HRTech Cube Interview with CEO and co-founder, WayUp – Liz Wessel


Liz Wessel from WayUp discusses the role of digitization and technology in enhancing the talent acquisition processes for early-career professionals.

1. Tell us about your role in WayUp as CEO?
I am the co-founder and CEO at WayUp and responsible for forwarding our vision: to help top, diverse early career candidates get hired by partnering with great employers. We offer flexible solutions to help employers source and screen for their roles–all with a focus on achieving diversity goals, providing actionable insights throughout the process, and giving all candidates an exceptional experience.

My responsibilities tend to fall into four main components: hiring across the organization, staying up to date on industry trends and innovations, high-level strategy for all business functions, and fundraising. What I enjoy most about my job is working with and (learning from!) my team members. We’re tackling such a huge problem and learning new things every day — and it’s been amazing getting to collaborate with such passionate, creative, and intelligent people.

2. Can you tell us about your journey into this market?
I was born and raised in New York City and then moved to Philadelphia to go to UPenn, where I met my co-founder JJ Fliegelman, 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 worked 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. Nearly a decade later, I couldn’t be prouder of how we’ve completely shaken up campus recruitment — for the better.

3. How do you think technology is changing the HR industry?
As a tech startup, we’ve seen firsthand how technology can transform the HR industry — especially when it comes to hiring. For example, thanks to our platform, we’ve been able to help hundreds of companies fill their talent pipeline with qualified candidates, exceed diversity goals, and increase their efficiency throughout the recruitment funnel.

When we launched in 2014, we became a pioneer in virtual campus recruitment, and have since been leading the way to change how companies hire diverse talent in a virtual world.

From having a diversity sourcing tool to an HR analytics dashboard that tracks how diverse candidates make it through a company’s hiring process — we are quite literally built to help increase diverse candidates at companies across the country, virtually.

These tech advances have had a massive impact on HR, and we hope part of that impact will be closing the diversity gap and ensuring that every student and recent grad gets an equal opportunity to land their dream career.

4. What do you think is the significance of finding the right job after college?
Your first job after college can set the groundwork for your future, especially if you’re curious and driven. As an Associate Product Marketing Manager at Google, I learned so many valuable lessons that I still refer to now in my current role as CEO of WayUp.

While college students and recent graduates shouldn’t be too concerned with their first job out of college, given that career paths are more like jungle gyms than ladders (and people pivot careers all the time!), I would say that your first job out of college should be crucial in teaching you what you do and don’t like doing. It’s also a huge bonus if you get mentors out of it. For employers, hiring college grads for internships and entry-level roles can teach you a lot about how to improve your company and benefit your company culture.

5. What role does digitization play in an employer’s ability to reach top talent?
Digitization helps increase efficiency, streamline processes, and increase collaboration among teams, but — most importantly — it can help you reach even more diverse candidates.

In the campus recruiting world, for example, digitization means you don’t need to be so strict on a “core school” mentality — try recruiting from any school and focusing more on candidate qualifications vs. what university they attend. After all, you don’t need to travel there!

6. How is diversity hiring impacting employers and candidates?
Companies around the country are getting more serious about diversity hiring. We’re seeing it first-hand with an influx of clients in 2020 — a good sign that companies are actually allocating real budgets to solving this issue.

At WayUp, we’ve spent over six years helping companies recruit diverse early-career talent, and we do this for four main reasons: (1) because it’s the right thing to do, (2) because it’s better for our users, (3) because more diverse companies perform better, and (4) because employers who want to bring diversity into their companies look at the early-career talent pipeline as the most efficient way to do so.

Still, today’s job requirements have huge bias issues, and I think companies who genuinely care about diversity hiring will change their hiring processes and requirements to recruit more diverse candidates in the future.

7. In what way can firms increase their efficiency throughout the recruitment funnel?
We know that efficiency is a top priority for hiring teams, and we show our clients how automation works for them while keeping the process human first. One major challenge we often hear about from clients is the applicant black hole, and we know the key to increasing efficiency is not to let your recruitment funnel build up. We help clients solve the “ATS black hole” problem without requiring recruiters to spend all their time reviewing resumes and phone screening candidates.

So I guess my answer is: look for where in your funnel your team is spending the most time, and if it’s not at the bottom of the funnel, then consider partnering with a vendor like WayUp.

