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Bay Area startup aims to systemize job search for undervalued students

Courtesy of Lizzie Kreitman

Founded by University of California, Berkeley graduates Kevin Wu and Derrick Mar in Feb. 2017, Pathrise is, in Wu’s words, an “online career accelerator intended to teach people how to get the best job possible.”

The Bay Area company offers mentorship to students like Angela He ’21, who applied to an internship at Zynga –– a mobile gaming app developer –– through Zynga’s job portal in her freshman fall. She initially never heard back.

When she applied a second time, He was a fellow at Pathrise and had worked with a team of advisors to prepare for all aspects of the recruitment process, including preparing for technical and behavior interviews, polishing a resume and cold-emailing recruiters. That spring, she landed the very internship that passed her up the first time.

Wu has a novel approach to the job search: He views it as an example of just another funnel optimization problem that companies face. Examples of these funnel optimization problems include growth marketing, sales, networking, fundraising and recruiting, where companies must optimize the conversion of a swath of people into users, customers or employees.

According to Wu, companies approach other funnel optimization problems with a high level of strategy and diligence “just to eke out every bit of conversion that they can. And there’s so much rigor and tactics and thought that goes into optimizing that.”

The job search has not traditionally been approached with an analytical mindset.

“The most rigorous and tactical thing [to optimize the job search] that’s come up in the past century is to make your resume one page [long],” Wu said, highlighting the only tactical tip a lot of people get when applying to jobs. He also criticized current career coaches for focusing on “emotional support rather than concrete outcomes.”

Thus, Wu founded Pathrise to teach “a systematic and tactical way to go about the job search.”  

“The modern success I like to think I’ve been able to achieve so far, I attribute to hustle,” Wu said. “And what I mean by hustle, to be precise, is the tactical and thoughtful management of funnel optimization problems.”

Wu said the hustle mindset has been important for the variety of roles that he’s held in the past as an engineer at Salesforce and product manager at Yelp –– both roles he got due to a wide variety of “network shenanigans.”

“Pathrise is a way of sharing the hustle that served me well as systematically as possible with people that need it the most,” Wu added.

Wu also noticed that several students are attracted to Pathrise because they feel undervalued in the job search.

“We see a majority of fellows enrolling because they feel marginalized in some way,” Wu said. Examples of marginalized students, Wu explained, are students “who maybe didn’t join the right fraternity or sorority, or maybe an international student who’s trying to figure out more about the job search or a high performer who’s trying to do a career transition.”

According to Kevin, Pathrise is especially valuable to marginalized students as a method of “replacing the hustle that they couldn’t get from a classroom, or the system or network advantage that they couldn’t get elsewhere.”

Pathrise began developing a curriculum for students entering the job search in Feb. 2017 and enrolled its first cohort of fellows in Jan. 2018.

Wu noted the short-term memory loss that occurs after job-seekers land a position. Wu said that those searching for jobs “absolutely hate the process,” but once they secure a job, they forget about the difficulty of the process. According to Wu, this is why people have failed to optimize the job search.

Since Pathrise’s inception, Wu has recruited a team of advisors to advise students on the struggles that plague all job-seekers. These advisors are industry professionals from top tech companies such as Facebook, Apple and Dropbox. Each fellow participating in the program is matched with an industry advisor.

He said the most helpful aspects of the program taught her about the subtleties involved in the application process, such as how to correctly format a resume, adopt a certain tone when communicating via email and gain confidence to cold call and cold email recruiters — “The things you don’t learn in school,” He said.

Once He joined the program, she participated in weekly video-call meetings with Wu at Pathrise, who happened to be her advisor. In the first five weeks of the program, He learned technical and behavioral interview tips in preparation for the application process. He then started to apply to jobs, receiving guidance on how to advertise her relevant skills to recruiters.

“[Wu] basically guided me through the whole process,” He said, which spanned around eight weeks from the time she reached out to recruiters, completed interviews and landed a job.

He recommends Pathrise to students struggling to secure tech internships. She said the best aspects of the program were the connections she made with her mentors. However, she wishes she could have developed stronger relationships with the other fellows in her cohort who also undertook the job search process.

“There’s nothing that tethers you back [to Pathrise] after you graduate,” He said.

Pathrise is run through an income share agreement –– there is no up-front cost required to enroll in Pathrise. Only after a participant has been hired does Pathrise receive 9 percent of one year of their income.

The income share agreement reflects Pathrise’s focus on data and outcomes.

“It’s just like Y-Combinator (YC) for your career,” Wu said. “And the way that we think about the income share agreement is exactly the way YC thinks about equity… there’s an emphasis on actual outcomes and practicality. When we look at the 9 percent income share of your first year salary, then we’d better improve your job search by at least a 9 percent greater return.”

According to Lizzie Kreitman, content lead at Pathrise, on average, students in the program see three times as many responses to their applications and doubled interview performance scores. They also find jobs within three to five months and get paid $12,600 above industry standard.

Looking ahead, Wu and the Pathrise team hope to ensure greater success in the job search by working to build a system around accountability and engagement for members in the cohort. Wu believes that the existence of an overall system and environment will be more effective than one-on-one advising. Further, Wu hopes to cultivate more partnerships with companies to pave more direct tracks for fellows to enter the workforce.

Wu’s advice to those hoping to found their own startups is to pick a small, arbitrary goal rather than chasing a “pie in the sky” goal.

“In reality, what actually is important is getting some kind of real value into the world first, which takes a life of its own and can rollercoaster you into something that’s successful,” Wu said.

“When we started Pathrise, we didn’t say we want to change the way that job-seekers search for jobs. We said that we want to take three people and get them good jobs –– we know that’ll be really impactful for them. So let’s do something that’ll matter, and figure out how to scale it from there.”

Contact Alex Tsai at aotsai ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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