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How Companies are Using Hackathons to Hire, Train, and Engage Right Talent Through hackathons, recruiters are replacing intimidating interviews with a competitive drill where candidates can show their skills in real-time

By Siddhartha Gupta

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Every successful organization is cognizant of the various variables that influence business processes and works towards bolstering their value. One invariable factor that all market players recognize as the key to business growth is the presence of competent human resources. Throughout the life-cycle of an employee with the organization, there are various areas where employees feel connected to the company and the organization, in return, adds value and meaning to their everyday work.

People want to have an impact on the bigger organizational picture and to form deep-meaning relationship with their team members which together get things moving. To achieve all of this together is not possible at all times. To ably manage employee expectations and drive business revenue, the HR employs various tools, methods, and activities. One such method is hackathons which touch various life-cycle stage imperatives like hiring, onboarding, transformative innovation, incremental learning, exciting activities, internal mobility, succession planning, and rewards.

Because of the potential of hackathons to offer redefined possibilities to old-HR world problems, their use has increased manifold over the years and is set to rise even further. According to a 2018 survey a majority of companies see spending on hackathons as an investment than an expenditure, with a significant percentage spending nearly 8.5 lakhs per hackathon in a year. The organizations are seeing value and purpose-driven reasons in conducting hackathons which going by the reports could range from establishing a positive brand reinforcement to hiring top talent to and promoting product innovation.

Primarily, a hackathon is a positive competition where you are bringing groups together to collaborate, innovate, and strategize about a given problem and think of solutions in a limited timeframe. These teams are built from an eclectic mix of employees or candidates with expertise in technology, marketing, and product design. Depending on the need, organizations can either conduct external hackathons or internal hackathons.

External hackathons

Organizations are increasingly hosting hackathons in college campuses to lend an innovative edge to their recruitment process. In recent times, it has emerged as the preferred setup for companies to hire the best talent by rolling out job offers and to attract freelancers.

Through hackathons, companies are replacing the intimidating interview setting with a competitive drill where candidates can show their skills. As recruiters get to observe the prospective employees apply their skills in real-time, they are better placed to analyze the competency of candidates.

Companies also leverage hackathons to crowdsource ideas to get the latest technology updates and to analyze the effectiveness of new business models. Apart from establishing organizations as a desirable work destination among the candidates, hackathons also become a platform which represents a company's work culture; companies, therefore, use this setting to not only provide seamless workplace experience but also create a strong brand recall value among their prospective employees. Also, candidates attach an aspirational value to hackathons. Since selected candidates feel they have decoded serious business complexities to be able to work with an organization, they feel themselves suited to the organization and position. They naturally become more engaged and have increased probability of better performance and long-term commitment to an organization.

Types of jobs roles that companies look to fill through hackathons

Hackathons usually last for 24 to 48 hours. During this time, participants brainstorm and collaborate as a team to 'hack' through assigned tasks by coming up with innovative and effective solutions. The contest brings together a variety of professionals and amateurs under the same roof who pool their individual expertise to yield collective results. These can include computer programmers, software designers, graphic artists, data analysts, AI experts, business analysts, management professionals, and so on.

While engaging with the problems, teams are required to conduct research, develop products and create innovative methods to test and market them. With each participant assuming one aspect of the job, the entire team comes to represent an entire organization. Recruiters can thus judge the candidates based on a variety of criteria including how well they work in a team, their ability to work in a high-pressure environment, and how well and creatively can they employ their skills.

Internal hackathons

As suggested by the name, these are in-house activities organized by companies for engaging internal employees, promoting healthy competition among them, and make them feel valued. Employees look forward to participating in hackathons on account of various factors. For one, coming up with solutions to indigenous business challenges makes them feel more visible regarding their role in the organization, which elevates their confidence. Further, in addition to the reward amount and the fame factor that accompanies participating in hackathons, it also enriches their portfolio.

Internal hackathon is also an effective tool to build a talent pipeline and plan for future business strategies. With the HR's increasing proactive involvement in business dynamics and leadership development, there has to be a way to build information about the kind of positions that would be required, and identify the individuals with the right set of skills and competencies to fulfil those roles. Internal hackathons can gauge individual capabilities to work cross-departmentally and cross-functionally while at the same time understand critical leadership qualities like empathy, communicating to a team, managing it and leading it to a common defined goal. Internal hackathons paves the way for HiPos (High-Potential) employee identification for internal job roles mobility, international transfers, and critical deputations as well as their training and development to fit them into your succession planning and organizational vision.

As such, organizations routinely leverage hackathons to nurture problem-solving skills and promoting cross-departmental cooperation among their workforce. Hackathons also become a platform for companies to foster internal innovation and motivate employees to explore their creative boundaries. With skilled professionals working in teams to plan, design, create, and market solutions to real-world business and technological problems, the setting also helps organizations in accelerating product roadmap and coming up with multiple prototypes in a short span of time.

The success of hackathons is measured by the quality of ideas generated during the event and how well these ideas can be incorporated within the organizational structure to drive overall profitability. Given the benefits offered by hackathons, this trend will continue growing in full-swing for the foreseeable future.

Siddhartha Gupta

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Mercer Mettl

Siddhartha Gupta is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Mercer | Mettl. Having held key leadership positions at some of the most prestigious global IT companies such as HP and SAP, he has been instrumental in building several businesses/verticals from scratch within these organisations. 

As the CEO, Siddhartha heads all key departments across Mercer | Mettl's global and domestic operations, and oversee its ongoing expansion in India and various international geographies. Siddhartha holds a dual Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management and Marketing Management from Xavier Institute of Management and The Times School of Marketing respectively. Early in his career, he served as Executive Assistant to the Managing Director at Compaq Computers and later, as Account Manager at Hewlett Packard after the latter's acquisition of Compaq.

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