A former Googler who is now CEO of her own startup shares the one trait she looks for in every job candidate she interviews

April 01, 2016

Liz Wessel

[Liz Wessel, the CEO and cofounder of WayUp.]


When you are hiring employees for a fast-growing startup, you need smart and humble people, says Liz Wessel, the CEO and cofounder of WayUp“You want people who are willing to get scrappy, pick up new tools, and execute quickly.”

That’s why the one thing she looks for in every job candidate she interviews for WayUp, a site used by hundreds of thousands of college students to find jobs at places like Microsoft, Uber, Disney, and Google, where Wessel previously worked, iswillingness and desire to learn.

“We’re looking to hire people who are truly okay with not knowing what’s ahead, taking the road less traveled, and are going to have fun along the way,” she tells Business Insider. “When we’re interviewing a candidate who may only have four of the five skills we need, we tend to focus more on whether this is a candidate who can figure that fifth skill out and forge ahead until they get there.”

Wessel says the best part of someone who’s willing to learn is that they’re usually “excited and interested every step of the way.”

To figure out if a person possesses this highly valued trait, Wessel asks every job candidate to talk about times they’ve failed or had to learn an entirely new subject while on the job.

“If a candidate cannot explain a few times they slipped up during the process, or a time they hit a roadblock, then they probably weren’t learning enough,” she says. “I want to know that you challenged yourself and pushed yourself to learn. And I want to know that you learned from the mistakes you made along the way.”

The other questions she asks to figure out if you’ve got what she’s looking for are: “Can you tell me about a time you’ve experienced failure in the workplace?” “Can you tell me about a time you needed to learn an entirely new skill in record time while on the job?” and, “If you were hired, what do you think you would need to learn in order to excel at the job?”

WayUp Team (1).JPG

[Wessel with WayUp employees.]

“You can be the smartest, most experienced person in the field — but, we don’t care if you can code with your eyes closed if you’re not willing to take on a challenge or switch gears without a true can-do attitude,” Wessel adds.

The other traits she looks for while hiring: modesty, adventurousness, and a healthy amount of ego.

“When you’re in the beginning stages of a company, you need to take ownership of your role,” she says. “You can’t let second-guessing be a bottleneck to execution — sometimes, you need to take the risk.

“At WayUp, manager goals are high. More often than not, you’re going to have to step outside your comfort zone if you want to succeed. No candidate knows it all … and if they think they do, then they probably aren’t ambitious enough to join a high-growth startup, anyway.”

By Jacquelyn Smith.