Tech Innovation meets Career Services

Kevin Grubb, Executive Director of the Villanova University Career Center, stopped by Handshake headquarters in San Francisco and took the time to interview co-founder and CEO, Garrett Lord. Handshake is a company dedicated to democratizing opportunities for college students and college graduates regardless of where they live or go to school. The pair discussed technology, career services, avocados and Netflix below:


Hi, everybody. I'm sitting across from Garrett Lord who is the CEO and one of the founders of Handshake. I’m excited to be here to talk about technology, career services and higher education.

Garrett, the first question I have is fairly broad but, when you think about great technology today, what comes to mind?


There are some really interesting trends happening right now. If I can focus on technology in the workplace, for example, our communication at Handshake has been revolutionized - our operational tempo transformed through the use of Slack. Slack is an instant messenger, like Facebook Messenger, for the workplace.

I love to track the trends amongst 10, 15 and 18 year olds. This demographic is on the cusp of what user experience paradigms are unfolding – think about the move from Facebook, a photo rich environment to Instagram, vertically focused on photos and then eventually videos, to Snapchat. The main difference between an Instagram or Facebook and a Snapchat is this idea of this ephemeral content or content that doesn't live forever. On Snapchat, you're broadcasting but it's ephemeral, it's disappearing, but also asynchronous. If we think about hot apps in Silicon Valley, one of which is House Party, that trend is actually turning.


Explain what that app is for people who haven't experienced it.


Great question. If I open the House Party app, I immediately send a notification to all of my friends saying, "Hey, you're on the house party app." I can say hi to five, six, seven friends instantly, almost as if it's a house party unfolding on your phone. There are also interesting [trends] like Alexa or voice as a service and the idea that you'd be wearing glasses in the future.


You're sort of touching on this idea of machine learning here, and you talk about that often when speaking with the career services community. Could you describe machine learning and what that is to people?


Great question. It's something we’re really passionate about at Handshake. I think a simple example of machine learning is the way your parents taught you how to identify good avocados.

If I hand you five avocados and said these are good avocados, and then I handed you five bad avocados - super soggy, really hard, moisture on the surface – you would be able to go into a bag

of avocados and say, "Here are the good ones. Here are the bad ones." You could then take the top five avocados and say, "Here is the best example of what the best avocado looks like." Then, you go into a group of 100 new avocados. You're understanding of what a good avocado is like is constantly growing.

You could define two basic concepts in machine learning- a supervised machine learning algorithm (In this avocado example, you are constantly growing your training set to identify the best avocados), and unsupervised machine learning algorithms where the machine can actually begin to learn on its own.


How do you see machine learning changing the way people experience and interact with technology, their ideas about careers and career services within higher education?


If we zone into what a modern job search process can look like - a student can enter in some of their preferences around location, work-life balance and industry. You could then kind of build a model to begin to understand what similar people have done historically, asking the users for input and serve up content to them - how to identify the right opportunity, select the right type of company, how to compare company leadership. Let’s look at Netflix as an example. Netflix has all of the popular movies and through the curation of engagement with different movies and different titles and different actors, they can begin to understand your behavior patterns.

I think of student engagement in the future with Handshake really being around conversations, almost like a localized, high trust network of people that have been in your shoes at your university, having gone through similar challenges. There's so much tribal knowledge that career service centers begin to broadcast their students that changes their perspective on how to find a job.


When we think about career services groups, we know that we’re trying to scale ourselves up very big. Our offices are typically not numbering in the hundreds of staff members, but we want to meet with all of our students, connect with all of our employers to understand all that we can about them – all those pieces of the puzzle that make them who they are and drive them. To have a machine learn and help understand some things about these groups to drive them to potential outcomes and matches that might otherwise be unachievable – that’s a really exciting possibility.


Totally. Ultimately, it helps the career service center. We’re trying to allow [career centers] to spend their time in the most efficient, effective way with the highest need students. We are helping identify the most at risk students at a university because career service centers are very resource constrained organizations.


Is there such a time when it feels like, “Oh my gosh, the machine knows too much. It’s the age of the robots over people.” – I mean, what do you think about that dichotomy, that this may frighten people?


Yeah, that's a great question. We try to understand from a user perspective, "If I do x, what value does it get back to me." For example, if I complete my career interests as a student, how is that going to create a more personalized job search experience or save me time? We want to drive our users to provide valuable information in a way that is not scary to them. Constantly, we're talking to students, career service centers and employers to gathering their feedback on the user experience or machine learning in order to improve their experience. We are aiming to build an application that a user can trust to have the student’s best interest in mind and to use student data in the right way by means of improving their career development.


That trust is very important. There are a lot of ways that you could have applied this energy and knowledge, so what is it that made you excited about working in the space that you are, working with higher education?


I went to a university in the peninsula of Michigan, far away from opportunities. I didn't have a really rich, deep family network that could give me the next step. During my freshman year, I met a career counselor who helped me find my first internship at Los Alamos National where I was working on machine learning at a national laboratory. I also met a bunch of students that had opportunities far beyond what I could understand - including working at Google and Facebook. I came back to my career service center and was really driven to help students understand how to connect with the career service center.

I love working in higher education with career service centers where everybody is really focused on this mission. People from Teach for America, software engineers that have gone to outlier schools or even the best schools but have witnessed friends struggle with this process of going from college to career. That's really our goal, to make it easy to find your way into a career you love, regardless of who you know or what school you went to. We want to bring this opportunity to everybody.

Kevin Grubb is the Executive Director of the Villanova University Career Center, where he has been working since 2010. In 2013, he was the lead author of the Career Counselor’s Guide to Social Media in the Job Search, published by the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE). Kevin was named the “Rising Star” by NACE in 2015 and by the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) in 2014. Kevin also writes and speaks on the subject of career services for local and national media, including keynote addresses and featured interviews. He holds a BS in Psychology from St. Joseph's University and an MA in Higher Education Administration from New York University. Connect with Kevin on LinkedIn.

Garrett Lord is the co-founder and CEO of Handshake, the ultimate career network and recruiting platform for students. Handshake's mission is to democratize opportunity and make it easy for any student to build a great career, no matter where they go to school or who they know. Handshake has 3 million students and 100,000 employers (including 95% of the Fortune 500) recruiting students across 175 schools including Stanford, Princeton, UC-Berkeley, Michigan, UVA, Spelman and Harvey Mudd. Garrett grew up in the Detroit area and worked at Palantir before dropping out of Michigan Tech University in 2014 to build Handshake.

#Technology #NewCareerServices #Innovative

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