2019 Campus to Career Report: Looking at the Similarities and Difference in Early Careers Across the Pond

David Shull
May 3, 2020

This summer the team at Handshake released our 2019 Campus to Careers report. The report looks at trend data from Handshake’s early career network of 800 American Universities, 420,000 global employers, and 14 million students. Now in its second year, the report looks at how student interests are changing and the implications for employers seeking to recruit the right talent for their teams.

For the past six months, I’ve been exploring how Handshake’s mission of democratising opportunity fits into the early career ecosystem in the United Kingdom. I’ve been struck by how similar the challenges facing U.K. universities, employers and students are to those we experienced in the US when we were starting Handshake. Some key differences do exist where the U.K. is well ahead of what we are seeing in the US. This report provides a great foundation to reflect on these trends.

Trend 1: The UK is ahead of the US trend of skills being more important than the course/major and grades of a candidate.

One of the most striking realisations I had in moving to the UK was that the use of course (for my American readers: course = major) to qualify a student for a position was virtually non-existent. I distinctly remember my first conversation with Stephen Isherwood (CEO of ISE) who told me that a major UK accounting firm would happily hire and train a history major to be an accountant. In talking with top law firms, technology companies, and everything in between, that’s the norm, not the exception.

To put that in perspective, in the United States, less than 20% of full-time accounting jobs were posted without a major related ‘preference’ across the Handshake network.

While setting a preference for a specific major remains prevalent in the United States, this is starting to change. In 2015, Handshake took a bold stance to remove hard qualifications from the system. We have always believed that major does not equal career. We wanted to take steps to help employers discover great candidates regardless of what they studied. Some of the most rewarding stories we’ve heard are from students who ended up in their dream job which would have otherwise been excluded from even applying because their area of study wasn’t an obvious match to the role. Today, over 60% of all interviews hosted on campus have at least one student outside of the original preferences defined by the employer. Major firms are setting the trend by publically moving away from these methods — A recent Harvard Business Review showcased the work being done by Goldman Sachs to move away from using Major, GPA (grades), and a small list of target campuses. The results have been powerful.

Universities in the US are proactive in driving this point home. A recent article by Christine Cruzvergara who was the Associate Provost at Wellesley College, a top liberal arts program outside of Boston, and now serves as Handshake’s VP of University, and Student Success wrote in a 2018 article:

“Despite the critics who would argue for more vocational or skills-based programs, we believe (and many employers would agree) the value of a liberal arts education and/or the competencies derived from liberal arts disciplines has never been greater. The need for synthesizing abstract knowledge or pulling together disparate areas into cohesive solutions across multiple arenas will only increase in the future. While a constant in many industries for years, this will become even more central and important in the future as we seek workers who are able to think broadly, learn quickly, and comprehend systems different from their specialized area of expertise.”

Our campus to career report suggests students understand that what they study does not dictate their career with 60% of respondents saying they are open to jobs outside their area of study.

In the UK this antiquated approach to candidate filtering (what did you study, what grades did you get, etc.) have been replaced mainly by psychometric testing (learn more about those here). The standard application process for a graduate is to apply and almost immediately be invited to participate in an increasingly online testing experience. Companies like Capp.co have built entire businesses creating bespoke tests that align with the success attributes at a specific company. They are designed to gauge how a candidate will align with the particular skills and cultural attributes the company needs. Questions are being asked about how these tests are preventing systematising bias. When done right, these tests allow employers to look beyond the indicators primarily used in the US (GPA, Major, University Brand) and instead look at the personality traits of the individual. That increases the opportunity for every student and means that a student isn’t picking a career path when they choose a major, as it can often feel like for a student in the US.

Social mobility is important to US and UK Universities, but structural barriers have created unequal access to opportunity. Networks and sourcing are creating a new way to discover talent.

At their best, universities are engines of social mobility. We believe the employability office on campus has a critical role in helping realise the vision of providing every student with the building blocks of a meaningful career. In talking with universities, students, and employers across the globe, we’ve come to share a common belief that talent is distributed evenly, but access to opportunity is not.