8. We recently covered the news about WayUp’s partnership with Brazen. Can you tell us more?
Yes! We’re so excited to be partnering with Brazen to connect recruiters and candidates in real-time. Thanks to our partnership, employers who use Brazen can now expand their reach to drive virtual event attendance from diverse and qualified students across nearly every campus in the country by leveraging WayUp’s user base. Our 5.7M users span across 7.2k campuses and are highly diverse (71% are Black, Hispanic, Non-Binary, or Female). We’ve already heard such great feedback about our partnership from clients and partners, and we’re really looking forward to a successful collaboration with Brazen.

9. How does WayUp feel about automation and AI?
While leveraging AI to help screen candidates may seem like an easy win from an efficiency standpoint, it can often negatively affect your goals, especially as they pertain to D+I. The trick is using automation to work for you rather than against you. Examples of useful automation include tech-enabled interview scheduling through calendar applications and automatic responses to unqualified applicants. What’s an example of a process that shouldn’t be automated? Interviews.

For example, in one of our surveys, we found that only 4% of our respondents said they were “very comfortable” with AI being the sole evaluator of whether they passed an interview round. Plus, over 85% of candidates self-report that they “hate” pre-recorded one-way interviews and companies often see drop-offs between 30-70% from requiring it.

This goes to show that too much automation can be detrimental to candidate experience and even your hiring goals. This is why, at WayUp, we always embrace a high-tech AND high-touch process to foster a positive, personal, and fair candidate experience.

10. What are some major developments you are planning at WayUp?
We are completely focused on helping our users find their dream jobs and helping employers build their dream teams — which includes building a more diverse workforce. Since launching in 2014, WayUp has become the leading platform for millions of students and recent graduates. At present, our business model is US-only. Over the next 24 months, we plan to expand internationally. By scaling abroad, we will exponentially help more early-career candidates, employers, and collectively help close the diversity gap.

11. Can you tell us about your leadership team and how it supports you?
My favorite part of my job is working with my team members and continually learning from them. Everyone is so passionate, creative, and smart, and together, we’ve successfully shaken up the recruiting industry and helped so many of our incredible clients and users.

The leadership team at WayUp specifically is smart, creative, scrappy, and hard-working, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without them. I am endlessly grateful for their support and dedication and couldn’t ask for a better team to help lead WayUp into the future.

12. Which movie inspires you the most?
I’m a sucker for movies based on real stories and real people — so films like Schindler’s List and Harriet really inspire me. After I finish a movie, I often find myself going down a rabbit hole (Googling and searching on YouTube for days) because I become obsessed with learning more about what’s true vs. what’s not and getting more details around what happened. For example, when I went to see Hamilton on Broadway a few years back, I read the Ron Chernow book first because I knew I would have too many questions after seeing the show.

13. We have heard you have an awesome work culture. What makes it stand out?
Two and a half years into WayUp’s existence, we made the radical decision to throw out our existing company values altogether and created new ones from scratch. JJ (my co-founder), Nikki (our first hire), and I put our heads together to figure out how to develop a new set of “leadership principles” that would attract the right talent, maintain the best possible culture, and remain applicable as we continued to evolve.

The most important thing we kept in mind during this exercise was that not everyone in the world needs to relate to our values. In fact, they shouldn’t! We only wanted people to relate to them if they would be a good fit for WayUp. This was no doubt the right decision.

The evolution of our values helped us with recruiting and retention, but, most importantly, has better shaped the way employees go about making decisions and treating one another. These values have undoubtedly shaped our company culture and ensured that everyone we hire is a good fit. From virtual happy hours to hackathons to lunch and learn sessions, we’re always providing our team opportunities to connect (one was even featured in The New York Times)!

14. Can you give us a peek at the apps you use the most on your phone?
Captio. I jot notes to myself all the time, and this app makes it really easy to send notes to myself — especially if I’m walking on the street and have an idea, etc.
Rent the Runway. I hate buying clothing, and I don’t like having too much “stuff.” So an app (and service) like RTR is fantastic for me — especially in a non-COVID world where I was constantly doing public speaking engagements.

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Liz Wessel Co-Founder & CEO of WayUp

Liz Wessel is the CEO of Co-Founder & CEO of WayUp. WayUp is a job site and mobile app for that college students and graduate students can use to connect with employers. As of 2017, the app has over 5 million users and 300,000 employers.


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