This Entrepreneur Wants to Connect You With Top MBA Talent
Each year, thousands of women and minority MBA candidates hit the job market. Many find themselves unable to land a job or an internship in their chosen field, however, even though companies complain about a “shortage” of qualified, diverse candidates.
This is the situation that Stella Ashaolu hopes to rectify via her company, WeSolv.
Ashaolu knows of what she speaks: As a black female MBA candidate at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, she hoped to land a consulting job with a major company. However, Ashaolu says, breaking into the field proved difficult because she lacked the traditional background for such a role.
Ashaolu compensated for this by taking on case study competitions that enabled her to prove her mettle to potential employers. After working as a consultant at Gallup for a couple of years following her graduation from Marshall, Ashaolu founded WeSolve in 2016. The ed-tech startup is designed to be a “the LinkedIn of performance data,” she says.
Companies don’t overlook talented women and minority candidates purposely, says Ashaolu. Instead, they tend to miss out because their recruiting efforts are too narrowly focused on certain schools and programs, while hiring managers tend to over-emphasize pedigree over a candidate’s actual capabilities.
WeSolv lets companies “crowdsource” business challenges to its network of MBA students (Ashaolu says WeSolv reaches 30,000 candidates nationwide and more than 70 percent of its network consists of under-represented minorities). Companies work with WeSolv to create custom challenges and outline how they’ll measure “top performers.” Candidates collaborate virtually (and sometimes in person) to devise solutions for each challenge; meanwhile, WeSolv uses data and analytics to help clients identify top performers. WeSolv has worked with Salesforce, Discover and Bank of America to identify top MBA talent.
I recently spoke with Ashaolu to learn more about her company.
How can WeSolv help companies find diverse talent?
We want companies to think about talent in a different way. The fact is, talent is kind of equally distributed, but access is not. We want to expand a company’s reach to more candidates outside their traditional schools and channels and give them an objective way to assess those candidates based on the skills and competencies necessary for the role, rather than their resume or who they’re connected to. It lets companies push out a real project that’s research-backed and built to measure those skills and competencies. Typically, a company like Salesforce might typically go to just five or six schools per year to assess MBA graduates—instead, we give them access to 150 or so programs and let them identify who is most likely to succeed in a role based on how they perform. And for the candidates, we provide them with opportunities and access to real projects in which to gain experience and showcase their skills. We’re making this a platform where companies can actually “see” candidates based on how they perform, and hire candidates based on the right data.
Can you walk us through what you, as an MBA candidate, encountered when you went looking for a job?
When I was in business school, I came from a nontraditional background but I knew I had the skills to be a consultant. However, I had a really hard time because my background didn’t look like those of a lot of my peers—recruiters were looking for specific experience that I didn’t have on my resume. I was able to gain that experience by working on real projects and case competitions. But there aren’t really opportunities for candidates to get those skills “on demand,” and that’s what we offer. We allow candidates to find real projects for companies they want to engage with. We find candidates who might not otherwise have been granted an interview based on their resume alone are now able to showcase those skills. For the companies, it means “de-risking” the hiring of a candidate who may not fit a traditional profile—it gives them an opportunity to try before they buy.
The cherry on top is that companies are getting to crowdsource a real challenge to a group of smart and motivated candidates. We have over 30,000 students in our network and over 2,500 active student-candidates on the platform. Instead of being relegated to a limited number of schools, companies can now reach out to a larger network of candidates.
What led you to start this company?
I was motivated not only by my own experiences, but by those of the clients that I worked with as a consultant. I worked with a number of Fortune 500 companies and seeing that they really struggled with recruiting and selecting the right candidates, and the problem was more serious when it came to diverse candidates. Companies had a difficult time connecting with and objectively assessing diverse candidates. So, taking my own experiences into account, I came up with the idea of WeSolv. Over the past few years, I worked closely with a talented team of researchers and technologists to refine and optimize our model, using research and data to create a more scalable model for companies to connect with candidates.
And other diverse candidates are experiencing similar things?
First, companies are having a hard time connecting with under-represented candidates for a number of reasons. There are fewer of them in MBA programs, which makes it doubly hard to connect with them when you’re already limiting your outreach to just a few select programs. And when they do undertake diversity outreach, it’s to the same places that other Fortune 500 companies are as well. So you’re just looking at a finite pool of diverse candidates, and due to budget constraints, you can’t be everywhere. That’s where we come in. These companies typically go to six campuses a year and partner with one diversity organization—we partner with those same organizations and schools, but we also give you access to all these other candidates at other schools. We give you a less-biased mechanism with which to assess and identify the best talent, based on data that’s derived from how they perform on these mini-projects.
WeSolve has done multiple challenges with Salesforce. Can you share more details about that?
We had close to 600 candidates from across the country apply for the Salesforce project. We were ultimately able to whittle the list down to 33 based on data. And Salesforce not only got access to those 33, but they were able to see how they perform in different criteria and spheres, whether it be critical thinking, communication, et cetera. They were able to assess which candidates they wanted to bring into their talent pipeline.
Salesforce has been a growing partner of ours. I met their EVP of product marketing and got connected to another EVP who is now Salesforce’s CMO. They’re really walking the talk and not just talking the talk about diversity. We’ve partnered with Futureforce, their recruiting arm. The challenge came about through the roles they’re looking to hire for and the skills and competencies required for each of those roles. Our process facilitates a number of different touchpoints where companies are able to engage candidates, like virtual kickoffs and virtual office hours that not only allow companies to engage the candidates, but get the candidates more interested in coming to work for that organization. So, it not only increases the ROI of recruiting but also increases the likelihood that they’ll accept an offer. So, we’ve captured data on students who participate in this just for the experience—some are interested in working for the organization in question, and some are just looking to build their skills and resumes. At the end of each challenge, we have a significantly higher number of candidates who are interested in working at that organization.
Based on your experiences, what are the two or three most important things you’d want talent-acquisition leaders to know when it comes to finding talent?
I think one of the most important things to know is that under-represented talent can be found in a lot of different places—not just at historically black colleges and universities, and not just at top MBA programs. They have varied backgrounds and experiences, so if you’re screening candidates just with the traditional methods you’ve relied on in the past, you’re going to miss out on great talent.