At Handshake, we believe this uneven distribution of opportunity is exacerbated by the technologies universities have had access to for the following reasons:

  1. Systems that require employers to create a bespoke account, brand, vacancy posting, etc.. for every campus create a requirement that employers know the brand of every university and have the time to dedicate to managing dozens of accounts and/or the budget to pay a convenience fee for someone else to distribute those opportunities. Universities with a strong brand do well, but even the strongest brands struggle to attract opportunities with enough variety to serve a diverse student population.
  2. These systems rely on what we call the ‘post and pray’ approach — which is an incredibly inefficient way to connect talent to opportunity. In this model, an employer posts an opportunity and hopes the right applicant logs into the system at the right time to see the posting and then takes the time to apply. Employers with top brands can count on enough people doing this, but SMEs and organisations with a lesser-known brand usually struggle.

Networks solve these problems by reducing the barrier of entry to connect with a diverse set of universities and talent. Sourcing enables companies to be proactive in telling their story with candidates. For students, getting a message from an employer is a ‘magic moment’ that can build confidence and be genuinely transformative.

Handshake’s network brings both of these elements together and in our 2019 Campus to Career report we looked at the top skills students were adding to their profiles.

Here are the top soft and hard skills that early talent on the Handshake platform, self-reported for the 2019 recruiting season.

Sourcing allows employers to reach out to prospective candidates based on their profiles (students must opt to share this with employers). Sourcing will enable employers to find students with the right skills and interests regardless of where they are going to school or if they happen to see the vacancy that employer posted.

In the US, skills have quickly replaced more antiquated measures of success — like GPA. Today, 2/3 of campaigns sent by employers do not include a GPA filter (despite it being available). We couldn’t be more excited about this and look forward to continuing our investment in helping students tell their story and the impact they can have.

Trend 2: Student interests are changing, creating new challenges for companies and universities.

Gen Zers are arriving on campuses and companies as the first generation to grow up not knowing a world without smartphones. Their expectations and interests are forcing universities and employers to rethink how to support and recruit this mobile-first generation.

Our 2019 Campus to Career report gives some clues into these changing expectations and how they compare across the UK and the US.

Personalised mobile experiences aren’t a feature to Gen Zers; it’s an expectation.

As a member of the dreaded millennial generation (which, by the way, the oldest of us are now about to turn 40) I can still remember my first smartphone — the iPhone 3G. I saved from my three part-time jobs for months and with a proper amount of begging for mom and dad to switch from Verizon to AT&T (the only network with the iPhone in the US for the first years) and several hours waiting in line I walked away with an iPhone 3G. Every app was exciting, and the fact that I could look things up anywhere made me the annoying fact-checker at the dinner table. I remember being blown away when Google Maps came out with free turn-by-turn directions on the iPhone — replacing TomTom’s $49 app.

Today’s college students and those just starting their career grew up with Netflix (1997), Facebook (launched in 2006 to everyone), Spotify (2008), Instagram (2010), etc.

Students can use Ocado to order groceries with personalised suggestions for them, use Deliveroo to get a personalised set of suggested nearby restaurants delivered, all while watching a never-ending collection of movies and TV shows recommended by Netflix and chatting with people from around the globe on Snapchat. Everything about GenZ’s online experience has been personized for as long as they can remember.

So it’s not surprising that the way students want to engage with employers and universities has changed.

Three Changes We’re Seeing in How Students Engage with Employers

1: Students want employers to message first. Our data showcased in the Campus to Career report shows that 95% of students want to engage with companies that send personalised, proactive outreach. 82% of students surveyed said they prefer online communication from recruiters.

2: Values are valued. GenZ is looking for more than just a good paycheck; they want to work at a place that values them and where they can make an impact. 67% of students and recent graduates said they would like to work for an employer that has built an inclusive company culture and provides a sense of belonging to all employees from all backgrounds.

3: Students do their homework. Our data shows that 62% of applicants rely on career platforms for information when deciding on where to go next. Importantly, they want more than pre-scripted content — they want to hear from peers on what it’s like to work there.

An employer page in Handshake, where students can see from their peer’s reviews what their experience was like at the company.

