Handshake, the prospering career-services platform, will be in use at 700 colleges and universities by this fall. The company appears poised, despite previous concerns over student privacy, to dominate the market.
The start-up has strived since its creation in 2014. It seeks to connect students -- no matter where they live -- to potential employers. Soon, Handshake will spread to 75 percent of the nation's most selective 500 universities, according to representatives of the company.
For institutions, Handshake serves as a database and platform for career centers. Students, meanwhile, create profiles similar to those offered on LinkedIn, which can highlight academic accomplishments and skills. About 250,000 employers have joined Handshake, too, including all the Fortune 500 companies.
Inside Higher Ed reported a little more than a year ago that some students were unaware they had signed up for the service or that it was sharing personal information such as their grade point average, raising questions about privacy.
Experts hypothesized at the time that students had signed up for Handshake so quickly that they forgot, or had failed to read lengthy terms of service -- a common phenomenon that has been in the spotlight due to Facebook’s sharing of its user data.
Handshake, though, revised its terms of service last year, said co-founder Garrett Lord, to make them more explicit and clear for students.
“We’re hypersensitive to the student data and privacy issue,” Lord said. “That’s chief -- it’s one of the core tenets of Handshake.”
In the last year or so, the company has rolled out new features that mirror more mainstream social media sites, like Facebook or LinkedIn. Students now can pose questions online that they'd like to know the answer to (Handshake introduced a mobile app in August) and, in a pilot program, users can post reviews of employers.
Jonathan Stull, chief operating officer for the company, said Handshake wants to “democratize” information -- which has benefits for all three parties: students, institutions and employers.
Some universities expressed concern that students would leave unprofessional comments potential employers could see and that Handshake might go the way of RateMyProfessor.com. The website has been criticized for the quality of its reviews, which often are gender biased.
Handshake said it vets their reviews before they’re published with almost no problems -- only four reviews were flagged for additional moderation, but were not at all malicious toward the company they were reviewing, a company spokeswoman said. Stull said that because the reviews aren’t anonymous -- students are required attach their names to comments -- they are less likely to include crude remarks.
Ray Angle, assistant vice president for career and professional development at Gonzaga University, said he opted out of both the pilot review system for students and allowing students to upload photos. Angle said he worried that uploading photos might violate Equal Employment Opportunity standards, because a person's looks can't be a consideration for a job. (Handshake said it would not be a problem, because images students post online, such as on LinkedIn, can be viewed by employers prior to when potential employees interview.)
Angle, and campus representatives from several other institutions who spoke to Inside Higher Ed, largely praised Handshake.
They said that when career centers needed assistance, or wanted something changed with the service, Handshake generally was responsive. Angle said his university has seen a big boom in student interaction with career services since it started using Handshake, and that about 35 percent of the undergraduate students at Gonzaga had activated their profiles. While Handshake does hold all of the data on students, it’s only made public when students activate their profile.
"I’d like them to keep students first," Angle said, and be ethical in how they manage the development of their platform.
Joseph A. Testani, assistant dean and executive director of the Gwen M. Greene Center for Career Education and Connections at the University of Rochester, said after Inside Higher Ed published its article on student privacy, administrators “had a talk” about the expectations for Handshake and data privacy. But Testani said the institution is confident that its students’ data are safe. About 71 percent of Rochester undergraduates have activated their profiles, he said.
Career services hadn't experienced much innovation before Handshake, Testani said. But in today’s job market, he said, institutions need to keep up with how students are interacting with employers and how they are finding their careers.
Testani said the institution needs that innovation.
"I do like the idea of cracking few eggs," Testani said.