When Liz Wessel was a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, she received an unexpected email that would help shape her career, even if she didn’t know it at the time. The message didn’t come from a professor or advisor, though. It came from beverage giant Anheuser-Busch.
The company wanted Wessel to be a campus ambassador, a role that involved promoting its mechanical engineering openings to fellow students. “I thought it was crazy that Anheuser-Busch needed a sophomore to help them with hiring mechanical engineering students for their full time jobs,” she says. “That’s when I realized this system has to be broken if this is happening.”
Wessel is the CEO and cofounder of WayUp, an online platform connecting college students and recent graduates with potential employers. Wessel, along with cofounder and chief technology officer J.J. Fliegelman, launched the company in 2014. Today, WayUp has more than 3.5 million user profiles.
You’d be forgiven for mistaking WayUp’s New York City headquarters for a college residence hall. A quiet lounge area is furnished with a fuzzy rug, round chairs, and a beanbag for extra seating, while the conference rooms are adorned in collegiate swag from the likes of Princeton and the University of Texas. (The largest such room is named after Wessel and Fliegelman’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania).
There’s an important reason Wessel and Fliegelman decided to focus on college students. “When we looked back and reflected on why we were able to get jobs [out of college], a big part of that was the experience we had during college,” says Fliegelman.
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There’s no shortage of online services for job seekers: Indeed.com, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor help applicants search for openings, network with professional connections, and get a glimpse inside prospective workplaces. But none of these sites are tailor-made for recent graduates who may need help finding the right fit for their first gig, says the 26-year-old Wessel, a former Google employee. “We want to democratize hiring and don’t want to make it about who you know,” she says.
WayUp isn’t a social network, but the sign-up experience is similar. To join, a student or recent graduate starts by filling out a profile with personal information, work experience, hobbies, and fun facts about themselves. Wessel says WayUp’s profiles are designed to frame a wide variety of experience as relevant to hiring managers. “A lot of employers just don’t realize that a year of working part-time during the school year is very valuable experience,” says Wessel.
WayUp will then present the user with jobs that it believes match their interests and qualifications. The service does this by using machine learning algorithms to crunch data on how a member’s experience compares to that of similar users, while also taking into account the information listed on a user’s profile and the job postings a member has clicked on.
Since WayUp plugs directly into employers’ websites, students can apply for a position without having to navigate to a different page. Wessel says that means users can apply for jobs in as little as a minute. There are benefits to be had for employers, too: Since WayUp only suggests jobs to those who are qualified for a given position, hiring managers should encounter fewer unfit candidates on the platform, she says.
With a 50 person team and $27.5 million in funding, WayUp is significantly smaller and younger than the world’s top job-hunting sites. Still, its demographically-targeted approach and focus on non-traditional experience could give it an edge with younger users, who are more likely to have a wide variety of jobs over their careers. “Students are starting to define their own career identities thematically rather than along the more rigid lines that previous generations might have,” says Pulin Sanghvi, executive director of Princeton University’s Office of Career Services.
Moving forward, the WayUp team wants to find more ways to help job searchers highlight accomplishments that may not always shine on a resumé. Software developers, for example, might showcase their best work on code-sharing platform Github. Wessel’s team is working on a new profile format launching in June that will automatically pull in data like this from other parts of the web (with a member’s consent.) Eventually, WayUp plans to offer more services to help professionals excel in their careers even after they have gotten started. Says Wessel: “We like to think of it internally as having our Facebook moment, of growing up with our users.”
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