Hack to Hire: 5 Reasons to use Hackathons in your Hiring Process

Posted by Lydia Da Cruz on October 5, 2020

Companies are increasingly finding their fortunes – and futures – tied to their ability to attract talent from a limited pool of qualified technology workers. This shortage has been exacerbated as the pandemic spurred an unprecedented surge in tech investment and is expected to become much more acute in the coming years as the role of tech continues to expand across industries. Talent acquisition in emerging technologies has become the biggest concern for companies around the world. In 2019, CEOs across industries ranked attracting and retaining top talent as their #1 internal concern.

To not only attract, but retain talent, HR leaders face the added challenge of recruiting professionals that not only meet job requirements but are also a good fit for the organizational culture. This is especially difficult under today’s circumstances where remote interviews and onboarding processes are the norm rather than the exception.

So how do HR leaders adapt to these changes and re-design their recruitment processes to be effective and efficient?

Hackathons are a logical solution to addressing the unique challenges of hiring the ever-elusive top tech talent. In fact, their use has increased manifold over the years and is set to rise even further as businesses acclimatize to a change in hiring processes and increased virtual and remote work.

Talent Branding

Hackathons create strong brand visibility and a deeper more meaningful connection than comparative branding initiatives. Philosopher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once said: “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times … The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” Achieving something difficult and worthwhile responds to our innate desire for purpose and meaning. At a hackathon, participants are encouraged to pursue that extraordinary state of consciousness – or what’s often called a flow state – tap into their highest potential and enjoy the rewarding pleasures of stretching themselves to accomplish greatness. The brand that enabled this is rewarded with a deeper and more meaningful connection with the participant.

This deep connection, resulting in lasting, positive brand recall establishes companies that leverage hackathons in their hiring processes as a desirable place to work among attendees. Hackathons are also a uniquely effective way for companies to believably demonstrate their work and company culture, live their values out in the open and showcase their approach to teamwork, problem solving and mentorship. This is especially true if they supply mentors to teams, host workshops and are involved throughout and comitted to the success of participants during the event.

  • Deeper, more meaningful brand connection
  • Showcase company culture and demonstrate workplace experience
  • Brand promotion opportunity with broad CTA allowing for maximum reach on employment portals, social media, networking platforms, forums, campuses, and though the engagement of other more specific skill community gatekeepers
  • Brand establishment as the voice of innovation and change, recognizing the value of innovators and their ideas
  • Create lasting event branding material to add to talent brand media roster

Build Recruitment Pipeline

All HR representatives agree, everyone can use more candidates in the funnel. Hackathons – especially virtual ones where the number and catchment area of participants is essentially limitless – are an effective and lean tactic for companies looking to build their recruitment pipeline. Hackathons allow HR professionals to assess and most importantly eliminate less qualified candidates, and candidates that are simply not a good cultural fit, much faster than usually possible relying on the traditional interview process. Even if participants from the winning teams and other most qualified candidates are hired directly, companies are still left with a large list of other potential candidates to add to their recruitment funnel for further evaluation or consideration at a later time.   

  • Build a pipeline of candidates not only for the present, but also for the future

Quality of Hire

While tackling any given hackathon challenge, teams need to conduct research, devise a strategy, divvy up responsibilities and tasks, develop novel products or services and create a persuasive pitch – all this in a limited amount of time and with the added pressure of real prizes on the line. With each participant naturally assuming a role and responsibility on the team, the team dynamic begins to mimic that of an organization and allows recruiters to judge candidates based on a variety of criteria including how well they work in a high-pressure environment, their ability to work in a team, their situational judgment, business acumen and how well and creatively can they employ their technical skills. This environment also allows recruiters to review a candidates' leadership potential based on critical leadership qualities like empathy, communication, team management and leading peers towards a common goal.

Additionally, the ability to define the challenge participants will be working on allows organizers to assess candidates on very specific skills – like their ability to deliver outstanding work using the companies' standard coding language, frameworks and integrating into its APIs and processes – and potentially benefiting from their unique outside perspective – by supplying a real business challenge the company is currently looking to solve.

Using hackathons to gamify the recruitment process is beneficial to both candidates and recruiters. Intimidating 1:1 interviews are replaced with a competitive drill where participants have the opportunity to get comfortable over the entire course of the event, dig in and self-determine how to showcase their skills and talents. Recruiters get the benefit of observing candidates apply their skills in real-time in a highly interactive environment mimicking a work environment and effectively assess the candidates' potential cultural fit.

Lastly, candidates are known to attach aspirational value to hackathons. Selected candidates for hire that were able to deliver a solution that truly impressed the senior judges of the hosting company often feel destined for success at the company because they’ve been hand selected from a pool of hundreds of other participants. They naturally become highly engaged employees with an increased probability for high performance and long-term commitment to the company.

  • Holistic evaluation based on technical prowess, cognitive abilities, business acumen, disposition, people and time management skills and leadership potential
  • Assess a combination of skills specific to hiring needs
  • Discover new ways to problem solve long standing challenges through unique outside perspective of participants
  • Gamify the hiring process to be less intimidating, and more insightful and rewarding for both candidates and recruiters
  • Asses the candidates cultural fit by observing their behaviour in an environment mimicking work
  • Higher company buy-in, better performance and long-term commitment of hackathon hires

Reduced Time and Cost to Hire

According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, it takes companies across industries an average of 42 days to fill a new position and costs the employer approximately US $4,129. However, when it comes to recruiting developers and similar tech talent, that number shoots up to US $22,562 using in-house recruitment, and US $31,970 using an external agency. Furthermore, additional costs would apply to both approaches to account for productivity loss due to the elongated recruitment process to hire technology talent including CV reviews, interviewing etc. by team leads which is estimated to cost up to US $8,454 in management time. To further add to this, consider that all the costs begin to multiply the more team members need to be added.

Integrating hackathons into the recruitment process, as a reoccurring, staple event with shifting focus depending on current hiring needs, builds a steady stream of qualified candidates in the pipeline, significantly lowering cost per hire and giving companies more agility to act on opportunities requiring new talent on short notice.

  • Significantly lower your cost per hire
  • Lower time to hire through qualified candidates in the pipeline

The Opportunity of Virtual

Virtual hackathons provide an opportunity to engage recruits from far and wide. Participants can take part from their homes, their local coffee shop or anyplace with an internet connection. It places no limits on the number of participants that can take part and allows for significant cost savings on location.

It allows you to significantly expand your recruitment catchment area. Without significantly increasing costs, you can scale your event from local to global and gain insight into international talent that you ordinarily, would not have been able to access. Considering many job openings are open to remote work – especially in the areas where competition for talent is fierce – this is a benefit that shouldn’t be ignored.

  • Scale recruitment catchment area from local to global

Considering all the benefits listed above it’s not surprising that more and more companies are leveraging hackathons to boost their talent acquisition efforts and transform the traditionally one-sided recruitment process into a mutually rewarding experience for both candidates and recruiters.

Download the Hack Instead Case Study to learn how we recently hosted a Hack to Hire Hackathon and successfully connected campus talent across Canada with sponsor job opportunities during COVID-19.

Hackworks