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Handshake hacks & best practices

How to Write Effective Emails to Increase Student Engagement

Best practices of email writing to help you engage more students, get them excited about Handshake, and drive meaningful connections with your unique career opportunities.

Best practices of email writing to help you engage more students, get them excited about Handshake, and drive meaningful connections with your unique career opportunities

Access templates and achieve high success - The University of York achieved an 89.5% open rate by using Handshake’s Targeted Emails.

You have put in the time and effort to create a wealth of career service tools and events for students to kick off their career, but students cannot access booking an appointment nor attending a career fair without first completing a simple task – creating their profiles on Handshake. Getting students to complete their profile is thus an important milestone to achieving higher engagement with your career services, unlocking more opportunities with employers, and allowing greater access across the Handshake network.

Our research has found that proactively sending effective emails to students drives a significant increase in engagement across the platform. In fact, email is the #1 driver of students completing their profile on Handshake. Compared to 0.06% from social media, email accounts for 40% of all traffic to the Handshake website.

To help you achieve the same goals, we’ve prepared some best practices on how you can effectively communicate with your students through emails to maximise your impact.


Use Targeted Email templates

To save you time and make this process as easy as possible, Handshake has included email templates in Targeted Emails. When you select an email layout, you can select a Handshake Template on the right hand side of the screen. Examples include the “Find jobs & internships on the go on Handshake” email template to help you increase the number of students completing their Handshake profiles on the app. Of course, you can always edit these templates with your tailored messages.

Our partner University of York has seen high success with 89.5% open rate by using Targeted Emails.

For more information, visit our support center on how to create Targeted Emails and find your Handshake Targeted Email templates.

Find jobs and internships


Attention: short subject lines

The subject line should clearly convey the benefit of your email and grab the students’ attention immediately. Think about why the students would want to open your email, what they care about and how you can add value to them. Example subject lines to introduce Handshake and your career services to your students could be “ How to land your dream job”, “Discover your future employer” or “Get your career started with Handshake”.

The shorter the subject line, the better. We recommend 40 characters or less to increase the chance of a high open rate.

Personalise the greeting with student names

Students are more likely to engage with an email that looks personalised. Handshake lets you insert variable fields into your emails so that you can include a student’s preferred name in the email greeting (“Hi Emily,” will perform better than “Hi there,”). This personalisation is already included in the pre-built Handshake email templates designed by our Student Marketing team. However, personalising a bespoke email you’re creating is just as quick and easy:

Simply navigate to the “text” option under the Basic Content header. Once selected you can click on the “insert variable” drop-down menu under which you will find a list of personalisation options, including “Preferred name”.

Edit text

Make the call to action prominent

Your “call to action” (or CTA) is the main outcome you want to drive with your email. To optimise your student engagement, for example, you can use CTAs like “book an appointment now”, “connect with employers today” or “complete your Handshake profile”.

It’s important to place your CTA near the top of the email so students who don’t get to the bottom of the email can read it and take action. If it helps, you can bold the text or make it into a button with bright colours so that it stands out. Feel free to repeat this CTA again near the end of your email to increase the chance of students completing the action.

Tailor your message with segmented groups

On Handshake, you can use filters to refine your email list to a particular audience and send curated content to them to address specific needs. We find that these tailored emails perform a lot better than general emails.

For example, you can send targeted emails to students in each graduation year with different career priorities and prompt them to participate in different career development opportunities you offer. Likewise, one of our partners utilised the Handshake email tool to connect with PHD students, leading to nearly 500 new student profiles being completed in just a week! In the context of targeting students who haven’t logged into Handshake yet, you can send them an email with the relevant benefits of creating a Handshake profile, share the toolkit with intro videos and fun challenges, and emphasise the right call to action to complete their profile.

Include relevant Handshake links in your email signature

Your email signature provides an opportunity to promote a variety of links. You can include your Handshake login page, a link to the Handshake intro video, or a link to the Handshake 10 day Challenge to get students excited, clicking and taking action.

Use interactive, fun and creative student language

Students are often pulled in different directions. To help draw attention to your opportunities, try to speak their language and include interactive items once in a while, such as emojis, animation, or gifs.

In our Toolkit , we’ve specifically included resources that you can reference in your email to get students excited, such as the Handshake 10 Day Challenge. Making engaging with career opportunities fun and encouraging competition can yield high engagement with your social-media savvy students.

Learn from email performance data

Handshake allows you to review a variety of performance metrics after you’ve sent an email. We’d recommend keeping an eye on the following:

  • You can check out the dashboards with useful data such as “profile completion by student graduate year”. If you see any particular student group with low numbers of profile completion, you can send another follow up email with a targeted message to remind them to take action.
  • As you test out different email subject lines, keep an eye on email open rates to see which language is driving the highest initial engagement with students.
  • You can review click rates on each link you include in your emails. See which calls to action perform the best.
  • Most emailing resources will tell you that Tuesday through Thursdays are the best weekdays to send email, but it can vary depending on the institution and the students. Make sure you understand which day of the week and time of day perform best for you.

Our partner institutions have seen a spike of clicks, student profile completions and high engagements after implementing some of these best practices. Ready to increase your engagement with students? Get your email sent today!

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