User Research


Why do startups fail?

In a post-mortem of over 100 failed startups, when asked why their companies didn’t take-off, “not having the right team” was the third most frequently cited reason given by SMB leaders.  The importance of a great team is widely understood – it’s just not clear how to actually build one. 

Poor product-market-fit


Ran out of cash


Not the right team


How do people feel about hiring?

A common misconception is that hiring is easy, but if you think back to any of your past relationships, it’s clear that we, as humans, aren’t always the best judges of character. Hiring is a skill that needs to be taught and refined. 

Working on Hirefully from within an executive search firm, we have the benefit of talking to clients daily. New clients show up on our doorstep when they’re desperate and impatient because of a long-unfilled vacancy. When we ask how we can help, the response is almost always: “we need to hire fast.” It’s a classic case when user research isn’t useful because the user doesn’t understand the root of their problem. 


What’s the biggest roadblock for SMB hiring?

Hiring managers are frustrated because their hiring takes a long time.

There’s no denying that faster hiring would be desirable, but designing a product around speed will not work.

The real problem SMBs face is not that they are hiring slowly, it’s that they can’t find the talent they’re looking for. 


What role do recruiters play in SMB hiring?

Most small teams don’t grow fast enough to justify having a good recruiter on the payroll.  Either the company’s hiring managers are responsible for proactively recruiting talent (and thus taking away from time they could spend actually doing their job) or, the company is exclusively relying on in-bound methods to hire. 

On average, the small teams we spoke to were planning to hire less than 10 people that year. 

Problem Definition


In an industry with an increasing labour shortage, the price of talent is getting more expensive and the best talent goes to the highest bidder. SMBs are left to pick through the remains. While it’s easy to identify stars, it’s much harder to distinguish good-for-my-team from not-good-enough. As a result, SMBs are often paralyzed when it comes to hiring. 

Budget limitations aside, SMBs suffer from limited exposure. When browsing job boards, job seekers are more likely to apply to companies they have heard of before. Job descriptions are often the only opportunity a company has to convince a potential candidate that they’re worthy of the time investment to apply, this isn’t easy. 

To build a better hiring tool for SMBs means two things:


Helping SMBs attract candidates via their job postings


Teaching SMBs to evaluate talent in a way that prioritizes attitude over aptitude, potential over past performance, and passion over pedigree in order to focus on building a strong team, instead of simply hiring strong individuals.

The Solution


The applicant review process celebrates the differences between teams, empowers the people making hiring decisions, and ultimately helps SMBs see the potential that their applicants represent. 

In order to accomplish this, all design decisions were made by asking the following  guiding questions:


Does this discourage the use of a candidate’s resume to make hiring decisions, and consequently, encourage culture-driven hiring instead?


Are we teaching hiring managers to see talent from a fresh perspective, or simply doing the work for them?

Based on the design we settled on for the application form, we knew we would have lots of information to offer employers as they evaluate candidates. This represented a great opportunity to shift the paradigm of what talent looks like, but it also posed a risk of information overload. If our user research made one thing clear, it was that recruiting is a time sink – we did not want to create extra work for people who were already short on time. 

Reviewing the Resume


To ensure familiarity, the Hirefully review process begins with the resume, but discourages keyword screening, box checking, and firmly fights a hiring manager’s urge to reject a candidate that is less than perfect. 

Rather than asking employers to decide if a resume is good or bad, we use a sliding scale – how closely does this resume match your ideal candidate? The copy reinforces the reality that ideals are just that, the perfect candidate may or may not exist. After rating each candidate on a scale of 1-100, the appropriate follow up action is taken:

Our research showed that when left to their own devices, hiring managers consider a good candidate to be someone who’s resume includes a minimum of 80% of the desired skills. As time passes and desperation sets in, the bar for what’s deemed “good enough” is lowered. Oftentimes, so much that it aligns with the threshold we’ve established. Rather than waiting for this cognitive shift to happen naturally, we’ve adjusted the review process to account for talent scarcity from the beginning.

If an applicant falls within that 40-80% resume fit range, we reveal their answers to our open-ended questions. The narrative is displayed on a white background with each question, then answer, stacked on the page.

Reviewing the Answers


There were a lot of ideas about how users should rate answers. We tested a 1-5 rating, a sliding scale, a star rating… we even thought about using coffee cup icons where each sequential cup had more coffee in it. The idea was that you’d want to have an entire coffee date with the people who wrote the answers you like. You’d only have a few sips if you weren’t impressed….sometimes you have to experiment to know what a bad idea looks like. 

After testing, we settled on a set of 4 icons to represent the user’s feelings about the answer.  By using faces, users had a more tangible concept of what each rating represents and could more consistently give the same rating to answers of the same caliber. We also chose four options, instead of five, so that users can’t default to neutral. 

The Ultimate Teaching Opportunity: Built-in Coaching


Hirefully is about understanding how your applicants think, behave, and how they’ll elevate your team. There’s a lot of context you can pull from a paragraph and we want to teach our users to see those hidden cues and clues. 

Instead of a lengthy onboarding or an online course, we decided the best place to teach users how to interpret applicant answers was at the moment they’re doing it. 

Beside each answer, there’s a prompt that says “Help me evaluate this answer.” Clicking the prompt brings you to an expert-written guide for evaluating answers to that question. The guides offer advice for interpreting common response-types, what should raise a red flag, and how an answer might relate to workplace performance. Does a potential leader make use of the word “I” more than “we” when talking about his or her team? 

What’s left unsaid is often just as important as the words spoken…well, written. Since the application page offers candidates a choice of questions, we can learn something about candidates based on the questions they chose not to answer. 

Did the salesperson skip the question about money to tell you about their favourite food? Either you’ve got a serious foodie on your hands, or you’re not looking at a hunter. 

Hirefully is about shifting the paradigm of what talent means and how we view talent. It’s designed to encourage SMBs to make better hiring decisions based on passion and potential rather than past performance. Ultimately, it’s about chemistry. 

The Job Overview: Omitting the Unnecessary


In their book, Shape Up, Basecamp founder, Jason Friedman, talks a lot about his reluctance to build features that don’t truly serve users.

Most applicant tracking systems show you a whole bunch of data. The time of day your applicants apply, the day of the week they apply, what sources they come from, average time-to-hire, average number of applicants to fill a job. Hirefully explicitly omits this information.

Where the rest of the industry has chosen to overload users with useless information, we’ve built a product that only incorporates features that improve your hiring. 

Does it matter what your average number of applicants is? Does the source of the application matter if the applicant is completely wrong for the job? Should the goal be lots of crappy applicants, or just a few good applicants? 

Dashboards filled with useless KPIs are built for HR departments trying to validate their professional utility. We focus on two things, how close are you to hiring, and does your budget reflect the market? 

Rejected (39)

Unreviewed (12)

Screen (4)

Shortlist (4)

Phone Interview (3)

Interview (6)

Offer (2)