It’s essential to learn from smart and driven people and have the desire to grow by continually asking curious questions and absorbing information.
As a part of my HR Strategy Series, I’m talking to top experts in the field to teach prospects what hiring managers are actually looking for, while also supporting business leaders in their hiring and retention strategies. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Liz Wessel.
Liz Wessel is the Co-Founder and CEO of WayUp, a platform used by early-career professionals to get hired, and by employers to companies to recruit qualified, diverse early-career candidates. Founded in 2014, WayUp is a venture-backed startup based in NYC that was named by CNN as one of the 30 most innovative companies changing the world. Liz has been featured as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, named one of the “18 Coolest Women in Silicon Valley” by Business Insider, and one of New York Business Journal’s “Most Influential Women.” Liz has also been a featured speaker at TEDx, the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit, Advertising Week, TechCrunch Disrupt, SXSW, NACE, and several other notable events. Before founding WayUp, Liz worked at Google as a Product Marketing Manager in California and India.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! First, please tell us what brought you to this specific career path?
I was born and raised in New York City, then moved to Philadelphia to go to UPenn, which is where I met my co-founder JJ Fliegelman, who is WayUp’s CTO. At Penn, JJ and I bonded over our mutual frustrations over the process of looking for jobs and getting recruited by employers in college. After graduation, I ended up working at Google — first in Mountain View, and then in India. At Google, I saw from the other side how hard it is to recruit college students and recent grads because there’s so much quantity, and it’s hard to find great quality and diversity while providing a great candidate experience. Between those two experiences, and from having developed a love of entrepreneurship from various small businesses I started throughout college, JJ and I both decided to quit our jobs and start WayUp together. I was driven by the passion to create a level playing field and to give more equal opportunity to the workforce of tomorrow. Now, I have the best job in the world — I am the Co-Founder and CEO at WayUp and responsible for helping turn our vision into a reality.
Can you share the most interesting or funny story that happened to you since you started this career and what lesson you learned from that?
My co-founder JJ and I met his senior year (my junior year) through a hackathon in college. I only had taken a few coding classes at that point, so I wasn’t good enough to build a site on my own. However, I wanted to find someone at Penn who I could work with to build the first iteration of WayUp. So I “hacked” my way into the database of the hackathon, found JJ’s resume, immediately thought he’d be a great partner — and reached out. The rest is history, but it did teach me to be scrappy. Over time, “scrappiness” even became one of the company’s core values.
Can you share 5 techniques that you use to identify the talent that would be best suited for the job you want to fill?
1. Optimize your recruiting process
On average, recruiters spend 78,352 minutes on the phone per year, and scheduling and screening candidates can take up to 100 hours each week. Yet, according to an ERE report, top talent is only on the market for 10 days. That means that you need to optimize your hiring funnel to identify and recruit top talent — before your competitors do. Enhance your recruiting process by utilizing digital and phone screening to review every candidate’s application — and avoid letting your funnel build up. Consider creating a system that allows candidates who pass your basic requirements to schedule interviews right away. And for your hard-to-fill roles, be strategic about your knockout questions. By streamlining the recruiting process, you can guarantee that the best talent is surfaced, and done so promptly.
2. Fix your funnel
Diversity hiring is top of mind for many recruiters, but many still struggle to attract diverse talent. Don’t look at the top of your funnel to solve your diversity issues — look at the funnel itself. If your brand isn’t well-known amongst underrepresented minorities or other groups, take a good look at your proactive sourcing channels — are you leveraging the right platforms and visiting diversity hubs? Studies by the Social Mobility Commission also show numerous industries are failing to hire talented young people from less advantaged backgrounds because they recruit from a small pool of elite universities and hire for “culture fit.” Try broadening your definition of diversity. While recruiting candidates of different races, genders, and ethnicities is essential, it’s equally necessary to seek out candidates with “acquired diversity,” too. These are the traits you gain from experiences, such as ensuring you’re recruiting from hundreds (not dozens) of schools.