These changing expectations are forcing employers and universities to rethink their digital engagement strategies.

Universities in the UK and the US are exploring new technologies and new programs. Many of these are focused on peer-to-peer connections, which help drive engagement and help career teams scale their impacts. In the UK, the University of Liverpool has created the Career Studio with an emphasis on peer to peer drop-in appointments.

In the US, the University of Nevada Reno pioneered the Career Studio model where their peer advisors are serving over 4,000 drop-in appointments per year. Learn more about their program here.

Historically, career management systems used by universities have been strictly transactional where a student only logs in to complete a particular task (e.g. apply for a position, request an appointment, etc.). This transactional focus drives engagement to other systems for career discovery outside of the employability office. Not only is this unfortunate from an impact perspective, but it drives massive inequalities across students as the information a student has access to is primarily determined by the socioeconomic status of their family, where they happened to go to school, etc.

Typical university systems drive most of the meaningful engagement to external systems.

We believe that to level the playing field for all students and to help universities supercharge engagement, all these elements need to be brought into the career management ecosystem.

In Handshake, we’ve worked closely with universities, students, and employers to create engaging features that help students and early talent at every stage of the process.

Handshake gives universities employability offices a single platform for continuous engagement.

By bringing this into a single system owned by the employability office, it allows students to go through the discovery cycle much more seamlessly.

It also ensures a more equitable experience for every student by providing access to crucial career-related information. Since students can share and learn from one another across the platform, it removes the requirement that an individual has friend or family networks to lean on. With Handshake, any student can explore and learn from other students around the globe.

Conclusion — What hasn’t changed

It’s a fascinating time to be in the early careers space. A new generation is entering the workforce at the same time that technologies like AI are forcing us to have a conversation on the future of work. The ways that students and employers connect are being redefined, and an undercurrent of uncertainty runs throughout the industry, all while government regulations and investment are continually being debated.

In a recent HEPI article titled “Steering a course through the chaos” (link here) Paul Woodgates says:

It’s hard to remember a time when universities faced so many unknowns. Will the Augar Report [A recent report making suggestions on the future of higher education funding in the UK] recommendations ever become reality? How much money will the sector have? What will Brexit mean? Will the economy nosedive? What kind of government will we have by Christmas?

To which he concludes: “Uncertainty is the new normal”, and while I can not disagree, I think there are a few things that are the same in our industry.

People & human connection matters more than ever

I just finished reading “Trillion Dollar Coach” — the story of Bill Campbell, who coached Google, Apple, and countless other silicon valley successes. I was struck by the chapter on love and the importance of it in life (including in work).

The book tells the story of Eric Schmidt stepping down from Google after over a decade of building the company. From the outside, most people see an incredibly powerful and successful business person who can do anything he wants, but Eric confides in the reader his fear of the unknown and feeling of losing his identity. He needed someone to turn to address the emotional side of the transition.

If the CEO and Chairman of Google/Alphabet needed someone to trust and support him in his career transition, imagine how true this must be for our students. Technology is very good at somethings, but navigating these life-changing decisions can be scary, and the impact of a good coach, mentor, or even friend won’t change. It’s arguably become even more critical as our world becomes increasingly uncertain.

Final Thoughts — finding the right balance between technology and humanity

My first internship in Silicon Valley was with a company called Palantir. One of the on-boarding videos told the story of the company, and it included insight from the game of chess.

When computers first came out, it was thought to be impossible for a computer ever to beat a human at the game of chess. Then, in February of 1996, a computer beat the then-chess world champion at his own game. The machine was able to make millions of calculations per second and predict the outcome of every possible move on the board — something a human couldn’t fathom.

However, what proved even more successful was combining a computer with a human along with an interface that allowed the computer and human to each focus on their strengths.

In the early career space, I think we were entering a moment similar to that of 1996 when computers upended the world of chess. Technology is entering our sector at an unprecedented rate and will be a critical tool in impacting our constituents at scale. It will be necessary for all of us to remember though, that technology is best when it’s complementing humanity — not seeking to replace it outright.