PepPrep

CSE 440 Staff
6 min readDec 5, 2023

Prepare for tech interviews with confidence

Lauren Krieger, Micah Chang, and Brigit Parrish

CSE 440 Section AA Au23

https://www.dreamstime.com/job-interview-cartoon-business-people-character-isolated-illustration-white-background-image-young-man-hr-officer-image113251887

Problem and Solution Overview

Is anyone ever ready for the interview season? PepPrep aims to guide people through tech interview preparation using gamification.

The background: lots of people feel anxious around the job hunt process. Some, more than others — this is known as generalized or social anxiety. If the job hunt is stressful for people without anxiety, the job hunt is even worse for people with. Anxiety symptoms can get in the way of the job hunt process, such as preventing people from performing well in an interview, and can be very demotivating. This may lead to people with anxiety having a difficult time landing a satisfying job.

We recognize that anxiety is a complex mental illness with lots of factors and causes, and no app can solve everything. We (team LiMBic — Lauren, Micah, and Brigit) decided to focus our solution on just job hunts in the technology industry, as it is personal to us, and more specifically on preparing for different types of interviews — both technical and behavioral/general, as well as staying motivated to practice. Our solution is a desktop/web app, in which users have access to video practice rooms, and a selection of common interview questions. Users earn badges through practice, and other users can join in on the fun as well through simple social media capabilities.

Let’s take a look at the journey our project took so far:

Design Research Goals, Stakeholders, and Participants

To research what the hardest part of the job hunt process was for people, anxiety or not, we used voluntary surveys and interviews. The survey included questions such as a participants’ major, year of study, whether they had anxiety, number of applications they sent out, and how they felt the job hunt process was going so far. Surveys were chosen because they were a quick way to gather information about a lot of people. The interview went in depth into a participant’s experience with the job hunt process, and told us about things that we weren’t able to uncover in the survey. We chose interview participants based on those who expressed interest after taking the survey.

The primary stakeholders are individuals participating in the tech job hunt who have anxiety or face nervousness. The secondary stakeholders are potential companies that are hiring, since our research can help them understand the obstacles in tech that applicants face. Finally, our tertiary stakeholders are recruiters and mental health counselors that interact with tech job applicants.

Design Research Results and Themes

In total, we had 19 survey participants and 2 interview participants. We struggled with gathering participants for both the survey and the interview, due to the limited audience of our problem.

86.8% of participants reported having negative feelings about the job hunt process overall. The below graphic shows what step of the job hunt participants struggled with most, which was the main question of our research.

In our interviews, we spoke with two computer science students at the Allen School. Jenner (pseudonyms given), a 4th-year student diagnosed with anxiety. She was concerned about her lack of tech internship experience, which intensifies her anxiety during the job application process. On the other hand, Rory, a 3rd-year student without an anxiety diagnosis, faced nervousness around technical interviews. Both participants highlighted the difficulties in the job application and interview process, underscoring the need for support, motivation and preparation for technical interviews.

Here are the themes discovered throughout the research process:

Interview Anxiety

Most reported that the technical interview was “severely anxiety-inducing”. Despite being prepared for the interview, many participants claim to forget the tools they know when solving technical questions and freeze on the spot. To a lesser extent participants felt anxiety around the online assessment and behavioral interview, with some commonly cited reasons for these portions being difficulty navigating social situations, overthinking answers, and doubting one’s own abilities. Another contributing factor to the anxiety is that interviews are often hard to land and have high stakes, especially in this economy. We chose to combat this by making a prep tool that can mimic this high stakes environment, but without the consequences of failure.

Fear of the Unknown

For some, applying to a tech job as an undergraduate would be their first tech job, and thus, they have little experience. The job applicant pool for tech jobs is highly competitive with a diverse group of people with different experiences. Although an internship is where people gain experience, many require knowing programming languages, having worked on a coding project, or having worked in research relating to computer science. There’s a first time for everything — but for many, the first time is anxiety-inducing! Thus, one area for further research and design is addressing the job hunt process and perhaps detailing exactly what the process is like for those who have never gone through it before, or how to build a resume that will stand out with participants’ work.

Learned Helplessness

The technology application process is arduous and draining, and many anticipate rejection so they are discouraged from applying in the first place. High competition (and to a lesser extent impostor syndrome) deters many people from applying because they assume other candidates will be better than them. This can cause a lack of motivation in individuals with anxiety or nervousness to keep applying and putting themselves out there which can potentially lead to landing an offer. As everyone is different, our solution provides two techniques to increase motivation: PepPrep utilizes gamification techniques to encourage users to continue practicing, and makes use of community involvement to lessen the feeling of isolation and to create transparency of rejection.

Proposed Design

The proposed design for the PepPrep app, showing (in order from left to right) the User Profile, interview scheduling, message board, practice room, and question banks.

Knowing that people with anxiety struggled most with the interview, we aimed to tackle that. Since we have a limited ability to target the official interview itself, as interview platforms and tools are largely determined by the companies, who even today struggle on a unified solution, we decided to target the next best thing. As the saying goes, it pays to be prepared; we focus on interview preparation, covering both technical and behavioral/general interviews, with prep tools such as AI-powered (or some other technology-driven) interview practice rooms and pre-generated question banks. We also added a management system for keeping track of scheduled interviews, so that it was all in one place. The storyboard below shows many of these features, and how they might help someone.

In addition, our research, particularly in Jenner’s interview, uncovered that people also struggled with motivation, so we decided to target that as well. If acing the interview wasn’t enough motivation, now badges awarded for completing tasks (depicted in the below storyboard) such as practicing interviews and filling out questions come in as an added incentive. This is a gamification mechanic that takes stress off the singular goal of interview prep and transforms it into an “achievement hunter” type game.

Finally, we wanted to add a community aspect to the platform. According to most mental health experts, having a strong social network and connecting with others leads to better outcomes in mental health management and recovery. Users will have the ability to add friends so they can cheer each other on in the interview process. Users will also be able to ask public questions and crowdsource interview help, as well as general “for fun” threads. Moderation of the board is a concern, but we believe that this is a worthwhile tradeoff for the ability to connect, commiserate, and hopefully celebrate with others.

There’s a lot of moving parts, and lots of promises to fulfill. However, because anxiety in the tech job hunt is such a prevalent issue, we think it’s a worthwhile and important project to work on. We hope you’re excited to see the final product.

Thanks for reading!

Team LiMBic

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CSE 440 Staff

University of Washington Computer Science, Intro to Human Computer Interaction