3. Adjust your qualifications for candidates
If you are recruiting students and recent grads, you need to reset your expectations when it comes to your job requirements. You should hire these individuals based on their potential, not solely based on their past work experience or specific skill set. Focus on what the actual requirements are for your role, as opposed to what you think is nice to have’s. For example, their leadership abilities, their communication skills, and how well they function on a team — don’t get deterred if they don’t match everything in the job description. If you hire the candidates with potential, they’ll grow within your organization, and begin “checking off those boxes” over time. Another example of a requirement that doesn’t get down to what you’re truly trying to look for is GPA. Close to 70 percent of all college students work while in school — and low-income working students are disproportionately Black and Hispanic. As a result, these low-income students put in more working hours than their counterparts, and are less likely to have as much time to spend in the library. This creates a socioeconomic-fueled GPA inequity, given that more hours in the library statistically correlates to a higher GPA. So instead of focusing on GPA, focus on skills or experiences.
4. Upgrade your candidate experience
Don’t lose top talent over an inefficient and impersonal candidate experience. Did you know that only about half of all companies get back to the candidates they’re not planning to interview? At WayUp, we make sure that every candidate receives a response within 24 hours — quickly upleveling the candidate experience. Another way to enhance the candidate experience is by offering flexible scheduling. Our team provides phone screens Monday through Saturday (from 8 am to 11 pm), and we’ve found that over 90% of screens scheduled on weekends or after 9 pm are booked by diverse candidates — thereby reaching more diverse, top talent. Additionally, you can boost your candidate experience through coaching. We know that 60% of candidates fail to move past the first round because of soft skills, so we provide soft-skills feedback (no matter the outcome) and give passed candidates branded materials to help prepare them for the next round.
5. Embrace transparency in your company
These younger generations of workers crave information. In fact, 1 in 3 early career candidates won’t take a job in an organization if they are uninformed about the company. Provide candidates with information about what it’s like to work for your company and insight into your company’s values through thoughtful branded content or experiences. One fantastic example of a company inviting candidates is Citi. They created an Early ID Program focused on identifying, mentoring, and hiring top diverse talent for their Summer Analyst Programs across the firm, helping students get an early view into what it’s like to work at Citi before actually becoming an intern in your Junior year.
With so much noise and competition out there, what are your top 3 ways to attract and engage the best talent in an industry when they haven’t already reached out to you?
1. Uplevel your employer brand
To attract more qualified, diverse talent, consider the perception of your brand to candidates. What does your website or your social channels say about your company? If candidates don’t have a sense of who you are as an employer, then it’s hard to have a competitive advantage over other brands. 79% of job seekers use social media in their job search, so your digital footprint needs to be representative of the culture you want to build. Create messaging and content that speaks to your values, benefits, and culture, and then share it in recognizable and relatable formats. Start engaging with Millennial and Gen Z candidates earlier, and in an authentic way.
2. Embrace diversity
90% of Black and 82% of Hispanic-American undergraduate students say working for a diversity-conscious employer is important to them. If a diverse candidate can’t see themselves culturally or physically represented in your employer branding, then these candidates likely won’t even make it to your jobs page. And even if they do, you may have unconscious bias built into your job postings or your application process. It’s critical that your job descriptions, the application process, and employer branding are not unconsciously turning off minority candidates.
3. Highlight professional development opportunities
Companies who want to hire college grads must create a work environment that supports learning and professional growth. Many people believe that all Millennials and Gen Z want to work for recognizable brands such as Google or Goldman Sachs. However, we’ve found that only one-third of Millennials care about working for a company with “a name to build my resume.” Instead, we’ve seen that Millennials care way more about attributes like personal growth, a clear path to professional development, and a strong emphasis on social impact. Whether its exposure to senior-level management, career-pathing programming, or educational stipends, this is a great way to attract young hires to your organization.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
That’s such a tough question! I care a lot about politics, equality, international affairs, and so much more. However, if I’m going to stick to the HR space, one movement I feel very strongly about is paying your interns — and we actually created an initiative you can learn more about at PayTheInterns.com — and I also wrote an OpEd about it in The Hill.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” and how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I was at Google, I learned so many valuable lessons that I still refer to now in my current role as Co-Founder and CEO of WayUp. One of those things is to be a ‘learn it all, not a know it all.’ I think it’s essential to learn from smart and driven people and have the desire to grow by continually asking curious questions and absorbing information.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private lunch with, and why?
I’d love to have a private lunch with either Michael Bloomberg or Hillary Clinton. I look up to both of them tremendously — I’ve always dreamed of being Mayor of New York City (since elementary school!). And as for Hillary, I think she has chartered a path for women in the U.S., unlike almost any other woman in our country’s history.
Thank you so much for these fantastic insights!