Garrett Lord’s biggest challenge as CEO of a growing company probably sounds familiar to executives all over: Finding the right employees in today’s labor market.
That’s right — even the leader of Handshake, a networking and recruiting website that makes money helping companies hire smarter, is struggling to hire right now.
If you’ve spent any significant time on a college campus in recent years, chances are you’ve heard of Handshake. It’s what most students use to find internships and jobs. Since the 2014-2015 school year, when it signed on its first five college partners and served 30,000 students, the company has grown to work with 1,400 schools and serve some 12 million students.
Lord, 33, and two friends founded Handshake while they were students at Michigan Technological University. The trio was inspired after seeing the gap between the opportunities at their small engineering school in the upper peninsula of Michigan and what was available to students at colleges with more resources.
“I was blown away,” Lord says, remembering meeting peers from other schools. “I mean, they had Google coming to their campus, and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness. Are you serious? They come to your career fair? That is outrageous.’”
It didn’t sit right with him that the college a person attended — or, for that matter, where their parents worked — could determine the types of companies they had access to.
“This inequality is really exacerbated for people who don’t have social capital or previous work experience,” he says.
As he’s fond of saying, most job networks are focused on your past — what you’ve done, who you know, where you’ve been. So Handshake is focused on the future — where you’re going.
Students create a profile, listing details like their major, extracurricular activities, career interests and the industries they’re interested in. They can see the pathways other students with similar characteristics have taken to land certain roles, as well as search for open positions and receive messages from companies. (Handshake says most of the Fortune 100 are proactively messaging students on its platform.)
While working to democratize access to job opportunities, Handshake also has been able to show companies a more cost-effective way to recruit and give colleges access to more sophisticated job search software.
That work had started well before everything changed in 2020. But the pandemic expedited the dismantling of the “old boys club” of recruiting by forcing employers to go all in on something new: virtual recruiting. Companies can now connect with students anywhere in the country based on their skills, experiences and interests in a way that Lord says is more fair than their previous methods of visiting a couple dozen career fairs at prestigious schools.
Take one of the nation’s largest automotive manufacturers as an example. Last year, half of the company’s offers were attributable to Handshake, and it was able to fill the roles with more Black and Latino students while also cutting the cost per hire in half.
Students, too, often report better outcomes with virtual recruiting, with more than 70% in a recent survey saying online meetings with employers were less intimidating and easier to schedule than IRL ones.
“It’s clear that the world of recruiting has changed forever — and in such a beautiful way,” Lord says.
Part of Lord’s success is due to a combination of passion and persistence when facing challenges. The combo has driven him through cold-calling recruiters as a college sophomore until he landed an über-competitive internship at software company Palantir; living out of a Ford Focus, sleeping in McDonald’s parking lots and showering in university pools while he and a co-founder took a fledgling idea on a roadshow to sign up clients; and leading a company through the growing pains that come with expanding from 200 to more than 725 in a few years.
“I just really love it,” he says of Handshake’s overarching goal to help students find job success. “I geek out about it.”
Going forward, the company is working to get better recruiting tools into the hands of companies of all sizes. The goal is to give, say, administrators hiring in a small school district the same tools for video chats and candidate outreach as the country’s biggest tech companies.
Handshake is also broadening its focus to job seekers outside of the traditional two- and four-year degree route, including working with skill-building programs and online learning credentials that offer pathways into high-demand fields like data science, manufacturing and cybersecurity. Lord plans on global expansion and, eventually, taking the company public.
The first step to getting there? Hiring.
This article has been updated to clarify share of companies proactively messaging students on Handshake.