Attracting quality talent through hackathons

March 15, 2019
4 mins

This post was originally published on The HR Agenda Magazine’s blog on March 1st, 2019

Hackathons are a logical solution to addressing the unique challenges of hiring the ever-elusive top tech talent.

Talent acquisition has been the biggest concerns for the C-suite year after year. According to the latest PWC survey, 63 percent of the CEOs are increasingly concerned about finding talent with the right skills.

To combat the serious shortage of skills, companies are resorting to innovative means of hiring. For example, Volvo turned the Brussels Motor Show into a recruitment ground where AI-powered cars interviewed and recruited technicians. This led to Volvo filling the 200 vacancies in no time.

One of the recent recruitment trends gaining momentum is for companies to use hackathons for hiring quality talent. Although hackathons are predominantly a crowdsourcing tool, in recent times, they have proven to be an effective hiring mechanism.

What is a hackathon?

A hackathon is a competitive and competitive event in which teams of designers, developers and subject matter experts create solutions for a specific problem within a defined time frame. The goal is to build a working prototype in the form of a website, an app, or a robot to solve a given problem.

Why hackathons for hiring?

When it comes to recruitment, the following five important parameters or metrics ascertain its effectiveness.

  • Quality of hire
  • Time to hire
  • Cost of hire
  • Candidate experience
  • Diversity and inclusion

Hackathon as a hiring tool serves well across the parameters mentioned above.

May the best man/woman win

Hiring through hackathons is a truly meritocratic process. If a candidate is skilled enough to solve a complex problem you pose or build something extraordinary, all that is left is to assess if the candidate is culturally fit for the organization. Most hackathons will have at least 10 percent of ideas that exceeds your expectation. Interestingly, these ideas also tend to come from people who would not have been shortlisted through the traditional process on the basis of experience, pedigree, etc.

48 hours of rendezvous

According to studies, the average time to fill a position is 36 days. Whereas, hackathons reduce this time to 28 days (organizing, inviting ideas, and shortlisting) including the 48 hours of intense hacking. Also, companies get the opportunity to interact with the candidates and mentor them.

Cost of hire

According to the Talent Acquisition Benchmarking Report, the average cost of a hire is $4,425 whereas the average cost of hackathons for hiring is $4,000, with the advantage of hiring multiple candidates. If four employees are hired by conducting a hackathon, the average cost per hire boils down to $1,000 ($4,000/4) as opposed to $4,425 (conventional hire). Hackathons help in building a pipeline of talent as well. For example, if your company predominantly works on Django/Python tech stack, you can easily build a pool of talent by conducting a hackathon focused on Django/Python.

Candidate experience

The number one reason for candidates to participate in hackathons is “because I find it enjoyable,” says a survey by StackOverflow. Moreover, 20 percent of the hackathon participants believe it “helps me find new job opportunities.” In contrast to the traditional screening and interview process, hackathons provide a conducive environment that can bring out the best in a candidate.


Source: StackOverflow

Diversity and inclusion

Companies that are focused on improving diversity and inclusion turn to hackathons for hiring. For instance, women-only hackathons have proven to be an effective way to recruit female tech talent.

Emerging Technologies and Niche Skills

Data scientist scarcity – In the U.S., data scientists are the most sought-after professionals. However, there is a significant shortage of data scientists globally, and the demand is 50 percent more than the supply. In such cases, machine learning (ML) and data science hackathons have been tremendously effective in spotting and recruiting skilled data scientists. On the average, an ML/data science challenge gets 1,500 to 2,000 participants. Corporate giants such as Accenture and banks such as Societe Generale regularly conduct such hackathons. In fact, some companies have set up a data science team in just 10 days through ML hackathons.

Blockchain, AR/VR, full-stack, and cyber-security experts are a few other niche skills that companies hire through hackathons.

How to Conduct a Hiring Hackathon

  1. Decide the role and list the desired skill set for a particular role.
  2. Craft problem statements that would assess the skills encompassing the role.

For example: If you are hiring a full-stack developer, the problem or task should be designed to evaluate:

  • Understanding of front-end programming languages such as HTML, CSS, and Javascript
  • Command over middle-ware such as PHP, Python, and Ruby
  • Knowledge of databases and OS
  • Experience in deployment and hosting
  • Knowledge of third-party APIs/services

3. Invite participants. This could be challenging for most companies. Partnering with hackathon management companies with a vibrant developer community will help attract a large number of participants.

4. Evaluate and shortlist candidates. Invite the shortlisted candidates for an in-person interview and roll-out offers. Using hackathon management software makes the job 10X easier as submissions, judging, and shortlisting are streamlined.

Tech-oriented recruitment for top tech talent

Hackathons can be an effective tool for hiring, especially when attracting niche and rare talent.

It shortens the time to hire, brings down the cost, and also ensures an unbiased assessment. If you believe hiring the right talent is important for your business, then hiring through hackathons is something you should explore. After all, a company is only as good as its employees.

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About the Author

Vivek Prakash
Co-founder & CTO @HackerEarth. Programmer at heart. Building largest hub of programmers. vivek@hackerearth.com

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