How do we end up in the jobs we end up in? And why did we miss those opportunities we had set our hearts on? If most of us look back, the reality is likely to be as fraught with chance as any other aspect of our biography. Our working lives are essentially fictive constructs, born out of the fantasy and chemistry of CV and interview, the lucky break or wrong call, the age-old laws of square pegs and round holes, or, just occasionally, of “perfect fit”.
Where such randomness exists now, of course, “big data” – that amalgam of all that we and our fellow digital citizens do online, the gigabyte human traces we bequeath second by second to machines – is certain to follow.
None of us would like to think of our essential self – our talents and skills, traits and quirks, education and experience, those all-important extracurricular passions and hobbies – as being reducible to a series of data points, a set of numbers and correlations. But what if such information could help us find our perfect workplace, our ideal match?
One man trying to bring data to bear on our careers is Alistair Shepherd, an engineering graduate of Southampton University. In 2009 he won a place at Harvard Business School where he planned to develop an idea for a company based on a wave-power innovation he had created. But he was diverted by two things that his professor, Noam Wasserman, said to him. Wasserman is author of The Founder’s Dilemmas and a guru of the reasons businesses go wrong.