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Designing for Trustworthy Automation

Lessons from creating the UX of a virtual assistant.

Mikako Matsunaga

Employers wear many hats, and it can be difficult to fit hiring into their schedule. Besides, finding new employees and understanding job market trends isn’t necessarily their area of expertise.

Part of Indeed’s work is to make the hiring process more efficient for employers. My team supports these improvements by developing automation tools, and recently we designed a virtual recruiting assistant to automate part of the hiring process.

Our virtual recruiting assistant included three key features:

  • Data-informed improvements to the job posts to attract the job seekers with the right qualifications.
  • A daily report of promising candidates for employers to review.
  • Interview auto-scheduler based on employers’ availability.

While we knew that our tool could help employers make effective hires, we ran into many challenges in getting employers to use it. After 12 months, we ended up retiring the virtual recruiting assistant, but that doesn’t mean it failed. There’s so much that we learned during that year. Today, that knowledge continues to inform new automation projects.

Your team might be able to learn from our challenges, the adjustments we made to overcome them, and the wins we had. Come follow along.

Help employers understand automation

Automation is a relatively new concept for employers, and many of them are skeptical of its advantages. They simply aren’t always convinced they need automated tools. When employers work with a human recruiter, they can meet to ensure the recruiter understands their needs and ask for specific recommendations. With an automated tool, there are no humans to talk to.

In our user research studies, employers mentioned that they prefer a personal touch. A quote from our research findings says:

“…employers have inherently different expectations from a human recruiter versus AI, and are less forgiving of AI’s mistakes or annoyances.”

Helping employers understand what automation does and what outcomes they can expect can help your tool gain momentum in the face of these challenges. Here’s what I recommend.

Show, don’t tell

Research showed our team that even when employers understand automation, they’re reluctant to use it because it feels impersonal. We also learned that employers may feel automation puts key decisions out of their control, which highlighted a trust issue. So our first challenges were to earn that trust, help employers understand how the automation tool worked, and effectively explain how it could benefit them. We knew from our data that automation helps employers make hires, but automation is like going to the dentist—people understand that it’s useful, but they don’t necessarily enjoy it.

Employers wanted to know how automation would change the hiring experience, but automation is a complex process that requires lots of explanation. Adding new features increased the amount of explaining we had to do, and employers complained of information overload, misunderstanding, and fatigue. They gave up on the automation because too much information made it harder to understand.

We tried several ways to tell employers how our automation tool worked. But these solutions weren’t the most effective approach. When we started showing how the tool worked with illustrations—rather than explaining it with text—we increased the adoption of the paid features and helped employers get closer to making a hire. We also saw a significant increase in jobs with interviews confirmed by job seekers.

Automation is like going to the dentist. People understand that it’s useful, but they don’t necessarily enjoy it.

Here’s an example of how we simplified the explanation by translating it from copy to illustrations.

An old webpage design displays many lines of text to ask Indeed's employer customers whether they'd like to sponsor a job post and opt-in to using the virtual recruiting assistant. A bold header begins the page, and green text highlights the benefits offered by the virtual assistant. Three different buttons at the bottom of the screen allow customers to pay a set fee, opt in at another cost, or opt out all together.
The original design relied on lots of text to ask employers if they wanted to use the virtual recruiting assistant. The text clearly explained the assistant’s benefits, but this wasn’t the best way to show employers how many more job seekers would find their posts if they opted in.
A new webpage design displays a bold header at the top, followed by a grid of four illustrations with accompanying copy. These illustrations show a mobile phone, an envelope, a map, and a building, and each represents a benefit offered by the new tool. A new header that reads "Choose your budget" clearly introduces the three buttons that follow, which allow employers to select the automation option they wish.
The solution used illustrations and designed content to catch customer attention, break up the lines of text, and more clearly lay out the benefits of opting into the virtual recruiting assistant.

The more features the virtual recruiting assistant had, the more text was required to explain those features. Instead of explaining 10 complex features up front, we showed employers what a job listing looked like before and after activating the virtual assistant, making sure to highlight the updates. The new design presented a high-level overview and showed the exact details later.

Two side-by-side images display old designs of an option-review page. Some micro illustrations highlight points on the left image, but mostly lines of text fill the screen. The right image also shows how the old design relied on many lines of text to explain benefits of the tool being offered.
The original review page design still tried to catch the employer’s eye with some illustrations, a clear layout, and buttons that allowed them to customize their experience, but it was text-heavy and lengthy.


