Because of COVID-19, many college students missed rites of passages like the deafening cheers from sporting events, tossing their mortarboards into the air during traditional graduation ceremonies, and the sweaty handshakes during job and internship interviews.

Sports and graduations were able to transition to distanced or broadcast-only activities, but the coronavirus hit the job market in a difficult and different way. Entry-level jobs that were usually taken by recent graduates fell 73% since last year, and internships declined 83%, according to ZipRecruiter. But a startup is helping to bridge the needs of students and employers to find opportunities for both.

Making That Personal Connection, Virtually

Like the gesture that seals the deal, Handshake is an online platform that connects universities and colleges, their students, and employers to find opportunities even without in-person interaction.

“We were seeing employers already look at digital recruiting as a way to supplement their on-campus presence. It was a way for them to actually think about, how do we go to more schools? How do we see more different and diverse types of candidates that historically we were perhaps not seeing before,” says Christine Cruzvergara, Handshake’s vice president of higher education and student success.

“When COVID-19 hit, it became the only way to be able to do that. They could no longer go on campus. They couldn’t do physical events. And so, they had to find a different way to be able to form those relationships, and Handshake became that platform for them to do so,” she adds.

Schools like the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) use Handshake to fill the gap of career fairs that would typically take place on campus. One of the recent virtual career fairs attracted 3,200 of its students.

“Algorithms which seek to match student interests/abilities with opportunities changes the ways students engage in the search process,” says Bill Watts, associate dean of UNL’s undergraduate advising and career development department. “Just as highly effective shoppers still invest time on Amazon, students must invest in their search process, however like when shopping on Amazon, we are often surprised by gems which come to us through related products or algorithm based suggestions—imagine being in the search process and having unexpected suggestions come your way?”

Virtual Internships, Virtual Hiring

Dyani Heredia-Urias can attest to that experience at the school she attends. She signed up for Handshake within the first week of transferring to Pepperdine University during her sophomore year. A public relations major, she says Handshake helped her secure her first internship within the first three weeks of signing up.

“You should be on there updating your profile and actively looking. It’s underused by a lot of classmates,” Heredia-Urias says. “It’s kind of like LinkedIn, almost as if LinkedIn had just a job feature. It’s just for students and 10 times better.”

Last fall, during her junior year, a Nike representative reached out to her via the platform and asked her to join a virtual hiring day. She did and was hired for a summer internship months in advance. When her internship concluded, Nike offered her a full-time job before she graduated. But, she had also secured another internship (once again, through Handshake), when the Nike internship finished, with marketing agency MagicLinks. MagicLinks also offered her a full-time role upon graduation.

“Without Handshake, it would have been so much more of a time consuming process because the beauty of Handshake feels like a curated platform where you can filter out (options) based on your major, companies you’d like to work for, by area, or whatever,” Heredia-Urias says. “They have a huge list of who is hiring and you can filter. It helps you weave through. It’s much more seamless and an enjoyable experience.”


Watch Christine Cruzvergara interview with WorkingNation at ASU+GSV 2020 Conference 

“What employers are seeing and what students can expect is that it’s still going be a competitive job market. There’s still less opportunities right now than there were before,” Cruzvergara says. “However, there’s an opportunity to be more creative and there’s an opportunity to pivot and possibly use your skills in new ways, in new industries that you might not have anticipated before. And there’s an opportunity for you to really grow into the new skills that you have.”

Heredia-Urias is leaning into that notion. While the role is a global operations role versus communications, she accepted the job offer from Nike, and credits the virtual platform.

“It’s been amazing,” she says. “I can’t imagine what my college experience would’ve been like or post-graduate life if I hadn’t started using Handshake as actively as I did. I will start my full-time role in summer 2021.”

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