Meet Empaid.

Designing a mobile-app solution for an every day problem.

Overview

For my Senior Capstone Project, I explored my interests in UX/UI, product design, and design-thinking to create a direct response to the current climate of the internship world.

 

I worked to transform the internship application process to meet the changing needs of both students and employers and encourage a mutually beneficial, transparent experience.

Empaid ultimately offers a solution to the significant issues that exist in connecting students and employers through internship experiences.

The Problem

72% 

job offer rate for graduates that had taken a paid internship in for-profit companies

(National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2016)

vs.

44% 

job offer rate for graduates that had taken

an unpaid internship in for-profit companies

(Economic Policy Institute, 2016)

I realized that the tension I felt toward unpaid internships wasn't unique to me. The obvious, consistent frustration amongst qualified students at UMD reflects a larger problem in the United States: not only is it difficult to find a place for career growth with a sustainable salary as an undergraduate student, but it is also challenging to receive a return offer with competitive payment without a paid experience (NACE, 2016). 

Similarly to my peers, I have been faced with the necessary choice between unpaid internships that are relevant to my interests and other paid opportunities that solely contribute to my developing financial independence. Aside from emotional and motivational impacts, unpaid internships are significantly less likely to result in job offers across all industry sectors (Economic Policy Institute, 2016).

 

Most notably, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found a 72% job offer rate for graduates that had taken a paid internship in for-profit companies, while those that had taken unpaid, for-profit internships saw a job offer rate of 44% (Economic Policy Institute, 2016). 

The Research

Survey

I identified two user segments: students and employers.

By means of creating a survey, I collected quantitative and qualitative data through a mix of open-ended questions, rating scales,  and close-ended questions.

My data highlighted that not only do students have vastly different experiences in getting internships, but also that there are two problems that exist and may very much be intertwined: finding relevant internships and finding paid internships.

Students need help connecting to employers that value developmental, mutually beneficial opportunities.

Due to the imbalances in the application process and the distribution of power, students often feel anxiety from having to choose between an internship in their field and an opportunity that pays--particularly Juniors and Seniors in college. Paid internships in related fields are rare to find, and that much more difficult to obtain due to limited accessibility. A certain level of transparency is required to ensure a positive internship experience for the student and the employer, as well as a more empathetic approach to the process as a whole.

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I analyzed surveys and grouped responses to items based on similarity (orange notes). Overarching themes are represented in green, which I defined after the natural categorization of answers.

It's important to recognize the student demographics that may have contributed bias to my results: a majority of the participants were Seniors (14/26 respondents). At the same time, this student landscape ultimately shaped my target audience.

I realized that the need/desire for paid internships increased for older students that have vastly different skillsets and abilities.

In addition, the students in their later years have more established interests and look to develop more specific skills. These students came from diverse academic backgrounds, and most (77%) students intended to pursue work in the private sector.

*Unfortunately, my outreach efforts to employers did not have successful response rates, and I am unable to draw many conclusions from this small sample size. However, this experience potentially further sheds light upon larger challenges that internship-seeking students face in communicating with employer--networking matters and response rates may be low without previous student-employer connections.

Student and Employer Internship Experience Surveys

| Click to magnify

The Market

Students in the United States currently use online platforms, such as Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn to connect with internship employers.

 

While Indeed focuses its efforts as an all employment-related search engine, Glassdoor seeks to improve job-hunting and employment relationships by means of transparency. LinkedIn differs in its wider approach to “professional networking,” as its job-seeking feature is heavily weighs on the user’s connections within the online social network.

 

Each organization varies slightly in approach, and although internship opportunities exist in each, all three platforms appeal to wider demographics in the professional world.

Apps specific to internships were found in other countries, such as India and Singapore, but were not useful for US undergraduates.

The Solution

Scenario + User Flow Abstract

Producing a user scenario in the initial stages, I sought to remove myself from the process and reimagine the challenge from the perspective of my user.

I developed a user interface abstract to organize my user flows and how the app would act as a system.

Paper Prototype

Recommendations:

  • Should go straight to the homescreen after first log in

  • Homepage and bar may be redundant

  • Make EMPAID/hompage link more clear

  • Change order of options on homepage (check status first)

  • Make name/edit profile button larger

  • Edit profile to “edit my profile”

By creating a low-fidelity version first, I was able to conduct usability testings quickly and get feedback efficiently.

The paper prototyping stage represented a larger theme throughout this process: maintaining a mindset conducive to iteration.

I used Sketch and Marvel to create a clickable prototype. Usability testings of this prototype have provided valuable thus far, such as how to better link wireframes, what is most helpful for the user, which items must be presented more clearly (wording, placement, etc.), and more.

Usability Test Findings:

What worked:

  • Easy log in

  • Application status check option

  • Explore and suggested matches option-can see what is available regardless of current job state

  • Familiar buttons/feeling to the app -Easy navigation/flow to send application

  • Match orientation of app

  • Pictures to accompany profile -Scroll down to see more information*

What didn’t work:

  • Users unsure that “EMPAID” would go back to homepage *difficulties with scroll/clicking due to prototype limitations

High(er)-Fidelity Prototype

The resulting dual-interfaced app serves to promote more balanced relationships between 

students and employers in the internship world.

 

The app aims to disrupt the current culture that 

involves both university students (specifically Juniors and Seniors) and employers in the D.C. Metropolitan area, and better design an experience for both parties.

 

In designing a human-experience-centered app, it is important to identify possible populations that may also be excluded within these target audiences. 

Due to the seemingly consistent trend in offering unpaid internships in government-related fields, narrowing the app’s audience to employers offering paid internships in the private sector may allow for better positioning in the market. Moreover, focusing the target audience to reach a more effective area could increase the platform’s potential success and ultimately act as a greater influence in creating change within the public sector. 

Understanding the deep need for a new approach to the application process (ex. less focus on more traditional, time consuming elements, such as the resume/cover letter), the “mobile first” app allows for students and employers to focus on more personal goals and find the best mutual culture fit in a more communication-efficient manner.

The Challenges and Lessons

In creating a product with an interface and experience designed with the user’s needs in mind, enough data must be collected directly from the user to support decisions.

Throughout this process, I felt it was especially important to hear from employers to not only balance out the quantity of student survey responses, but to also combat my personal bias as a student. Although I would be a user myself, I constantly needed to remind myself that, in this case, I am not the user.

I always first presented my idea as a “Tinder-like” app for paid internships. In saying that, I was already providing a solution--not designing a solution based on user’s needs.

It was difficult to not only maintain a mindset that promoted changes, but also first reaching that mindset. Despite the remaining similar elements, justifications and changes grew from survey responses and usability testings to create an app unique to its audience.