In April, researchers from the Economic Policy Institute determined that over fifty percent of recent college graduates, twenty-five and younger, were either unemployed or underemployed. For many, this was a sobering statistic, yet another reminder of the economic downturn’s human toll. Moses Lee and his team at Seelio have chosen to look at the situation another way: they see the current disconnect between college graduates and professional employers as an opportunity.
Lee describes Seelio as a platform for “showcasing everything about your college experience that you wouldn’t necessarily put on Facebook.” He wouldn’t say it, but what he means is a platform for featuring the main reason for going to college: the academics. Where a potential employer might not want to hire someone after looking at their Facebook page, Seelio strives to do just the opposite, by providing an opportunity for its users to make their college experience appear as professionally presentable as possible. To do this, they have created a profile that allows you to showcase research papers, design projects, and any extracurricular work alongside your traditional resume, so that employers can better understand what you’ve done, not just where you’ve been. The hope is that by framing one’s academic and extracurricular output as professionally relevant content, employers will become more aware of just how capable college students are. “We want to give credit to students for all of the great things that they do,” says Lee.
The company was conceived at the end of 2011 after Lee, David Jsa, and Jerry Wang, Seelio’s three co-founders, visited Ann Arbor’s Scarlett Middle School for Portfolio Day. On Portfolio Day, the middle schoolers presented the highlights of their year’s work to their parents and a panel of Ann Arbor professionals. Lee, Jsa, and Wang were all impressed by the event, but lamented the fact that many of the binders from which the students presented would probably wither away on a shelf somewhere. They then realized that today’s college students were facing the same problem: their work was also being put on the shelf, never to be fully appreciated by employers. Shortly thereafter, the three ran an experiential service at the University of Michigan, from which they had all graduated (Lee is also an adjunct professor and the director of Michigan’s student venture accelerator, TechArb) based around the idea of a project-based resume. The initial platform attracted 2000 users, many of whom were engineers and designers who, unless they made a website for themselves, did not post their work to the Internet. This positive feedback convinced the three that they were onto something. A few months later, in August, they launched as Seelio, a combination of the words “see” and “portfolio.”
With the traditional resume, Lee explains, “everyone uses the same buzz words, but if you can demonstrate to recruiters that you’re really talented, that you’re really curious, you’re head and shoulders above everyone else.” Big-name employers are likewise looking for ways to refine their hiring practices, and some of them, including Facebook, Box, and Teach for America, have paid to post jobs and interact with students on the site. To facilitate “fit”, Seelio encourages companies to create pages for themselves that reflect their corporate culture, in the same way that students can use the profile to express their full selves to those who might hire them. For example, Lee mentioned an engineer who posted a video of her singing on her profile, and the gratitude she felt after recruiters would compliment her on her abilities. “The goal of Seelio,” Lee says, “isn’t about finding our users a job as much as it is about finding our users the right job.”
Lee is also quick to point out that Seelio does more than just connect employers to potential employees; students have begun connecting with other students around similar projects, interests, and ideas. The site, Lee says, “has become a place for opportunity and discovery. Students are really interested in seeing what other people are working on.” As a result, those at Seelio feel like, for now, they are LinkedIn’s complement, not a direct competitor.
The product is still in Beta mode and has undergone several iterations since its initial launch. Even in its early stages, though, it has managed to spread to 700 different college campuses, and has plans of expanding into universities in Australia and the United Kingdom in the near future. Ten years from now, Lee hopes that Seelio is “deeply ingrained into university life, with schools, students, faculty. We want to reach millions of students, from around the world.” It might sound unrealistically ambitious, until you remember that Facebook was founded in 2004.