It is not easy finding a job. It is even tougher finding a job without professional work experience.
Making things worse for college students, student debt in this country has surged to more than $1.3 trillion, increasing 3k every second. According to one analysis, the average class of 2015 graduate with student-loan debt will have to pay back a little more than $35,000.
The bottom line is that students need jobs now more than ever! The problem is -- they cannot find the right ones. Meanwhile, employers are out there claiming they cannot find qualified applicants. Without the right connection and internships, students are striking out again and again.
Liz Wessel, a 25-year-old firebrand and one of Forbes' 30 Under 30, decided to do something about it.
Wessel's company WayUp democratizes the hiring process for students and employers with the goal of getting every college student their first job.
In less than two years, WayUp has emerged as the country's largest online marketplace exclusively for college students and recent grads to find part-time, summer, and full-time jobs and internships. According to the company, one of three students who apply through its site is hired. Also noteworthy is that its student user base is 72 percent underrepresented minorities.
WayUp's platform is made up of half a million college students from over 3,300 college campuses nationwide. On the flip side, it works with more than 8,000 companies including Google, Disney, Microsoft, and Capital One.
For her efforts, Wessel's company was named one of 30 companies changing the world by CNN.
I recently spoke to Liz Wessel to learn more about what drove her to co-found her company. I also wanted to hear from her how WayUp and purpose driven Millennials are changing today's workforce. Lastly, I was curious what advice she had for college students and employers this graduation season.
I had felt it one thing to read and write about the numerous reports and studies on CSR, recent college grads, and Millennials in the workplace, and quite another to gain the vantage point of one who finds herself and the purpose driven company she founded at the intersection of matching employers with Millennials seeking their first job out of college.
Wessel did not disappoint.
She spoke with deep conviction about why it is hugely important for Millennials to feel that the work they are doing for their employer is making a difference in the world, for their community, as well as themselves.
Noted Wessel, "Millennials are looking to join companies that are making a difference in the world and that are doing something special. However, I do not mean the company that for one day of the year sends all their employees out to shovel dirt at a local school. We see right through the bull sh^t.
"I am referring to companies that make it part of their culture and part of their core mission to change the world. That is the type of company where Millennials want to go and stay."
I asked her why she felt so many recent college grads leave their first jobs so quickly. Noted Wessel, "Students, recent grads, actually all Millennials are obsessed with the concept of trying to learn and grow and gain as much responsibility as possible. We have this feeling where if they are not learning and growing then [they ask themselves] 'What am I wasting my time doing?'"
Wessel's advice to employers was the following, "Give recent grads real work responsibility and listen to their ideas. I do not always think employers take Millennials seriously enough. Our generation is tech savvy. We are flexible. We were born getting cell phones at the age of ten. And so--at the end of the day--we have a lot of cool ideas about technology, brands, and culture."
Lastly, I asked her what her biggest message is for seniors this graduation, it was simply "Don't freak out!"
Indeed WayUp is here!
The fact is we would all do well to listen to Liz Wessel. If this 25-year old savvy Millennial CEO is any guide, the future of corporate social responsibility in this country is in great hands!
Below is the full Q and A from our discussion.
Q: What drove you to co-found a service oriented company like WayUp?
I have always been a big believer in making a difference in the world. My co-founder J.J. Fliegelman is the same way. So for us, the question was never about if we would start a company that would make the world a better place. The question was what problem we were going to tackle.
Students have the hardest time trying to get hired for jobs. It is their first time in a professional interview. They have no idea what kind of job to apply for or even how to apply for it.
Half of my friends were the smartest people I knew at an Ivy League School and they were not getting hired. Either they were doing something wrong and no one told them or they were not doing anything wrong and were just confused by the whole process.
J.J. and I felt this was a huge problem that no had attempted to solve using technology in a real way.
Q: How important do you believe it is for Millennials to feel that the work they are doing is serving a larger purpose?
It is hugely important for Millennials to feel that the work they are doing for their employer is making a difference in the world, for their community, as well as themselves. Students, recent grads, actually all Millennials are obsessed with the concept of trying to learn and grow and gain as much responsibility as possible. Millennials have this feeling where if they are not learning and growing then [they ask themselves] 'What am I wasting my time doing?'
In my situation, I can tell you that Way Up has been offered plenty of money by businesses that want to buy our data but at the end of the day we would never do that because we are completely and solely focused on one thing and that one thing is helping Millennials get jobs.
Q: How important do you feel CSR is to the average Millennial?
It is hard to ignore CSR in the Millennial generation because we are completely consumed by social media at the end of the day. You've seen the studies that 9 out of 10 Millennials say we'll switch brands to ones associated with a cause. Our social media feeds are filled with our thoughts on social causes, elections, or some horrible disaster in the world. Two-thirds of us use social media to engage around CSR.
Q: To what extent do you feel Millennials are turning to companies with a CSR component at their core and why?
Millennials are looking to join companies that are making a difference in the world and that are doing something special. However, I do not mean the company that for one day of the year sends all their employees out to shovel dirt at a local school. We see right through the bull sh^t.
I am referring to companies that make it part of their culture and part of their core mission to change the world. That is the type of company where Millennials want to go and stay.
Q: Are there notable examples of companies that have taken their CSR programs to the next level to attract and retain Millennials?
One company I admire that takes CSR to the next level is Warby Parker. They are a 'B Corporation,' which already says a lot. [B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.]
Understand they make CSR central to their mission because it is what they believe-in. Not because it is a way to attract and retain a millennial workforce.
Another company with a good reputation is Salesforce.
Q: Why do you think so many recent college grads leave their first jobs so quickly?
Three reasons. The first is that they just couldn't find the right match. They knew nothing about the company and they just settled on the first thing they found and applied for it right away without doing their research.
This is one of the biggest reasons why we started WayUp. We felt students did not have one centralized place where they could go to find all of the jobs they are qualified to apply for. Now they do no matter what school they are from.
The next two reasons are more generalizations. The second is high expectations. Some companies do not make it very clear about the trajectory of what you see when you join a company. HR Directors that I speak to often acknowledge, "We are not doing a good enough job of describing and explaining how you can get promoted if you stick around."
The third is that we are the FOMO [Fear of Missing Out] generation. As a result, you will hear many say, 'I do not want to spend too much time doing one thing, but I want to try as many things as possible.'
Q: What advice do you have for college students and especially seniors this graduation season? What's your advice for employers?
The biggest message I have to seniors is, Don't freak out! I am talking to so many seniors that are freaking out and saying, 'I do not know what I am doing with my life.' I tell them that there are plenty of resources to use such as Way Up as well as their campuses' career services. Most companies are not hiring nine months in advance. They want to wait until after you've graduated.
For non-graduating students, I would say get as much and as many different types of internships as possible in college. I was just giving a Ted Talk at Rutgers and asking a student what he was doing that summer. I told him "college is the best time to try as many different types of things and internships as possible. That is what I did in college and how I get a job doing product marketing at Google.
For employers, my advice is to give recent grads real work responsibility and listen to their ideas. I do not always think employers take Millennials seriously enough. Our generation is tech savvy. We are flexible. We were born getting cell phones at the age of ten. And so--at the end of the day--we have a lot of cool ideas about technology, brands, and culture.