Two side-by-side images display two stages of an automate tool sign-up process. The image on the left is an updated design of a webpage that shows customers the benefits of opting in to a virtual assistant tool. The webpage uses an illustration of a computer, bold headers, minimal lines of text, and just two buttons to help employers understand their options.
The updated design uses clearer cause-and-effect content, less text, and just one illustration to show employers how opting into the virtual assistant could benefit their search for job applicants. My team also simplified the review page and showed employers a preview of the job page.

The overview significantly increased opt-in. The job preview increased opt-in and reduced the number of job postings for which employers disabled the assistant. One downside of the overview: we saw employers adopting fewer features of the tool. We assumed the reason was a lack of explanation for why these features were necessary.

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Share data to build confidence

Employers appreciated some of the suggestions our automation tool made, and they wanted to know which updates would apply to their postings. They also wanted to understand the reasoning behind the changes we were making. For example, in one prototype we tested, we encouraged employers to display the average salary and a salary slightly higher than the average in their postings. Employers told us they appreciated learning about these salary trends and understanding why Indeed was making those suggestions.

The original design displays only text that reads, "Update job title to Accountant." On the next line, text reads, "Increase clicks to your job."
The original design didn’t aim to build trust.


The updated design displays a sample webpage of what employers will see after opting into the automated assistant tool. The job title is clearly displayed, design elements help organize the information and available options, and a bar graph displays where the employer's salary offerings fall in relation to similar jobs.
The user prototype offers more information to give employers some context.

When we tested this feature in the actual product, the number of job posts that appeared with salary information increased, and salaries were higher than the market trend. This feature alone increased the number of interviews confirmed by job seekers. And our mission is to help people get jobs, so this felt like a big success!

Let users have the last word

Indeed posts a lot of jobs. We know the market trends and which keywords job seekers are searching for. But the employers are the ones who hire. They know what candidates they want, how much they can pay a new employee, and what kinds of experience they want the new employee to have. Sometimes the suggestions made by the tool weren’t helpful. For example, one user reported an inaccurate change by the virtual recruiting assistant, which altered the job title “Class A Truck Driver” to simply “Truck Driver.” The employer needed specifically class A truck drivers. Certainly, this must have been frustrating.

Employers believe their jobs and hiring processes are unique. If they don’t think the suggestions made by a virtual assistant apply to their goal, they won’t bother to turn it on. In our case, when we allowed employers to choose which features of the virtual recruiting assistant to use, more of them activated the tool. After hearing from users, we proposed a solution to allow employers to review and turn off specific features. Here’s what that looked like:

A review page displays options of features Indeed offers when employers post a job. A bold header displays the job title and prompts employers to enable or disable options using buttons on the right of the screen.
Users enjoy having the power to customize their experience.


Accept the limits of automation, and have a recovery plan in place

Despite the many benefits of automation, we’ve learned that it can’t make every part of hiring better. For example, Indeed has the data for the market trends and can help employers understand how to use it to their advantage, but employers know their own needs best. We can help employers set realistic expectations and understand what’s required to land that ideal applicant, but we can’t make decisions for them. We can be aware that automation tools may make errors, and have a plan in place for when they do. For Indeed, this means monitoring how job listings perform, which helps us find mistakes so we can make suggestions that employers can accept or reject.

A year after delivering the virtual recruiting assistant to employers, Indeed decided to retire it and embed its features in the core employer experience instead of keeping the assistant as an add-on.

Now, our team is using what we learned to develop a new way of automating to save employers time and effort during the hiring process. Our experience with the virtual recruiting assistant taught us that it’s important to:

  • Use visuals to quickly communicate the concept without overwhelming users with too much information.
  • Suggest options while allowing users to edit.
  • Test different methods and language to explain how automation works.

Employers want our expertise but hesitate to rely on automation. Still, we know that automation offers important benefits for our users, so we keep working to develop tools that make Indeed the most efficient and effective hiring platform for employers. You might be using automation to improve your product. These insights helped our team learn more about our next project, and I hope they can help your team too.

Mikako Matsunaga headshot
Mikako MatsunagaUX Designer at Indeed
Brian Rau headshot
Brian RauUX Designer at Indeed

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