Case study: Prospectus

Redefining the way people search for jobs

Project duration
6 months
Research & strategy
Information Architecture
UX design
UI design
Development & Technical Integration
Jobtrain API
Zurb Foundation

After a lengthy pitching process that really tested our ‘selling ourselves’ ability, (what can we say, we’re modest!) we got the chance to work on an exciting and ultimately game-changing project for 3rd sector recruitment agency, Prospectus. We challenged, we questioned, we debated, we conceptualised. We came up with ideas, we threw them out. We reviewed, we refined, we tweaked. In the end we revolutionised the way job seekers and recruiters experience Prospectus and their digital recruitment services.

Getting to know Prospectus


SM “So let’s start chatting about the Prospectus project, who they are and what their problem was. Why did they need us? What did they want us to do for them?”

DM “Well, Prospectus are a recruitment company, but what makes them stand out from others is that they have a strong set of values. They recruit for the 3rd sector, so charities and not-for-profits. You, know Citizen's Advice Bureau, Fairtrade, Teach First and the like - actually quite a wide field. And like the sector they work for, they aim to foster a sense of fairness and equality within the company. So there’s no commission. Everybody instead works as a team and aims to create genuine partnerships with their clients and jobseekers.”

“They aim to to get away from their typical image of a recruitment agency… you know, they’re just GOOD”

DM “But that wasn’t being reflected in their digital offering. Their site was confusing with an unclear navigation and no easy, upfront way for people to search for jobs. People really like the Prospectus recruitment process, it’s been described as a pleasure for both job seekers and recruiters, but the site just didn’t live up to that.”

The old Prospectus site

SM “So, the first thing we did was a whole load of research into why and how people use the site, both internally with the staff and externally with job seekers and clients.”

Getting stuck in

Every project Pretty embarks on requires a different approach - and we like working in a tailored way, whatever the scope of the client’s needs. To create an environment that allows for a tailored solution, there has to be a clear vision from the start.

“In-depth research was particularly crucial on this project as we were new to the recruitment sector.”

SM “I really enjoy getting my teeth stuck into some in-depth research. For this project in particular it was vital. We’d never done anything in the recruitment sector before, so we had to get up to speed pretty fast. We got the chance to look at the statistics and analytics of the old site in depth, and really get a grip on who the audience actually are. Then we looked competitors, what was good and bad about them and finally, we talked to users, employees and heads of department.”

  • prospectus-research
  • prospectus-research
Research workshops and discussions

DM “Our discussions with Prospectus and their users in particular were really illuminating. They revealed that the organisation is multi-faceted, with four major departments each dealing with a different subset of the company’s audience. We knew that there were two core audiences; recruiters and jobseekers. But within each of these there were sub-groups based on the different Prospectus departments.”

The internal divide

SM “This is where it got confusing for the user. The existing site navigation demanded that they search for a job within a specific department, with little information on what each department did, what jobs they handled or why a user should place themselves within a certain department. To fully get an understanding of what this all meant, we had to understand the internal workings and department split at Prospectus.”

The departmental split


This department supplies candidates working at the coalface, for example nurses and care workers.

Office & Professional

This department supplies candidates in largely desk-based roles for the not-for-profit sector, such as administration, finance and research, with salaries up to £40k per annum. This department provides the most candidates within Prospectus.

Executive Search & Selection

The Executive Search & Selection department works a bit differently. They supply candidates for more senior roles, upwards of £40k per annum and right through to CEO positions within charities. They offer a more bespoke service to both candidates and clients, who want to ensure that the job roles they seek, or the candidates supplied for consideration, are high-calibre.

Recruitment Advertising & Design

This department is solely focused on offering design and advertising to Prospectus’ clients - the recruiters and employers. Projects vary in size - from job adverts and candidate packs to full recruitment campaigns.

Putting the user first

DM “So, with all the research laid out in front of us, we could really begin to work through the user experience concepts. This is where we really get to put our brains in gear!”

