Employment status and occupation selection – how hard is it to get right?

April 21, 2017 8:39 am

Employment status and occupation selection – how hard is it to get right?



How do you describe what you do for a living?

Digital marketing executive? Ecommerce manager? UX/UI Designer? User researcher? Customer insight manager? User experience lead?

Does this change depending on who you’re talking to? Chances are, you have a different answer to this question whether you’re networking at a conference, catching up with old friends, or making small talk with your great aunt at a cousin’s wedding.

Now think about the last time you bought insurance online. You were most likely asked for your occupation, or at least employment status as part of the process. This is usually done by choosing from a dropdown list, or typing in your job title, and selecting from the results this generates. What did you tell the insurance company you do for a living?

If you’re an ostler, you will have been able to confidently and truthfully answer this question. But I doubt anyone reading this is a man employed to look after the horses of people staying at an inn.

If your job is to put up window blinds, you can choose from three job titles: Blind Assembler, Blind Fitter, or Blind Installer. Then you have the challenge of guessing which one will give you the cheapest insurance quote.

Realistically, your job title might include words such as ‘digital’, ‘user’, ‘insight’, or ‘online’, to name a few. To save you time in your next application, don’t bother trying any of these, because unlike ‘Pig man’, they won’t generate any results. (NB. I still don’t know what a ‘Pig man’ is. Google it if you like, but you might have nightmares.)

So why is the list so restrictive?

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) provides the full list of occupations to insurers. This list ensures that premiums can be correctly rated and underwritten. The insurers themselves have set rates depending on occupation, based on risk levels which are calculated on data, partly collected over time from policy holders with matching occupations. This is why you cannot simply type in your actual job title, submitting whatever you want.

If you have experienced a free text field for your occupation in the past, you may have received a phone call later on, asking you to clarify your job title, essentially choosing the best fit from the ABI list, as read to you by the customer service agent on the phone. Therefore, considering the extra time and money this takes, it’s understandable that users are normally required to select from the list during their online quote.

What are companies doing to help?

Last year, one insurance company broke the trend by adding a selection of digital professions to their accepted list of occupations.

Adrian Flux added job titles such as ‘Email Marketer’, ‘SEO consultant’ and ‘App Developer’ to help ensure those of us working in the digital professions can receive more accurate insurance quotes.

To start with, the premiums will be based on similar professions, already recognised by the ABI, but over time, data will build up, allowing Adrian Flux to provide more tailored quotes to the new professions.

However, at present, hopeful bloggers, content writers and drone operators will have to call Flux, or request a call back, because despite recognising the impact the internet has had on everything, online quotes are not available on the site at the moment.

Other insurers and comparison sites are taking smaller steps to help users select the best match for them from the ABI list available, by guiding the user through this part of the form.

Compare the Market invites users to start typing the first three letters of their job title, before a dropdown appears with matching options. In the example below, the term ‘digital’ has generated results which don’t contain the word ‘digital’ but are related semantically. This is a smart way to help users move forwards with a relevant similar job title when their own is not available.

Go Compare provides a long tooltip of information when the user approaches the questions about their occupation. This includes four bullet points of suggestions for how to adapt their job title to have a better chance of finding something relevant. Crucially, it reminds users to check for their job title again on their insurers website, else potentially face admin charges if they need to change it later.

Employment Status

Even without asking users for a specific job title, providers can fall down when it comes to gathering the user’s employment status.

We have seen first-hand the impact that having ambiguous options for this field can have. For example, asking a user whether their job is ‘Office-based’ or ‘Non-office-based’ can cause confusion, or even offence, for users who feel that they do not neatly fit into either one of these options.

For instance, a Teacher or Nurse probably wouldn’t describe their workplace as an office, but by merely separating out the two types of job, it is implied one may be more respected than the other, and therefore may have an effect on the user’s application.

Although companies differ slightly in the options they allow users to select, most are generally broken down into variations of at least ‘Full-time employed’, ‘Part-time employed’, ‘Self-employed’, ‘Unemployed’, ‘Student’ and ‘Retired’. Whilst it may now be time to start deviating away from the status-quo for listing job titles, when it comes to employment status, it’s safer to stick with these easy to understand, definitive terms for employment status.

How can the user experience be improved now?

Ideally, it won’t be long until the ABI overhaul the accepted occupation list to reflect modern life, or until other insurers follow the example set by Adrian Flux and find their own way to include digital careers and other occupations which have come about since the demand for carphone fitters went into decline.

In the meantime, the experience could be optimised in several ways, to help users find the next best match for them. These learnings are not only relevant to insurers, but to any companies asking users for information on their employment.

To sum up, some ideas are:

  • Only ever ask for information that is necessary

In some cases, details about the user’s employment status, job title, and industry will need to be ascertained to generate an accurate insurance quote. However, this is not always the case. So if possible, consider which details are really necessary. If users are stumped by finding their non-existent job title, adding a second layer such as industry, could be the catalyst for leaving the site and trying another.

  • Provide guidance on ways the user can adapt their search if they can’t find an exact match

Like the example from Go Compare, some suggestions could be to avoid abbreviations and consider other ways in which their job could be described.

  • Tag related job titles with words which are not included in the ABI list

As seen in the example from Compare the Market, go one step further than telling the user to search for similar terms, and present these similar terms to the user upfront.

  • Allow the user to access the full list of occupations available for them to select

Part of the frustration of trying to find an occupation is typing every conceivable variation hoping for one of them to match. Making the entire list visible allows the user to check by scanning instead, which some may prefer to typing. Choosing from the list should not be the only way to select an occupation however, as the amount of occupations available would make it a time-consuming and hard to follow method.

  • Ensure that employment status options are familiar and unambiguous

Unless you have evidence that your target audience would benefit from more tailored employment status options, stick to terms which are clear to understand and not likely to overlap.

Insurance companies, and especially comparison sites, now have some of the easiest, and sometimes delightful, form-filling experiences online. It’s now time for the industry itself to catch up and allow customers to enter their information as accurately as they should be able to. In the meantime, there are lots of ways that developers can make the experience less stressful for everyone; UX Practitioners and Chimney Sweeps alike.