A Web App for Formerly Incarcerated Job Seekers

  • June - October 2018
  • User testing; UX, graphic and web design, grantwriting

Good Sheet

Good Sheet was a project incubated at Blue Ridge Labs/Robin Hood Foundation. Our team leader, an expert in Workforce and criminal justice, had decades of experience with community-based organizations (CBOs) that assisted formerly incarcerated people in re-entering the workforce. We wanted to develop an input tool that could diminish the need for CBOs, and give back control to a population that had been disenfranchised.

Goodsheet seeks to deliver:
  • a safe space for formerly incarcerated people who have faced rejection in their job search
  • job listings with employers who have been vetted as background friendly
  • an interface that prompts users to see their experiences as valuable and pertinent to their job search

Our team of four conducted roughly 40 interviews with people that ranged in age from 18 to 65. Our original assumptions centered around creating a safe space that helped people to see their experiences – in and out of prison – as accomplishments. Through interviews and testing, we found that jobs motivated people more than abstract ideas of safety and accomplishments.

Some people we interviewed also had difficulty naming their experiences as "accomplishments" without a trusted person to draw out their stories. For example, S. thought she had no accomplishments, but revealed that she was now drug-free, regained custody of her daughter, sang in the church choir and counselled others who were struggling with addiction.

These conversations sparked team debates about anticipatory tech's ability to "replace" counsellors and CBOs. We also struggled to account for wildly-divergent comfort levels with tech. Mobile was ubiquitous, and served as the sole device of access. This led us to shift the burden of populating fields from the user to the tech (and our team in the initial stages). Pre-populated buttons eased the pain of data entry, and jogged the user's memory of the good they had done.

We found that job seekers wanted to 1. showcase their skills and certificates 2. find jobs with employers amenable to hiring people with records and 3. obtain tips for interviewing and advice about disclosure.

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Good Sheet offers formerly-incarcerated people a curated list of background-friendly jobs from our employer partners. Using technology, we are seeking a reduction in the stigma associated with employment for people with criminal/arrest records and an improved self-sustainability.

It was important to our team that we provide useful and relevant information within the short period of time that we had for the Fellowship. We weren't comfortable using the purely hypothetical when the need was so great.

We collected resumes from our core group of three users and populated buttons with many of the skills and accomplishments that were common to their resumes and experience, while also allowing them to add their own. We also researched companies that were billed as background-friendly and populated our prototypes with those positions. There was a lot of discussion about what constituted a 'background-friendly employer.' Our team leader verified with employers directly that they were open to hiring returning citizens before putting them on our list.

With the development of our persona, we focused on a few partners, populating their Good Sheet with personal information, and the prototype with real jobs. We also helped them apply for those jobs. These core users were given the option to use their Good Sheet as an auxilary document with their resume; they opted to use it even though they risked disclosure if the employer visited goodsheet.org.

Employer-Facing Portal

We also explored what the employer side of the equation. Our goals were to:

1. Educate the general public about issues surrounding incarceration. This we did by creating fact sheets.

2. Educate employers about the benefits they're eligible for if they hire returning citizens. Provide step-by-step instructions to make claiming these benefits easy.

3. Provide employers with verification and more confidence in their hire. This we did by signifying that certificates and references had been uploaded to the platform.

Some Notes on Visual Representation

Standard icons used to represent concepts of "privacy" and "security" ellicited negative reactions from our users, given their history of incarceration.

When we tested the photo on the right for the home page banner, a mother said, "The image is really powerful. It reminds me of my son." A criminal justice activist said, "Why is this a young Black man? Nothing will change unless White people see this as their problem too." As a response to this feedback, we changed the banner to something more abstract and neutral (pictured left).