No Connections, Experience, or Luck Required

CEO Garrett Lord reflects on Handshake's beginnings — and what's next.

I got my lucky break while dumpster diving for hardware.  

I was a Computer Science major who got caught pulling some perfectly good servers and computer components out of the trash. A professor heard about my little treasure hunt and we struck up a friendship that changed the course of my life. He wrote me a letter of recommendation that helped me secure an incredible internship at Los Alamos National Labs. 

When I left home for college I didn’t have great connections or blue chip work experience…but I found a little luck in a dumpster. And while that might be a fun party story, it’s not a good model for helping students find jobs. The hiring market felt stacked against anyone who didn’t grow up in the right place, know the right people, or go to the right school. 

That’s why my co-founders and I founded Handshake: to help every student find a great job and build a meaningful career—no connections, experience, or luck required. 

The Largest Early Career Network

Seven years later, Handshake has become the country’s largest early career network. Our platform brings together 18 million students and alumni, 550 thousand employers and 1,200 universities, community colleges and bootcamps in a dynamic, engaging network that helps more students get hired than anywhere else. Between 2018 and 2020, 49% of all US college graduates reported that they received offers for job opportunities they found on Handshake.

But we still have a lot of work to do. Too many college students struggle to find great opportunities, particularly those from underrepresented communities. And the challenges don’t end at graduation: 50% of college graduates who start their career underemployed remain underemployed 10 years into the workforce. Our goal is to make the entire career journey—from first internship to first job to the first promotion—more equitable for all.

Investing to Transform the Career Journey

That’s why we’re excited to announce that we’ve raised $80 million in our Series E funding round, bringing our valuation to $1.5 billion. The round was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Spark Capital with prior investors True Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, EQT Ventures, GGV Capital, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Emerson Collective participating, and Coatue Management and Valiant Peregrine Fund investing for the first time.

This investment will accelerate our efforts to build a world-class team and deliver on our promise to build a platform that transforms the career journey for all early talent.  (We’re hiring hundreds of roles in many locations!)

Most career platforms are geared towards mid-career professionals who already have jobs and connections. Handshake is different: we’re built from the ground up to focus on the unique needs of people just starting their careers. We’ll help you build the relationships and demonstrate the skills you need to get that first job, without any luck.

Helping Students Build Relationships…Virtually

We were tested last year. When the global pandemic rendered in-person recruiting impossible, many campuses closed entirely and sent millions of students back home to complete their studies and their job searches remotely. 

We had to step up. In close collaboration with our educational partners, we built a complete virtual recruiting solution in a few short months. With native video at its core, our virtual experience enabled over 98 million student-to-employer interactions, including messaging, virtual career fairs, alumni networking, and 1:1 meetings. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, students were able to cultivate the relationships necessary for their professional success.

Helping Students Showcase Their Skills

Over the past year, employers contacted more than 7 million students on Handshake. What makes these connections special is that they were based on students’ unique skills and qualities rather than who they know. This marks a significant change from the traditional recruiting process, which places outsized emphasis on connections and prior work experience advantages that are unevenly distributed. 

Take Danny, a first-generation college student who worked in retail and food service while in college at Delaware State–a small HBCU. Danny was an accounting major eager to put his degree to work, but during his initial search he kept hearing that he didn’t have the “relevant” work experience necessary for an offer. Then he joined Handshake. Companies that weren’t on Danny’s radar began reaching out to him about exciting opportunities. He ultimately accepted a full-time position with The Capital Group and has since been promoted to Senior Investment Operations Associate.

Helping Higher Ed Partners Thrive

Our virtual tools have also enabled our higher education partners to connect students and employers at an unprecedented scale. Last spring, North Carolina A&T hosted their largest annual career fair virtually on Handshake, along with eight other HBCUs. The event ended up facilitating more than 10,000 student-employer connections. By applying their expertise to the unique opportunity offered by the Handshake platform, the NCA&T team were able to achieve unprecedented scale and success in their efforts to generate relationships, and ultimately career outcomes, for students.

Helping Employers Build the Workforce of the 21st Century

Handshake has also helped hundreds of thousands of employer partners dramatically adapt their hiring strategies as the talent landscape has evolved. In a recent survey, 88% of employers cited Handshake as one of its most critical tools in its early talent efforts. 

  • EY leveraged Handshake to drive stronger engagement with diverse talent at the top of their recruiting funnel. With our help, EY was able to help secure a 125% increase in engagement with Black and Latinx candidates. 
  • At the start of the pandemic, GE looked to Handshake to help pivot to a virtual recruiting model and drive their up-funnel activity. They doubled the number of virtual interviews compared to the year before and saw a 76% conversion rate from engaged students to applicants. 
  • P&G has achieved significantly greater efficiency by leveraging Handshake, improving cost-per-hire by 67% over the past two years.

It’s not just big businesses we’re helping. Smaller organizations like Uncommon Schools have partnered with Handshake to ensure their teaching population was representative of their student population. Now 80% of its Student Teach Fellow pipeline identify as persons of color and 65% of their hires have come directly from Handshake. 

Building a World-Class, Mission-Driven Team

Because of these successes, we’ve doubled revenue each of the past three years and are on track to realize $100 million in annual recurring revenue. 

More importantly, our employer partnerships are driving better outcomes for students. It’s a virtuous circle that allows us to make the strategic investments necessary to build a platform tailored to address the unique needs of early career talent. By taking a new approach to hiring, we believe we can transform the marketplace and help students secure not only their first job, but also their second, third and fourth jobs. 

None of this would be possible without the hard work, passion, and dedication of our team. Every day, Handshakers drive impact for our students, employers, and higher education partners. They are what make Handshake such a special place to work—and why I’m proud that we’ve just been announced as one of Inc.com’s Best Workplaces 2021.

This year, we are hiring for hundreds of open roles across the business, in San Francisco, Denver, New York, London and remotely across the country. If you’re interested in working for a mission-driven company and growing a large, transformative business, please reach out!