Fixing the broken model of graduate recruitment

Graduate recruitment is key to building a strong workforce, yet many employers face barriers when searching for the most talented and diverse range of candidates. The early career network platform Handshake explains how it is using its network and data to transform the market

Recruiting the best and brightest graduates is vital to building a sustainable talent pipeline. Hiring digital natives from the most diverse generation yet is also key to helping companies tackle the skills gap and build a more inclusive workforce.

Yet in many ways the traditional graduate recruitment model is broken. Too often companies are bound by geography, establishing relationships with only a handful of universities in their local area which limits the talent pool available to them.

Most companies also lack the data they need to reach the right candidates. This is apparent both in terms of skills—particularly when it comes to jobs that don’t have a strong pipeline from vocational courses, or for SMEs with fewer resources to recruit at scale—and in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion criteria. The result leaves companies reliant upon one-size-fits-all marketing approaches that rarely yield the best results.

But what if companies could vastly widen the graduate talent pool available to them? What if the data they needed to screen candidates properly was available at the touch of a button?

War for talent

Since 2013, Handshake has been working to solve these problems by building the world’s biggest early career network, helping millions of students from all backgrounds to get hired and launch their careers. 

The platform offers a unique three-way-marketplace, which currently connects more than 1,400 universities, 650,000 employers and 200,000 students and alumni across the world. The firm works with graduate employers from top Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies as well as thousands of small businesses, charities and startups across the US, UK and rest of Europe.

“The war for talent is hotter than ever, with the labour market currently challenging for many employers,” says Jonathan Lu, the company’s general manager for EMEA. “Reaching gen-Z graduate recruits is therefore critical, conferring a real competitive advantage, and this is where Handshake comes in.”

A key benefit of the platform is that it helps employers to reach gen-Z audiences, which can be notoriously difficult.

Students in this cohort view career progression differently, with higher expectations around promotions, salaries and job moves. They care deeply about a company’s values on issues such as diversity and the environment and expect a ‘digital-first’ approach when it comes to marketing communications. In fact, Handshake research shows that two-thirds of early-career job seekers believe they do not need to meet in-person at all to forge a meaningful connection.

Breaking down the barriers

To break down these barriers, Handshake’s platform offers companies a seamless way to communicate and build relationships with gen-Z students. It also facilitates these relationships right from the start of their degrees, not just from year three.

Companies can build their own branded landing page on the platform, manage event registrations and publicise mentoring, career advice and job opportunities. Students access this information through the Handshake app, while also being able to message employers and university careers offices directly.

“There is still significant work to be done in terms of improving student confidence in their career goals during their studies,’’ Lu says. “Our research shows that a third of students feel very confident about their career prospects during the first year of their course, dropping to 31% in year two and falling dramatically again to just 17% in year three.

“Using technology to facilitate connections with employers sooner and to enable more continuous recruitment can play a big role here.”

Handshake’s platform links employers to a much wider range of university careers services teams and students than was previously possible, widening the available talent pool. In the UK, where it launched in 2020, some 14,000 employers and over 220,000 students already use the service. And that number is growing every week.

There is still significant work to be done in terms of improving student confidence in their career goals during their studies

Employers can also unlock new data insights on prospective candidates. Among other things, Handshake enables companies to search for students based on their degree, languages spoken, societies they have joined and their achievements, as well as their ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic background.

“We offer a ‘positive screening model’ where you can’t filter people out based on EDI criteria but you can filter them in,” says Lu. “The idea is that more candidates from different backgrounds get recognised and employers get access to previously hard-to-reach pools of talent.”

Building a more diverse workforce

These data insights enable employers to actively target priority groups and engage the people they want to hire, allowing them to optimise their graduate recruitment events. It also helps them build a more diverse workforce, which is self-reinforcing because gen-Z candidates find this attractive.

The tech recruitment company FDM turned to Handshake to help it build relationships with top talent around the world. The London-based firm, which has 5,000 employees, was struggling to compete for young workers with the world’s biggest tech brands, leading to long hiring cycles and a lack of high-quality candidates.

With Handshake it was able to identify almost 1,400 candidates in a single year, promote 70 virtual events and achieve a 50% uplift in graduate job postings.

By tapping into Handshake’s network of students in the UK, FDM instantly broadened its options and boosted its recruitment rate, saving time in the process. It was able to understand its candidates at a more granular level and move beyond blanket marketing campaigns towards more personalised messaging that built trust.

Lu says another big benefit of using the platform is achieving greater cost efficiency. Employers that use Handshake typically see a lower cost per hire and faster time to hire, meaning better value for money over all.

“Technology can help facilitate a shift in acquisition practices that employers are telling us they want,” says Lu. “Companies are looking to build meaningful relationships with graduates that boost their talent pipelines. That means communicating with those candidates through a more seamless and continuous recruitment process, making earlier connections with quality candidates.”

For practical advice on tackling your priorities in the year ahead, download our Graduate Employer Priorities 2023 report at

Promoted by Handshake