Sokanu is the career guidance counselor for the 21st century

By Michael Carney , written on October 31, 2012

From The News Desk

There’s a dramatic difference between a job worked to pay the bills, and a career which is fulfilling on a deeper level. Sadly, the majority of people never find their answer the fundamental question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Without this answer, few find true career satisfaction, and instead work in jobs that are ill-suited to their personal interests, values, strengths, and goals.

If the founders of career discovery startup Sokanu are correct, the primary reason for this reality is that most people either don’t know which career is the best match for them, or alternatively if they do know, have no idea how to achieve it. 21-year-old founder and CEO Spencer Thompson created Sokanu in partnership with several PhD career psychologists to reinvent the standard personality, aptitude, and job placement tests that have been used for decades without any appreciable impact on career satisfaction.

The resulting product, which launches into public beta today, is an algorithmic career exploration and matching engine that both suggests careers based on user-submitted identity information, and then offers anonymous details of how others already successful in the field have made their way to their current position. This latter feature is the core differentiator between Sokanyu (pronounced “So can you”) and anything else currently in the market.

Users are asked to complete their profiles with as much “career life story” information as possible. Specifically, the profiles aim to gather information on the steps taken to achieve one’s current career, including such things as education, books read, previous positions held, compensation, and the like. The idea is that as more profile information is added to the system, the tool becomes more and more useful for everyone.

“The ability to find relevant, viable, and realistic information about any possible career, and explore the potential fit with your interests and characteristics are the missing pieces between an education and a career,” says Trent Gegax, President of Sokanu investor The Gramercy Fund.

While some may be hesitant to fill out yet another online profile, Sokanu is looking to foster a similar community attitude to that on Quora, where subject matter experts volunteer their time and knowledge in exchange for the ability to tap into the expertise of others in the future. Also, the more personal career information a users offers, the better the career recommendations they receive will become.

In addition to its standalone platform, Sokanu offers a Facebook app that allows users to find career similarities within their network of friends.

Hoping to better understand its target demographic, Sokanu partnered with Harris interactive to survey the attitudes of 18- to 34-year-old job seekers. They found that 47 percent of the more than 2,000 participants know which career they would like to have but do not know how to reach it from their current position.

Additionally, 63 percent of these Gen-Y and Gen-D respondents rely primarily on their friends and family to find career information, rather than seeking out any formal guidance. Not surprisingly then was the finding that 90 percent feel that they can’t trust the information they use to make career decisions.

Thompson, who himself sits at the epicenter of Sokanu’s target demographic, started the company after noticing that he and his peers had no resources with which to decide what careers and areas of study to pursue.

“Most people can’t answer the question of who they are, let alone what they are meant to do,” he says.

The young CEO points to telling statistics released by the US Labor bureau to illustrate the need for a solution like Sokanu. These figures state that 54 percent of employees are not happy in their current role and that the average person will change jobs 10.5 times per lifetime, with three to four of these instances being career shifts.

The Vancouver-based Sokanu raised an undisclosed round of Seed financing in March of this year from a combination of US and Canadian angels. Included in this group are Gramercy Fund’s Gegax, LinkedIn senior executive Scott Roberts, and distinguished Canadian organizational career psychologist Larry Stephan.

Sokanu is entirely free to use at the moment and Thompson is committed to never offering paid job listings, despite the obvious temptation. Rather, he sees an opportunity to eventually charge premium users for deeper personality insights and also to target enterprise users such as schools and career counseling centers.

Any practice that both hasn’t changed for a half century or longer, and has been ineffective for much of that time, is begging for technological disruption. Career discovery is very much such a practice. Sokanu’s solution is exactly the type of innovation that should be well received in the marketplace.

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