Creating a Compelling Handshake Profile

By Misty Crooks

Picture of a computer (turned off) on a table with a plant and a small sculpture.

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Having a complete and ready-to-go Handshake profile will ensure you are able to apply to jobs and internships before deadlines, expand your professional network, and get noticed by employers. The first step is to create your Handshake profile. Once the basic information is complete, read on to learn more about optimizing your profile.

Add a Photo

According to a LinkedIn study, profile photos on job search platforms result in significantly higher levels of engagement. Photos make your profile pop visually and help bring you to life as a job candidate. Your profile photo allows you to showcase your professionalism. Choose a photo that is clear with your face centered in the frame. Make sure to smile and present yourself as approachable. Attire should be appropriate for the job you would like to have. If possible, have professional photos taken. An experienced photographer can coach you on positioning, facial expression, and attire (how colors will appear in lighting, e.g.). If you are not able to have professional photos taken, you can search online for advice on taking good photos. Experiment as needed with different elements such as background and position.

My Journey: Crafting Your Story

Handshake’s My Journey section gives you the opportunity to frame your experience and highlight your strengths for employers. This section should explain how the disparate parts of your background and your various skills come together to create a great employee. Use the language of the field you want to work in; ensure that you describe yourself in terms recognizable and meaningful to those organizations. Check out how people working in your chosen field describe themselves on job search platforms and websites. You can also explore different styles of profiles. A good way to start is with a sentence that sums up how you would fit in to an organization. You can think of this as a formula: your role + most important aspect of your experience + soft skill that helps you achieve. For example, I am a biologist/STEM researcher/quantitative researcher with experience in/specializing in bringing together non-profit partners to improve healthcare access. Your intro sentence should point to themes that appear throughout your academic and career trajectory. Following this, you should craft a narrative that explains the why you-why now-why this job story. Show how your background has created you as a candidate. (Listen to GC alum Tim Wilson explain the importance of knowing this story for your own career.)

Work and Volunteer Experience

You can autopopulate this section by uploading your resume or CV, but you will want to revise in order to tailor the presentation of your experience. Taking some time to work on the order of your sections will make it easier for employers to see the most relevant information. For example, if you are looking for research positions, you can list your research experience at the top so it is visible at first glance. If seeking roles outside of academia, you can treat your graduate research as a work position. Create a position for PhD/M.A. Researcher and use bullet points for your main skills and accomplishments. Use transferrable skills to tailor these descriptions to fit the types of jobs you seek. For other positions held, review your bullet points to ensure they highlight your skills in the best way possible.

Adding in Other Types of Qualifications

In addition to the sections described above, Handshake includes places to list skills, coursework, organizations and extracurricular activities, and projects. Some ideas for these sections include mentoring (official or unofficial), academic committee roles such as student representative on your program’s admissions committee, and publication, website, or other media output. Include in these sections work that reinforces how you want to present yourself as a candidate. If you have a wide-ranging set of positions and projects, lean into that as a strength and bring up the breadth of your experience in your My Journey section.

Rounding Out Your Story

As you generate ideas for sections beyond Work and Volunteer Experience, you may be reminded of aspects you want to mention in the My Journey section. Your Handshake profile is a living document and each section should build on and add to other sections. Taken together, the different parts of your profile should present a candidate with a variety of skills as well as the common threads that have led you to your current career path.

You should update your Handshake profile regularly for two things. First and most obvious, keep adding new accomplishments and skills gained. Add new positions, projects, research outputs, grants, and other achievements in the appropriate sections. As you take on new responsibilities in current positions, add or switch out bullet points. Second, update with an eye towards strengthening your overall presentation. As you come across thing that other profiles do well, make note of them as inspiration for your profile. Perhaps you notice that uses stronger action words for bullet points. Or you learn in a resume workshop that describing accomplishments in quantifiable terms impresses employers. Keeping an eye out for ways to improve your profile will assist you in revising your profile over time.