Building a world-class design team: a note from Handshake’s new CDO

Chief Design Officer Malthe Sigurdsson brings his user-first mentality to the challenge of finding a first job.

Some things are more difficult than they should be. Making these things easier—transforming them into enjoyable experiences that start and end with what the people using the product really want—has been a throughline in my work. From communication at Skype, to music discovery at Rdio, to financial infrastructure at Stripe, I’ve always found purpose and satisfaction in making these everyday things as simple and delightful as they ought to be.

And that’s also how I’m thinking about the challenge of finding a first job—at Handshake.

The current state of the job hunt

Today, students looking for an internship or their first job must navigate a tortuous process. Traditional credentials carry too much weight. Success often depends on who you know. It’s a process that’s not particularly fair. It’s certainly much more difficult than it should be. And I don’t think many people consider it enjoyable. 

Handshake has already demonstrated that there’s enormous demand for improving the job search experience for students and early career talent. I believe that Design at Handshake can help further deliver on this promise.

We can transform what is too often a stressful and frustrating experience into an enjoyable one. 

Removing barriers and creating opportunities for students, providing them with more and better choices, helping them take that first step in their career journey with confidence—that’s an exciting mission! And as my kids and their peers make their way to college or whatever their choice is beyond high school, I’m so happy that I can play a small role in making sure they have the opportunity to get started right.

Fixing a broken system

The traditional “core school” recruiting model means that most recruiters connect with only a tiny fraction of students from a small number of schools. These schools may be geographically close to the business or they may have alumni who work in the company’s C-suite. For employers, this restricts their ability to access a deep pool of diverse talent, and they end up spending time and money competing against their peers for the same, small set of people with the “right” backgrounds.

Handshake makes this experience better by partnering with educational institutions—universities, colleges, bootcamps, and other schools—to play an active and collaborative role in promoting the success of their students. Schools know that by partnering with Handshake, they can provide students with better access to more opportunities and improved employment outcomes.

How Handshake can help

Because it’s the platform of choice for educational institutions, Handshake is able to help businesses to scale their recruiting efforts and connect with students they were never able to reach previously. And there’s much more that Handshake can still do to help companies build and retain high-performing teams—in the U.S. and abroad. Around the world, students, businesses, and schools all face similar challenges, and Handshake can help them too.

While Handshake may already be a household name (at least in households with university students), there is ample room to grow—and for the platform to grow up with the students it’s supporting today. That’s because the need for support doesn’t end with the first job offer. Handshake can do even more to help young people discover new opportunities as they progress in their careers, including potential career changes.

Design has a unique opportunity to help the company deliver on its goals. It’s going to require activating and exercising all the muscles of a well-rounded Design team:

Product Design

To improve existing products on the web and mobile and create entirely new ones

Brand Design

To tell compelling stories about our business and our impact on students requires careful coordination among brand, event, film, and campaign teams

UX Research

To make sure we identify customer pain points and that our work addresses them

Brand and UX writing

To organize information in sensible ways and demystify the process without talking down to anyone

Design Operations

To help build and run a world-class Design team

Building a world-class Design team

That’s my goal at Handshake—to create a world-class Design team. A Design team that is equally proficient in leading strategic decision making as they are in making stunningly beautiful work.

To me, a world-class team is one composed of people excited to collaborate not only with other designers, but also with their talented colleagues in engineering, product management, marketing, customer success, and beyond.

I firmly believe that design is a team sport, and the team it takes to deliver great work contains people of diverse profiles, skills, disciplines, and backgrounds. Teamwork does, in fact, make the dream work. 

At the same time, more is not always better—I’m looking to build the best team, not the biggest. Issues of efficiency or process should not just be solved with more people. Every single designer, writer, researcher, and program manager at Handshake will have meaningful responsibilities and the opportunity for outsized impact. 

Cultivating a user-first mindset

It is most important to me that every single problem, issue, and opportunity at Handshake is approached first and foremost with one single thing in mind: the user. When we do right by students, recruiters, college career specialists, and everyone else who engages with Handshake, everything else follows.

I’m beyond excited to have joined a team that has tirelessly built a big opportunity from nothing, and I’m equally excited to work with everyone to build what comes next. And yes, we’re hiring—please connect with us or feel free to contact me directly at malthe@joinhandshake.com.