As program manager for USAJOBS, Michelle Earley has faced the daunting task of redesigning the federal government's jobs website from something not known for its user-friendliness into the top portal for attracting new talent to public service.
Earley talked with Senior Reporter Carten Cordell about how she and her team are building a better USAJOBS that is centered on user experience and will evolve is always evolving to better serve the needs of federal job seekers.
You guys added a lot of new developments to USAJOBS, most notably the resume upload. Can you talk about those developments have transpired and what you're excited about?
We have started what we have coined the next generation of USAJOBS. It really started back in August 2015, where we introduced a map search feature that really allows for job seekers to be able to see the jobs across the entire globe. It has received a lot of positive feedback. Then we have moved on in October of 2015 to making the site completely mobile friendly. You can use any of the mobile devices to access our website. It was really kind of building some foundational items.
Then we have moved on in February where we launched the first set of our user changes based on extensive user feedback that we had conducted. One of the key points in the user research, the most troubling place really kind of hit in the application experience. That is where we really wanted to start in driving these changes.
One of the things we really looked and learned is that job seekers could get lost really quickly and needed some guidance to walk them through the application process. We have iteratively designed and developed that going forward. Again, we measure everything that we put in place to see that we are actually meeting user needs and increasing user satisfaction. So far, we have seen a lot of positive trends from that.
How has agile development really helped move along that process, keeping the iteration going and then applying the updates, as you said, in a user-centered fashion?
Using agile development is critical to our success. That is because it reduces risk, but it really allows us to iterate through the design and collect that user feedback that will help us inform the next iteration. We are ensuring that we are staying in-line of what the user needs [rather] than kind of waiting to unveil something [that] may have missed the mark dramatically. This will also reduce costs in the long run. It really helps us kind of stay engaged and in touch with what the user is looking and expecting from our website.
Are you guys adding in features to automate, say, policy updates like with the recent Senior Executive Service reforms that the president outlined in December? Is there a process going on to just apply that into USAJOBS?
Yes. We have a very strong relationship with our policy experts. When new regulations or new policy guidance comes out, we sit down and we talk about what those changes mean. Do they have an impact on the USAJOBS website? We have a process that working from an early understanding of the requirement through development and doing user testing.
I would say that the main thing that we're in charge of is that — if we are going to incorporate these changes — that we are doing it through the job seekers' lens and what they need rather than kind of automating a paper-based process, which will not serve the user in the long run. One of the examples of late: There are SES reforms. We are in early discussions right now of what those reforms mean. How would that change the experience for people finding SES jobs? Yes, we are definitely moving forward with that and taking a look at that now.
Are there any of the developments that you are working on right now that are exciting to you? Anything where you are saying, "That's my baby, I cannot wait to see this roll out."
Definitely, right now with our user research, [we're] and really taking an approach to look at the end-to-end experience. Because initially, we were kind of looking maybe at a feature-based approach. But now, we really want to look at the end-to-end experience. What that really means and what we are doing it in calendar year '16 are three main facets. It is the representation of the job seeker, which is their profile and their resume, and making adjustments to that.
Then there is the representation of the agency, which is just the job opportunity announcements. We are looking to redesign that. The thing that brings both of those together is the search. To be able for job seekers to find those job announcements. We are making incremental changes to all three of those facets as we go forward.
Sometimes all three are happening at once. Or we hitting on one at a time based on what our user feedback and the research [say] as we evolve the product? But I am really excited. At the end of the day, I think that we'll bring the ability for the federal government to find the right talent for the right jobs.
With your most recent developments, talking about building profiles, uploading resumes and making the application process more streamlined. Can you take me through what the development that process was like starting with the user feedback and getting their input?
Absolutely. Why this experience of doing the next generation of USAJOBS is different is that we are taking an approach called a human-centered design approach. What that is looking at are the needs and expectations of the job seeker. We walked through a series of activities under an umbrella of user research that started with one-on-one interviews with folks across the country. As well as we had over 12 focus groups.
We collected a lot of these data points. We really wanted to understand what their experience was like; and also, kind of from an emotional standpoint. Because it is really important to know not only can they click through the screens, but how were they feeling along the way? If they are feeling frustration, we want to address that. From the user research, we kind of synthesized this information to come up with key insights. From there, we were really able to again — and still kind of co-creating with folks within the government and outside of government — [ask], "What are the big ideas that we need to take on to reshape and create the next generation of USAJOBS?"
Then along with all of that and from the human-centered design, and all of this user research, we are continuing to use the agile development process. We are even doing some DevOps — it's a term out there where to incorporate more automated testing that allows us to spend more time in the development and getting things out to market faster. As well as doing what we call lean discovery; which is really measuring before, during and after the process to make sure we are meeting the needs.
What sort of features and functionalities are you developing for people that are currently in the federal sphere and might be looking to change positions?
We have two key audiences for USAJOBS website. One of those is arejob seekers who have never had any federal experience coming to look for a new federal opportunity. The others are the existing federal or former federal employees who are looking for a lateral move or a promotion.
We recognize that we have had these two audiences with different needs. We are looking to build experiences that meet both of their expectations. But I would talk about with the federal employee, we have the opportunity to really help them acquire and aggregate their skills and experiences in our database. We ultimately want to kind of create this federal career portal for them.