People@Work

Cracking the code of employer branding

TE Raja Simhan | Updated on November 23, 2018

On-the-spot hiring Hackathons help cut recruitment time and effort

Hackathons, as a hiring tool, have their pros and cons but help companies build their brand on campuses

For the last five years, IT companies have been using hackathons — or coding contests — to hire talent from colleges, bypassing placements and interviews.

Take the case of V Preethi, an engineering student. She cracked a hackathon and was hired by a leading IT company looking for talent to design banking software.

Preethi was spared the pain of going through campus placement and will likely be paid three times more than her college mates hired in the regular fashion.

What a 10-round interview does is accomplished by a hackathon in three or four hours, say recruiters. Hackathons have been fairly popular in the recruiter’s toolkit for both volume and technology hiring, especially on campuses.

Not only do they reduce hiring time drastically but also, companies are able to recruit niche talent as compared to window-shopping during placement seasons.

Increasingly, hackathons are being used as an effective way to build brand among college students, points out a placement officer of a leading engineering college.

Agrees Suresh Bethavandu, Vice-President and Global Head - Talent Acquisition, Cognizant Technology Solutions: Hackathons have been a great platform to reinforce ‘our brand amongst the niche skill community.’

Jaideep Chavan, Head of Talent Acquisition-India, Capgemini, also feels hackathons are a great platform for brand building. The company’s Tech Challenge event spread the word about the company and helped it find right talent even outside of the hackathon events, he says.

There are always two sides to the coin. Hackathons too have their own pros and cons as a hiring platform.

The good bits

Bethavandu of Cognizant feels hackathons are unique because “they help us engage with and recruit candidates with specific skills. The sessions bring together technology enthusiasts and offer a great networking forum for them to interact.”

Hackathons also give companies a wider spectrum of talent to choose from. Take Capgemini, which has been conducting its annual hackathon Tech Challenge for five years. Its current edition attracted a record participation from over 1,35,000 participants, a 40 per cent increase over last year, with 36 per cent of them being women, he says.

“We have hired about 250 participants in the last year through Tech Challenge, both freshers and laterals,” says Chavan.

And sometimes you have unexpected but positive spin-offs too. For instance, last year, Capgemini had issued a social problem-based challenge — tracing missing children in India — during its hackathon. The solution proposed by the winning team turned out to be so innovative that Capgemini is now bringing this product to life via an app platform on both Android and iOS. This mobile application, named ‘ReUnite’, is currently in development stage.

Krithivasan Sivaramakrishnan, Lead-India Campus Hiring, Virtusa Corporation, says hackathon is one of the few recruiting platforms “where talent comes to us (the company) through competitions rather than our visiting campuses to hand-pick talent.”

“These hackathons give students a first-hand understanding of what a job in a technology company like ours has to offer them and make a career decision based on their skills,” he says.

“During campus hiring, it becomes difficult for us to assess their coding ability with one or two questions. Also, the cost of hiring comes down as we need not be physically present at the campus for hackathon. All we need to ensure is that a few checkpoints are put in place to avoid malpractices,” he adds.

In 2015, Virtusa started a hackathon with AppTite, an app creation platform, to analyse candidates’ ability to create an App on a problem they noticed around them and solve it through technology. In 2017, it launched NeuralHack — a coding competition for students from leading E-schools that witnessed the participation of over 10,000 students and the company successfully hired 24 students. At NeuralHack this year, there were 21,000 participants.

The negatives

But not everybody is happy with hackathons as a hiring tool. “We strongly believe it’s a waste of time,” says Nagaraj Mylandla, Founder and Managing Director of Chennai-based Financial Software Solutions, which is into payment solutions.

Hackathon platforms do not have a proper screening process of intellectual property/products/ideas presented as the same get copied across different platforms and get presented by different sets of students. It is very difficult to verify or validate ideas.

“Hackathon platforms mostly sell the student data to HR firms who, in turn, do business with corporates. We did conduct a few and found they were not up to the mark. The students mostly come for prize money and disappear after that,” says Mylandla.

Capgemini’s Chavan says all participants who attend company-sponsored hackathons are not actively looking for a job and this can pose a challenge for the company that is looking to leverage this platform for hiring alone.

Hiring through hackathons could cost companies more too as they need to shell out more to candidates. “We need to pay more than our competitors to ensure that we attract the best talent. However this is not a big constraint considering the value addition he/she will bring on board if hired and that justifies the pay package,” says Virtusa’s Sivaramakrishan.

Cognizant’s Bethavandu says hackathons tend to be localised events and candidates are sometimes limited by location constraints. Further, the scope for testing candidates’ skills is curbed by the platform’s limitations.

But hackathons are here to stay, it seems, especially as their contribution to employer brand-building on campuses is undeniable.

Published on November 21, 2018

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