successful job application and emotional/mental wellness in the process.
The magnitude of the issue could be further glanced in the informal survey I conducted with 34 undergraduate and graduate students. 80% of respondents say that they feel more stress than normal during job application process (n = 27) and about two-thirds of participants (n = 12) had no certain strategies to cope with the stress or a mere ignorance for the problem.
Based on the survey and literature review, I could know the background of the problems and the priorities for the solutions. According to the survey I held, 23 participants (70%) answered that they want ‘to have advice or guidance from professionals (Counselors, experienced students or alumni)’ and 60.6% (n = 20) wanted ‘to organize my schedule in more structured way’, compared to the lower percentage of students who wanted ‘meditation/mindfulness practice’ (n = 9) or ‘professional communication practice’ (n = 1).
For individual brainstorming session, I set the target audience groups as job seeking college students who want to be informed and coached about their desired job field and also concern about their wellness during the process. With four items regarding job seeking and mental health on y axis, and recent technology trends on x axis, I brainstormed solutions for the target audience groups for an hour. After the session, I grouped them into eight different categories of solutions and selected eight solutions among total 23 of raw ideas to draw one-page sketches.
To understand the goal and possible user behavior through my solutions, I created a short five-cut storyboard for each solution. The storyboards helped me to go through the flow from encountering the problem to use the solutions to solve the problem. Also the cartoon-like form of the solutions were useful for user participants to explain each concepts. With the storyboard, I interviewed 13 individuals from my target audiences: undergraduate students, graduate students, and psychological consultants.
I created four personas to more clearly define my primary target audiences and also one anti-persona that indicates the people who would never use the service. To create well-distinguished personas, I first started with creating a user curb proposed by Nielsen with axes of technical proficiency, general lifestyle, and attitude for job seeking. I could establish the unique personas based on the dots that are differently placed in the curb. Trying to describe users’ goals, frustrations, and motivations in their perspectives were beneficial to revisit my service’s goal and revise the direction.
From the interviews, I examined my solutions to users and also gained more insights about more solutions. It turned out that most of my initial solutions that focus on the students’ mental health did not draw much of user engagement. What they wanted more was a help that actually give them a progress for their work, not a instant peace.
I found an interesting insight from an international student’s comment that she usually joined to a study group made of 4-5 people in similar fields to prepare application documents and practice interviews together. She mentioned that a well-matched group build so intimate relationship that they not only shares their work progress, but also each other’s feelings from rejection and the network could go for a long time. This behavior was common in students who are from Asian countries but not in the US. More than half of the American participants have never made a group for job application but demonstrated their interests when it is possible. Based on these findings, I decided to create an application that suggests match with other people in the group to make a progress in their job application process.
To meet their vocational and psycho-social needs, my target solution was to connect undergrad students with peers with similar job interests to make collective efforts for their application. While the traditional one-on-one mentoring is known to be more effective in gaining career-related information, peer group mentorship has its advantages of informality over traditional individual mentorship. Therefore, my mobile solution for students aims to create a distributed, medium-size group that can contribute to both their successful career development and psychological wellness.
The application would be utilized by college students who want to develop their employment application skills in a peer group setting. Compass assists mainly two user tasks for peer mentoring in how users are matched with people with similar job interests and group preference; and how matched members practice and interact with others in the group. Compass has recommendation feature for group matching and the app will mainly provide three features for the members of the group: practice, share(post), support(respond). That is, group members can practice interviews with app-generating questions, write a post, and reply to other members’ activity with a comment or a like (‘Hi-Five’ in the app).
The general flow of the app consists of four major part in Figure 1: Joining and setting up; Matching with a group; Interacting with group members in the group; And finally, utilizing post-experience functions.
For Lo-Fi prototyping sessions, I created paper prototypes to come up with several options for each screen’s structure and validate the user preference. For the prototyping session with users, I listed 12 tasks (login, matching, etc.) and their interactions (touch, fill in, etc.) specifically for student users who seek job help.
I initially created prototypes for two different mentorship setting: One-on-one mentoring with professional advisors/volunteers and peer group mentoring. Gauging the potential buy-ins and feasibility of the options, I decided to focus the peer group approach considering the accessibility and my problem focusing on helping job seeking students’ balanced emotional states.
Most of the testers wanted a bigger sized group in their search to first ‘shadow’ the group without participation to decide whether they are fit into the group. Based on the user feedback, I adjusted the available size of a group to maximum 15 people. For the similar reason of building group relationship, I restricted the number of teams that an individual user can join to five groups.
In the profile setup, I originally created a unified tag entry that represents job fields, titles, or companies. The rationale behind the tagging was to more easily collate varied goal titles and companies of users in a group. However, it turned out that most of the testers got confused about the functionality of tags. Therefore, I specified the entries as two commonly used job keywords: goal titles and goal companies.
In Hi-Fi prototyping, I created a Sketch + InVision prototype with limited interactive user interface and let three undergraduate students to explore and evaluation the application freely.
With the digital prototypes, I could identify the most desired information that users would like to see in group information during matching. Initially, I hypothesized the types of information that members would like to see in the search and I could validate that the amount of given information was redundant and users feel unnecessary to check the group introduction and a long list of recent activities. Therefore, I decided to discard the information and focus on enhancing the visibility of others.
It is suggested from the peers that the text size of the initial prototypes are too small and bring too much information in a screen, especially in matching and group page. Therefore, I prioritize the information and removed the secondary information from the pages to make primary information bigger and more salient based on iOS 11 Human Interface design guidelines.