My first design-thinking workshop:

How might we improve the job seeking experience?


Originally published on December 22, 2014

Last Thursday, I organized a small design-thinking event for SFI students in which we brought in Pixel People, a local design agency to facilitate a 1-hour design thinking sprint on the topic of “how can we improve the job-seeking experience?” It was a chance for SFI students to practice their skills on real-world problem-solving and for Pixel People to tap into our collective creativity for a real client project they’re working on.

The facilitators from Pixel People arrived with the Stanford d.School 90-minute design thinking package. After a brief introduction, we paired up and jumped right into the exercise.

Using the worksheets in the d.School package, the two people in each pair alternated and had the chance to do a general interview, do another in-depth interview, frame and synthesize the problem, come up with 5 crazy ideas, capture feedback, generate solution based on feedback, and prototype the final solution. The whole process took about an hour.

I started by asking my partner to tell me about the last time he searched for a new job, from switching his mind into job seeking mode to his first day on the new job. Knowing that there are lots of people working on solving the most obvious problems in the job seeking process, I listened attentively for points of friction in his journey that would surprise me, as they are likely the ones that would likely make the most impact. When I asked him to tell me what was the most painful part of his whole experience, he said

“The most painful part is when I had to tell my old boss that I’m quitting my job.”

Thinking about my own experience, telling someone who had invested so much in you that you are leaving is definitely one of the hardest things to do. Why? because it’s an act of betrayal. Our pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding ancestors whose DNA was programmed to release endorphins when trust is established, were able to form harmonious social groups that were resilient against various threats. Trust is so important to our survival that it unconsciously influences our actions through emotions. In our pre-historic days, breaking the bond of trust is equivalent to breaking the social net that helps you survive. The guilt that you feel when you tell your boss “I quit” is your unconscious mind using a painful emotion warning you about the potential life-or-death ramifications that might result.

Fast forward to the 21st century. The rules of survival have changed. We are increasingly becoming free agents whose careers are made up of “gigs” rather than one life-long job. Even when our rational brains has adapted to the rules of thriving in the 21st century, the unconscious part of our brains is slow to change and is still focused on survival as if we were in the stone ages. By creating emotions like fear and guilt, it acts against what we know is needed to thrive in today’s changing world.

As I dug deeper, I realized that there are three parts to the problem:

  • Anxiety from not knowing how to start such a difficult conversation
  • Guilt from creating extra work for the employer to bringing in someone new
  • Not sure how to maintain a positive relationship with the employer

Moving onto the next part of the exercise, I prototyped a three-fold solution that addresses each part of the problem.

First, to provide guidance on how to have a difficult conversation about quitting, I created a tool that asks the user to select from an existing set of inputs about themselves and their employment history such as why they are quitting and how they feel about their current workplace. The system then generates a “storyline” that they can use to guide the conversation, which they can print as cue-cards to maximize their confidence.

Second, to help the employer find a replacement for you, I created a tool on which the user can create a “private job listing” that they can send out to contacts on their favourite social network. The listing would allow the user to write about the employer, its history, and the cause for leaving the job. The recipients would be requested to capture a video of their interest in the new opening and state why they’re interested. By having a shortlist of candidates with expressed interest in taking over the role, it drastically lessens the burden that the employer has to deal with to find a replacement.

Third, to remind the employer that their investment in you is not in vain, I created a tool that allows the user to customize gift that would be shipped as a surprise to the employer several weeks after the departure, as a new candidate is likely hired by then.

When I presented this idea, several attendees resonated strongly with the pain points I have identified and praised the human-centered approach I have taken.

While the exercise gave us only one hour to research, ideate, prototype, and get feedback, I found that the time pressure positively contributed to my ability to quickly hone in on my customer’s pain point and design a minimal prototype that addresses the core of the problem. Overall, I am proud of my accomplishments and gained the creative confidence that I need to tackle bigger challenges.