SM “We began by drawing up personas and user stories, another favourite step for me as we get to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.”

DM “This is where we work out who our users are and what each type wants to do on the website.”

SM “Yep, we did it for the candidates first and then the same for the recruiters. And then again for other types of users, such as third parties and the like.”

  • prospectus-users
  • prospectus-users
Developing user stories

SM The structure we use for writing our user stories goes something like this:

As a (user’s role) I want (goal/desired outcome) [so that (benefit)]

To put this in context, here are a couple of the user stories we wrote for Prospectus:

  • As a jobseeker, I want to search for a job
  • As a jobseeker, I want to contact someone about my job search
  • As a recruiter, I want to see what services Prospectus offer

DM “User stories were so helpful at this stage. We could work out the different things users wanted to do, and prioritise them in order of how much they’d want to do them. Which gives us a clear focus for the next stage of work where we start to conceptualise the user journeys and wireframes through the site.”

An honest discussion

We often find that a website project is the first time a company has to align all their separate communication and marketing needs - and that poses challenging discussions.

DM “We delivered a variety of concepts and wireframes to the heads of department during the second phase of the project, which allowed them to discuss their individual department needs. We looked at a variety of user experience concepts:

Candidate first

DM Whilst we were chatting with the CEO of Prospectus about the organisation, something he said stuck with us:

"The more jobs you have (on your website), the more jobs you'll get."

DM This led us to develop an approach which put the candidate first, assuming that clients would work harder to find the information they need. We proposed that the site effectively become a large jobs board, with available vacancies being the focus.

  • prospectus-wireframe

Even split

DM Another approach we presented, dealt with the two main audiences equally, effectively splitting the homepage in two. This would give clear calls to action for both user groups, and would lead them intuitively to where they want to be.

  • prospectus-wireframe

Departmental split

SM As the basis of the organisation is founded on the split between departments, we also looked at presenting the site as Prospectus is set up, with each department effectively having its own homepage. This route meant that the different departments would have to be clearly explained to the user, allowing them to make a clear and easy choice.

  • prospectus-wireframe

SM "These concepts certainly provoked some lively discussion! We had all heads of department in one room and although there were strong opinions, we pretty quickly came to an agreed approach that we would take forward."

DM “These honest discussions can be tough! But, ultimately lead to a voyage of discovery for the company, buy in as a team and as result a product that satisfies the client and those who will be reliant on the site on a daily basis. So those tough chats have to happen, are really worthwhile.”

A better way of searching

DM “The existing site expected a candidate to search for a job based on the assumption that they knew which Prospectus department dealt with the types of jobs they wanted to apply for.”

SM “What came out of the user research in phase was that the candidates didn’t necessarily know, or need to know, the difference - it was all a bit confusing. This meant we needed to find a new approach to searching the site, navigating a candidate to the right roles and helping companies find the right recruitment solutions.”

DM “So we needed a win win for all users and also all the departments, really”

SM “Exactly. And the idea that resonated with the client most, was that of presenting the site like a reception desk, with a friendly receptionist who could guide you to your destination. Talking directly to the user through copy and clear questions added that much needed human element as well as bringing in a well-know symbol of helpfulness.”

“Talking directly to the user… added that much needed human element.”

DM “This is where what we've called guided search comes in - asking the user some questions at the start of their journey and at every stage there after. The questions start with ‘who are you and what are you looking for?’ Simple, clear and easy to answer.”

SM “With the right options presented to them”

Fitting in with existing tech

AJ "When reviewing the tech requirements with any client essentially we need to understand their current systems and processes. We also need to get to grips with their data needs and processes. We started by deciding what technology we would use. With a new project there are choices ranging from the modern darlings of node.js, python or ruby, or opt for old favourites like .NET or even PHP. In the end we chose .NET because their team was familiar with Microsoft technologies."

"When reviewing the tech requirements with any client essentially we need to understand their current systems and processes.”

