Since Handshake’s founding, we have always been driven by our mission to democratize opportunity for every student. To do so, we need to address two main challenges that students currently face: access to opportunity and access to information. Handshake’s unique network model has done a phenomenal job of tackling the issue of access to opportunity.

However, equal access to opportunity with unequal access to information still creates an uneven playing field. Let’s take Marie, a first-generation college student at a large well-known state school. Thanks to the Handshake network, Marie has access to tens of thousands of jobs and internships. The problem – Marie has no idea what these jobs mean. “ibanking” – is that internet banking? What does a consultant do? Without the information to make sense of these opportunities, students like Marie are at a major disadvantage as they take the first step towards career exploration.

When students feel as if they’ve hit a wall, they most likely will turn to their peers for answers either in person or online. At thebeginning of the 2018 academic year, we introduced our Reviews and Q&A features with the hopes that we can create a space for students to learn from and give advice to their peers. We incorporate this data into our employer profiles and job pages so students can learn as they continue their exploration in Handshake.

Why is peer-to-peer learning so valuable?

We hosted a webinar panel with three innovative leaders in the career service space: Abra McAndrew (The University of Arizona), Branden Grimmett (Loyola Marymount University), and Christian Garcia (The University of Miami). These three schools were part of our 6 month pilot program to test out the Reviews and Q&A features. After seeing the benefits that the new features brought to their campuses, they were excited to share how peer-to-peer learning has benefitted their students and why it is necessary for the future of career services.

“We understand that there is a large population in first-gen students, under-represented minorities, and students majoring in disciplines that are not necessarily career-specific. As a liberal arts institution, we wanted to make sure that our students that want to go work for companies that don’t map directly to our major are able to gain insight from people on the platform that have expertise either working or interning at those companies directly.”

Branden Grimmet, Associate Provost for Career Services and Development at Loyola Marymount

Below you’ll find what we’ve learned from the panel:

  • No matter where your students come from, they all need a strong support system
  • Students are broadening their career development mindset
  • Leveraging the power of the network can help set up your students for success
  • Students need all types of support

One point that was discussed in the panel was the idea of how to give all students the support they need at scale. It is nearly impossible for the career services staff to give each student individualized support.

“We need a Reddit for career questions! We can’t always be there at the moment when students have these questions, other students have the same questions, and the peer that they turn to might not have the best answers. How can we provide a way for students to crowdsource the best answers to their question? I’m excited now that we have that in play within Handshake.”

Abra McAndrew, Assistant VP of Career Development and Engagement at University of Arizona

The University of Arizona has over 35,000 undergraduate students, Abra believes it isn’t realistic to be the gatekeeper of knowledge for every single student. To ensure her students have the support, resources, and quality experience they need at scale, her team has put their entire job search curriculum online so that every student has common content to utilize. Its impossible to reach every student in-person at the moment they need information, but now the career center can provide access to the consistent information 24/7.

Aside from the obstacle of trying to scale out support for students, the challenge of providing the right type of support comes into play. Students from all types of backgrounds come into their career development journey with varying social capital. Some students may have support from their family and friends while another student may have accumulated knowledge from a mentor. Even though students can come in with some amount of information about how to navigate their career path, the bottom line is that all students still need a large amount of support. In order for students to remain excited and engaged in their career development, they need support that goes beyond the scope of the appointments they make with their counselors.

“As we think about those under-represented students, first-generation students, or ethnic minorities, they need support that is a little different than those students coming to us from a majority standpoint or identity. But the reality is every student that goes to college these days needs a lot of career support…We believe that the more we can treat every student like first-generation students assuming there’s no career knowledge, the better all students will be.”

Branden Grimmet, Associate Provost for Career Services and Development at Loyola Marymount University

Expanding the horizon for career development

Abra shares an example of a student at the University of Arizona leaving a review of her marketing internship in the food industry. The student wrote about how she had the opportunity to work not only with the marketing department but sales, operations, R&D, and data analysis. Abra saw that a review such as this can bring students value a few ways.

A student who’s read this review may think:

  • What topics do I want to talk about in my interview?
  • What kind of experience can I expect, not having an internship in marketing before?
  • Job functions can span across different industries? Maybe there’s a job role in an industry I’m interested in!

Christian from the University of Miami shares how he’s been trying to promote the importance of on-campus jobs, especially because many students haven’t had much work experience. He notes that when students leave reviews about their on-campus jobs they help highlight the transferable skills they’ve acquired. This can potentially open up a new career development strategy, especially for students on the network who are concerned about their lack of experience. Whether it be about internships, interviews, day in the life, or majors, it is clear that students genuinely want to help out their fellow peers as well as respect and trust the advice they receive in return.

Finding support coast to coast

Overall, peer-to-peer learning has been able to further leverage the power of the Handshake network. Our panelists have acknowledged that sometimes their own network of students and alums can only provide so much.

“LMU is a national, international school as well. We have students from all 50 states, we have students from a dozen of different countries outside the US. We want to make sure that wherever our students want to go work, there is some insider knowledge coming from all those different possible employers, all those 64,000+ employers. So for students based in LA who want to relocate the East Coast, we have to rely on the collective knowledge of the peer to peer network within Handshake to break open those different markets on a different coast, different continents those kinds of things. For us, those are clear benefits and big takeaways that we’ve gotten from the program.”

Branden Grimmet, Associate Provost for Career Services and Development at Loyola Marymount University

With our Reviews and Q&A, students now have the ability to get a better understanding of a certain job or industry that is in a different region, different coast, or even different country.As a school in the hub of the movie-making industry like LMU, students can share as well as learn how they have been able to land traditional film jobs for someone trying to break into the industry. On the flip side, students from LMU can learn how theycan apply their niche majors to job roles that go outside of the traditional route of film. Creating a space to facilitate these kinds of conversations gives students access to information they can trust and use to further enrich their career development journey.