There aren't many 21-year-olds you should talk with for career advice. But when that 21-year-old, like Spencer Thompson, has built an elegant website that uses survey questions and data to find a career that suits you best, you might want to listen. Sokanu (pronounced "so can you," though Thompson acknowledges the name scans more "like a Japanese noodle company") contains a database of some 500 careers, with metrics on what sort of person thrives in that career. By posing a series of survey questions, Sokanu can begin matching you with your ideal career.
Today, Sokanu launches a new service called "Career Stories," about how people came to be what they are. Here, lessons on choosing a career at a time when some people question whether the very notion is obsolete.
Use Data, Not Bias
Thompson grew up in Southern Ontario, near Niagara Falls. In 2009, he asked his schoolmates what they intended to become, and the majority said they intended to study health sciences, with an eye toward pharmaceutical sales. Why? An overeager guidance counselor had sold the idea to a few students; those students told their parents, who told other parents, and a domino effect went into place. "We make decisions usually based on the bias of other people," says Thompson. He adds that he doesn’t want to replace career counselors, but offer them a tool. "We’re moving away from the traditional psychometric-based assessment. We said, can we built this using math and statistics?"
Be Open to Unlikely Ideas
After a few minutes on the site, Sokanu thought I was well suited to being a news reporter or journalist—but it also noted that I had traits in common with naval architects and explosives workers. (The site failed to ask me if I was afraid of explosives, though; I am.) "There’s no bias in the system at all. You have exactly the same chance at any point of having janitor or plumber come up as doctor or lawyer," says Thompson. (That said, future premium versions of the site may allow you to set clear parameters, such as the ability to show careers that have a 95% match that make six-figure salaries.) He sometimes has people who already have careers use the site. Recently, a gold appraiser answered a series of questions, and her top two career choices came up as jeweler and gem appraiser. "She freaked out," says Thompson. "Her character matches very well with what she’s doing."
Think in Terms of "Career Bands"
Is the idea of the career dead? We’ve written about what we call Generation Flux, a generation that will thrive about thinking flexibly about their skill sets and jobs they may be suited to. "We’re working towards something we call ‘career bands,’" says Thompson of his site, "a set of careers that exist within the same cluster or similar genetic makeup that you might move between over a period of 20 to 30 years." Thompson says that he doesn’t think the notion of a career will go away, but that the duration of careers is growing shorter; he cites data saying that people now have around 11 jobs in a lifetime, with four of those representing complete career switches.
Sokanu lets users see projected growth for any given career between now and 2020; you can list the fastest-growing careers, for instance. Smart decisions can involve considering as much what the market will be calling for as what your own aspirations may be. Thompson cites the so-called skills gap, or the irony that while many people are struggling to find jobs, many jobs are struggling to find people—there are plenty of positions that need filling, but there’s a shortage of qualified workers.
Thompson is likewise thinking long-term; he hopes that Sokanu won’t be a one-stop visit for people mulling their career choices, but a "management platform through an entire career" that people visit again and again. "The idea is maybe similar to Mint or eHarmony, where a platform helps you manage an aspect of your life." By expanding into other career-related questions—not only, "What am I meant to be?" but also "What is it like to be that?" "Who are some people who currently do that?" and "How do I become that?"—Thompson thinks Sokanu can be a site people regularly visit throughout the (sometimes very long) process of finding the perfect job.
[Image: Flickr user USMC]