TS "Then we picked a Content Management System built with that framework. We went with Umbraco as it's been around long enough that it’s stable, well documented, and open source - all things we’d look for when choosing a framework or system."

SM "Not only was it easy to customise by the development team, it was also easy to work with as a user - so adding content was quite intuitive and Prospectus’ team could pick it up and go with it too. It gave us the freedom to build and customise to the brief."

TS "And, to ensure the site was responsive, so a candidate could search for jobs onsite whilst commuting, or on a device that wasn’t linked to their existing employer, we used the Foundation framework which also fully integrated with their existing systems."

Fluid processes

“Their old system had convoluted way of sending data from internal processes - from website to their internal system and back again - we vastly improved it during this project.”

AJ "From a tech point of view one of the things I wanted to achieve was to make their processes more fluid by cutting out any middle men. Their old system had a convoluted way of sending data from internal processes - from website to their internal system and back again - we vastly improved it during this project."

TS "For every minute you save sending and receiving data over a period of month you save money. It’s much more efficient now, saving Prospectus time and money. Now there is a direct connection between their system and the website. The previous system required them to jump through hoops to go from one format to another and we streamlined that process."

AJ "Absolutely. It was also a consideration fairly early on in the project whether to store job and candidate data separately or as Umbraco data types. In the end we chose to keep that separate from other content, to give us us more flexibility for future changes."

"From a tech point of view one of the things I wanted to achieve was to make their processes more fluid by cutting out any middle men."

DM "Which was important, because Prospectus had indicated that there would likely be partnerships with third party aggregators and providers of job data. We wanted to make any future integrations with third parties as painless as possible."

AJ "Exactly. Ordinarily you build a system to do what it's supposed to do right now, and not worry about the future, just because you think they might need it down the line. There are two software development principles that go: “You Ain't Gonna Need It” (YAGNI) and "Keep It Simple, Stupid" (KISS). They are meant to keep the project on track and ensure you don’t waste time building things that won’t be used anyway, but it's always worth at least thinking about certain possibilities in advance and planning accordingly so that you can minimise problems later. In this case, keeping it separate allowed us to build the job search and candidate system using a Service Orientated Architecture (SOA) approach so that the data and business logic wasn't too tightly coupled to Umbraco, and is the first step in providing a public API at a later date."

Optimising & testing

Generally with any CMS system, out the box it’s fine, but when looking at the hits Prospectus were getting to their existing site we decided to optimise Umbraco, the CMS we chose, so it doesn’t fall over!

AJ "We had to a fair bit of optimisation in terms of the CMS. This has to be done up front along with a whole bunch of logging so if things go wrong we can identify at what layer the problem and issues occurred. Which is why testing was key too… The point to mention here is that because the site was so crucial to the business functioning - it had to work first time and the testing period identified issues we needed to fix before handover."

SM "And testing isn’t always about tech bugs…"

AJ "Right. Sometimes testing highlights issues with workflow, sometimes with usability - with the best will in the world, you don’t pick some issues up until people start using it and we were responsive to those. We evaluated which were real problems and where we needed to fix something. But, sometimes it was just the user using it in an unexpected way (like labelling for example) - so you just make it clearer and refine."

“When our site when live, it worked and people were applying for jobs and not hitting any snaggy issues. This was partly thanks to our coding and partly the testing, processes and getting all that sorted before it went live.”

SM "Prospectus were impressed by the fact that there were no problems when they switched over. When our site when live, it worked and people were applying for jobs and not hitting any snaggy issues. This was partly thanks to our coding and partly the testing, processes and getting all that sorted before it went live."

The outcome

We managed to build a site that Prospectus are really pleased with. But mostly, it’s one that works better for the people who use it. And we know it just works because we’ve had SO much good feedback!

Visit the new Prospectus site

"Check out #trusteesweek supporter @prospect_us' cool new website - new homepage, think pieces & much more"


"So proud to show off our new website @prospect_us Well done to the team involved! #checkitout"


"Thanks to @prettystudio for a fantastic new #website - great feedback from clients and candidates!"