Why I joined Handshake

Clare Adams

December 19, 2019

“I felt frustrated by the lack of innovation in careers technology”

I’ll set the scene: it’s April 2019 and I’m working as a Careers and Employability Service Manager. It’s a Thursday morning and I no longer have to-do lists. Instead, I keep an extensive to-do list filing system. 

Since AGCAS Heads of Service, I’ve been invited to various careers platform demos. But the last thing I want to do is look at yet another platform that would mean 12 to 18 months of pain to launch. And won’t it just do the same thing as the current platform anyway? 

Looking back, I feel a little guilty about my approach to new product demos.  My mind was closed to the possibility that something better could exist. I’m therefore extremely grateful for my then Head of Service, Monica Deshpande, for being more open to that idea.

Seven years prior, following a short stint in the marketing industry, I returned to education, and specifically HE careers, because I wanted to focus on supporting students. After seeing the tools and insights available to companies trying to sell to consumers, I felt frustrated by the lack of innovation in careers technology.

“I left that demo knowing that something different and better had arrived”

As soon we the demo began, I realised Handshake seemed to really understand where we were coming from, as we discussed the challenges we faced and priorities for the future. 

While I could see we would need to rethink some aspects of our service delivery, I left that demo knowing that something different and better had arrived. “What do you think?” I whispered to my colleague as we walked back down to the 1st floor, still unsure if I was just getting too excited. “It’s really good” she replied “Really, really good. This is what we need.”’

Over the next three months I got to know Handshake, the US team, and David Shull, Head of Handshake UK. I continued to be impressed, not only by the product and the impact Handshake has had in the US, but by the whole team and their individual stories and motivations. 

Lots of colleagues have commented on my “interesting move” 

Fast forward eight months: I’m now in my third week of working for Handshake UK and I’m still impressed every day! Lots of colleagues have commented on my “interesting move” in the past few months and they are right. It’s not what many expected my next step would be, including myself. 

At University of Westminster, we were constantly working to improve and re-imagine various streams of work: careers and employability in the curriculum; student engagement with extra-curricular careers support; guidance and services; work based learning programmes in their many forms; employer engagement; student access to labour market information; skills development and awards. Despite the challenges, I enjoyed it all. Our team at University of Westminster made huge strides forward, but we were limited by what we could do because of three factors largely outside of our control: 

  1. Despite recognising the impact of a 1-2-1 personalised service for every student and recent graduate, we could not physically resource it. We were limited in the ways we could reach out to our students that was meaningful, accessible and relevant for them.
  2. Despite understanding the challenges and objectives of the employers we worked with and wanted to work with, we could not change the existing model of how employers engaged with universities. 
  3. Many students arrived with little careers support prior to university and without a network around them to offer insights and encourage early engagement.

As a team, we always pushed to combat these challenges. We worked with outreach teams, attended open days and arrivals fairs. We organised employability inductions, launched Careers Registration, analysed engagement and historic outcomes data. We created tailored marketing and email campaigns, developed services for key student groups, developed skills awards, created and utilised online resources. We explored different methods of IAG delivery, collaborated with other HEIs and trialled online careers fairs. The list goes on and many amazing colleagues up and down the country are doing the same; evolving the service they offer to do the best by their students, graduates and employer partners 

“I believe that to make real progress we need to change the landscape collectively”

But over the last few years, I have come to the conclusion that whilst the landscape we are operating in has some truly amazing features, there are some areas that need regeneration. There is so much amazing work being done by universities, careers services and employers both independently and collaboratively within the certain areas they inhabit (physically and metaphorically), but I believe that to make real progress we need to change the landscape collectively. What’s more, I believe Handshake is uniquely positioned to do this. 

Handshake was set up because a group of students recognised that talent was distributed evenly but opportunity was not. Over the last 6 years Handshake have partnered with 900 Careers Services and 420k employers in the US to change the US landscape, and I joined Handshake to help do the same for the UK: for employers, colleagues and most importantly for our students.

Handshake is not just a jobs’ board or careers service management platform; it is an accessible early careers network connecting students, universities and employers in the same location. It facilitates direct communication and exchange of information and advice between all these different players to support a more even distribution of opportunity. 

I see my new role as an exciting opportunity to support colleagues across the UK with the tools they deserve, so they can get on with doing an amazing job! Technological innovation has enhanced so many industries: Isn't it about time HE careers had some attention?

Handshake UK is launching in summer 2020 and if you’d like to find out more you can contact me at clare@joinhandshake.com