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Personality-test app suggests career choices

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No idea what sort of job might suit you? A Middle River software company that fuses applications and psychology has a personality test for that — one built around images rather than questions.

Compass Lite, which went public last week and launched more officially on Monday, is tech firm Woofound's twist on the personality assessments taken by hordes of students, job candidates and online surfers.

Woofound's app has participants rate 84 photos — of everything from artwork to a camping tent — as either "me" or "not me." Then it spits out a personality type, such as "planner/inventor," along with career recommendations and information about those job possibilities. It's an outgrowth of an app Woofound is piloting with college career centers.

"Our tool is mostly about self-awareness," said Dan Sines, Woofound's CEO and co-founder. "The traditional personality assessments are the closest thing we have to competition, like the Myers-Briggs and the Holland, but we really see this as an improvement on those systems for the Millennial audience looking for something that's faster, more fun."

The 16-employee Woofound is part of the Web-personalization movement, an effort to target content, services and products directly to individual consumers by learning more about them. Woofound's first app, Explore, uses the same "me or not me" image rating system to make customized suggestions about things to do locally.

Olfa Nasraoui, an associate professor at the University of Louisville whose research looks at e-commerce data-mining, said it's less tricky to make career suggestions based on personality type than to determine purchasing preferences. She can't speak to Woofound's app specifically, but in general, "these things are scientifically valid."

Though personality tests are criticized sometimes for offering up a warped or limited picture of the taker, their enduring popularity speaks to demand — both for figuring out what career to pursue and which applicants to hire.

Woofound launched Compass Lite as a social-media tool for students and job-seekers — you have to sign in to Facebook to use it — but Sines says the company is hearing from human-resources officials too.

"We've had a number of employers already contact us about using this for HR purposes — to assemble office teams as well as hiring," he said.

Woofound started down the path of career guidance with Compass, an application it's developing for colleges. The company has been beta-testing it at Towson University for months and will begin doing so at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County within weeks.

Compass uses the same test-via-images model as its social-media spinoff but makes more detailed recommendations, pointing to courses and clubs at the student's college that could help with each of the suggested careers.

"It's a really exciting idea," said Caroline Baker, UMBC's assistant vice president for careers and corporate partnerships.

Lorie Logan-Bennett, director of Towson University's Career Center, said focus-group testing with students last fall produced "a lot of positive feedback." The tool, which takes a few minutes to complete on average, is faster than the old-school questionnaires, and more engaging to boot, she said.

Woofound is doing a broader beta test with Towson students this spring. If the validity and reliability testing goes as well as the early results, Logan-Bennett said, "then I think it's a product we'd definitely like to bring to our students."

She doesn't know of any other career-focused personality test that's visual. What Towson has used in the past are tests of the traditional sort — takers answer written questions.

"That question-answer format can be a little boring, for lack of a better word," Logan-Bennett said. "The way this [Compass] product is delivered can help to negate some of those reasons why students may not be doing it off the bat."

The Compass Lite app, linked as it is to Facebook accounts, would be a font of information for marketers, said Nasraoui, the data-mining expert. Companies glean all sorts of details about online consumers through buying patterns and Web-surfing behavior, but it's always easier when people freely offer up their personal preferences.

"I wouldn't be surprised at all if they sell it," she said of the Woofound personality data. "In fact, I'd be surprised if they don't sell it."

Sines said his company plans to aggregate data in a "nonidentifiable" fashion. He said Woofound's strategy for identifiable personality information is to share with third parties — such as daily deal sites wanting to better customize emails to subscribers — only if users opt in.

About 1,000 people have taken the Compass Lite test since the soft launch last week. Though students are the primary target, Sines said Woofound is noticing another demographic eager to try it — people whose careers paths have hit an unexpected roadblock.

"We're getting a lot of traction with the unemployed," he said.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jsmithhopkins

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