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January 01, 2012 User-focused classification for job boards Sue O'Neil, Managing Director, North America

User-focused classification for job boards

How a job board is organised is an integral part of your customer’s experience, so it’s important to get it right. Job boards are all about finding information and if you organize that information well then your users will be able to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.

Each job board owner has a different set of categories, or a different way of classifying their jobs but the same principles of organisation can be applied to make sure a classification system works well for the business and the user.

A faceted classification system allows you to give an object (like a job or a book) multiple classifications and then people can find things in ways that suit them. For example, a collection of books might be classified using an author facet, a subject facet, a date facet, etc. Most job boards divide their jobs into similar categories or facets, for example industry, location, salary and hours. One person might want to look for a job by location, another by industry, the next by contract type. How you group, order and balance categories and also the number of options within facets will have an impact on the usability of the classification system.

Not all users like using keyword search and sometimes if a jobseeker isn’t totally clear what they’re looking for then browsing is the best option. Faceted navigation needs to provide a solid information trail or ‘information scent’ that will guide users quickly to their destination and the information they are seeking.

What happens if we have too much choice?

People have difficulty processing large amounts of information and this can lead to ‘choice-blindness’. If we are presented with too many options we can feel overwhelmed and unable to make a decision or at least unable to make it quickly and efficiently. This is what psychologists call cognitive overload.

Too many choices can lead to decision-making paralysis for your users. (Hall and Johansson - Psychologists)

If offered too many options the brain can be overwhelmed by decision. When we feel our options are manageable we are able to make better decisions. With vast amounts of information it is best to group information into manageable chunks. Then we can make quicker and easier sequential decisions.

Hick’s Law, named after British Psychologist William Hick, states that the time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices. As the decision time increases, the user experience suffers.

People are more likely to make a purchase when offered a limited number of choices. What’s more, they are actually more likely to be satisfied with their selection when the choice is less. The more options, the more we might feel that we missed something.

Resist the impulse to provide lots and lots of choices to your customers. You will think that lots of choices is a good thing (because you like them too), but too many choices means they won’t buy at all. (Susan Weinschenk - Neuropsychologist)

Satisfaction Curve

When you place a lot of options in front of a user it is more than likely that they will reach a point where satisfaction drops. The goal is perhaps to find the sweet spot on the satisfaction curve so that we provide an optimum number for the experience to be good.

Good sense would suggest that the optimum number should be as much as you need and no more. Finding this ‘optimum number’ can sometimes be difficult and may require thought and research.

Sites such as Amazon or Marks & Spencer tend to have up to 50 or 60 options within facets, which is often a necessary number when you have a lot of products. Similarly, if we view jobs as products, a job board has a multitude of goods on offer and is likely to need a lot of categories.

Best practice would be to keep the number of top-level categories at a manageable number. So, although there is no magic number, smaller is always better and no more than 50 or 60 options should be considered. The control and structure of groupings is paramount in the management of broad categories to ensure browsing is efficient and painless.

This is part of a more detailed document prepared for Madgex clients on User-Focused Classification for Job Boards (2MB - PDF).

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Reference and further reading:

Hicks Law

Susan Weinschenk. You want more choices and information than you can actually process

Sheena Iyengar. The Art of Choosing (Published 2010).

Peter Johansson. Choice Blindness

Barry Schwarz. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less (Published 2004)