Universities find Handshake API helps students find more than just job openings


Handshake, an online career management system founded to serve college students, is growing its presence in higher education with nearly 400 universities currently using the cloud-based site. Now, the company is setting its sights on using algorithms to change the student job hunt “from search to discovery.”

Started three years ago by a group of students looking to democratize access to job opportunities, the system is drawing attention from university CIOs for its ability to integrate with existing university systems while providing a platform for on- and off-campus job postings, registration for programs and events, appointment booking and career planning.

Handshake addresses the costly and challenging process of employers having to build individual relationships with colleges by making it free for employers to connect with colleges they choose and charging college career centers an annual fee to use the platform, according to Karen Martell, Handshake’s head of marketing.

But it also streamlines the work of university IT departments with an application program interface that can exchange data between existing LMS and ERP systems and Handshake’s cloud-based platform.

Martell said Handshake can take information including club participation, interests, cities students enjoy, and common jobs in their area of study and create personalized collections of curated content, comparing the system to Spotify’s music recommendations.

“I’ve worked in tech for 12 years now and I think this is taking something, machine learning, and finally applying it to a historically very underserved industry, all for the benefit of students,” Martell said.

Handshake CEO and co-founder Garrett Lord said this information is used to create “collections” that “show you different companies or new opportunities that you’re qualified for, but you might not have thought of.”

“That’s what we really mean by discovery — it’s helping open the student’s aperture or mind to the opportunities that they are qualified for, that are available,” Lord said.

Pepperdine University has been using Handshake as a career management system since fall of 2015. Pepperdine Career Center Executive Director Amy Adams said the novelty of Handshake is the power it provides for universities to “curate and cultivate the best opportunities for our students.”

New additions to the system, including the ability to set career interests and opt in to “industry clusters,” feeds this algorithm, Adams said, adding that students and Pepperdine will also be able to see if a potential employer is a Pepperdine alum within the next month.

“Where on broad job search sites you might see a wide range of options of postings, this sort of narrows it down to employers who are really targeting college grads, specifically the employers who are targeting the kind of college grads that we produce at Pepperdine at Seaver College,” Adams said.

Ravi Ravishankar, CIO at Wellesley College, said it adopted the system last fall as part of a “major reorganization” of its career office. The goal was to replace old systems that were “patched together” and not user-friendly with a more modern system that is intuitive to use, compatible with mobile devices and has solid API and integration on the back end.

Ravishankar said that ease of integration was a key factor in the decision to select Handshake.

“In this particular case, we don’t want to repeat the work of having to maintain data that already exists in our ERP systems, our student information system, and be able to pull the data from the system and push it through wherever else we want to use it,” Ravishankar said.

The integration allows for the ease of single sign-on and for basic demographic data to be automatically uploaded to a student’s Handshake profile, streamlining the process. Students, though, have ultimate control of what data they choose to include and make visible to employers, and Martell says all Handshake servers are “encrypted at rest” to protect student data.

Ravishankar said the cooperation between Handshake and Wellesley IT is one of the strengths of the system, which he says has a 90 percent satisfaction rate from Wellesley students.

Adams said Pepperdine favors Handshake because it is flat-fee based and there is no “nickel-and-diming” for adding new modules or registering events like other career management systems. Additionally, especially for universities with multiple campuses like Pepperdine, Handshake is accessible for all students and alumni, which cuts costs by consolidating service.

Adams said the system is continuously updated and new features are added as Handshake works with its partner universities to gather feedback and input. “I’m excited to see where it is even in another six months,” she said.