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SHL Hackathons: Attract and Select the Right Technical Talent

Explore why talent teams run coding hackathons, 5 ways to make your hackathons a success, and what makes SHL Hackathons different.

Hackathons play a critical role in unlocking opportunities for technical talent and increasing exposure for software engineering employer brands, so I am absolutely delighted to share that hackathons are now available for our valued SHL clients. These events, both in-person and virtual, attract and engage participants, allow talent and engineering teams to hire and create career growth paths, and identify new innovations to move the organization forward.

In this blog, we will explore:

  • Why do talent teams run hackathons? 
  • What makes SHL’s hackathons different?
  • 5 ways to make your hackathons a success


Why do talent teams run hackathons?

No matter what you call them – hackathons, ideathons, datathons, or any other kind of -thon, hackathons are key to revealing talent and innovation while creating a valuable brand touch point. Hackathons emerged way back in 1999 when OpenBSD held a cryptographic development event in Calgary. Today, hackathons are used across the employee lifecycle, to identify innovative ideas from across the business, and of course to bring new technical talent into the business.

  • External technical hiring
    Talent teams promote hackathons to wide audiences via a careers page, career fairs, email, or other external promotions. Judges will shortlist participants using automated scoring in hard and soft skills assessments or by reviewing their solution to a challenge. 
  • Internal innovation and engagement
    Teams develop challenges that represent real or similar problems facing the business and enlist existing team members to provide a product-oriented solution. Judges review the solutions and, hopefully, multiple winners can see their solutions come to life and make a positive impact.
  • Internal technical talent mobility
    Deliver technical assessments to existing team members to identify where technical skills exist and where skills may need to be developed. Automatically scored and proctored technical assessments are purpose-built for software engineering. Teams often assess early and mid-career software engineers, data engineers, data scientists, and more.


What makes SHL Hackathons different?

Do a few searches for “hackathon” and you will see some very simple websites that are more about the assessment company’s brand than the host of the hackathon. Companies and participants are limited to evaluating technical skills, employer branding is forced to take a back seat, and participants are given an agenda but not guided through the process. We know hackathons are opportunities to attract candidates, learn about the whole participant, and provide an exceptional experience. So, we have made some changes.

  • Evaluate more than technical skills
    45 years in the business of people science gives our partners the ability to go beyond technical assessments. While these assessments of technical readiness to do the job are important, SHL Hackathons can include:
  • Accurate expression of employer brand and culture
    Companies often run coding hackathons to increase awareness of employer brand for the purposes of hiring, or even awareness of a new API, SDK, or other feature. If that is your goal, you will want to be able to express your brand as it was intended in your hackathon idea. SHL Hackathons allow talent teams to: 
    • Use your colors, logos, photos, and videos in your landing pages 
    • Customize participant experiences 
    • Customize email communications and their cadence
  • Streamline participant experiences
    Participant engagement can dramatically decline when clear next steps are not made available. This is why we launched our candidate engagement portal, SHL Experiences. Now, we are applying that same functionality to hackathons. Participants will:
    •  Log into their participant portals to see clear next steps and tasks 
    • See which steps they have completed 
    • Engage with another valuable brand touch point, which can include videos from your team

Hackathons are key to revealing talent and innovation while creating a valuable brand touch point.

5 Steps to making your hackathon a success

When you are ready with your hackathon ideas, consider these best practices: 

  1. Define your objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs)
    Determine the purpose of the hackathon for your business, team, and participants. Goals may include hiring, generating innovative ideas, fostering internal engagement, improving marketing or employer branding, or promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. 
  2. Understand your audience
    Like any marketing program, consider what do you want your participants to think, feel, and do. Tailor your message, problem statement, and even the way you are sourcing candidates accordingly.
  3. Craft a compelling story
    Create a narrative that is aligned with the hackathon objectives and your company mission. 
  4. Establish the schedule and allow sufficient planning time
    Determine the duration and structure of the coding hackathons, whether they span hours, days, or a longer period for specialized hiring campaigns. If it is an in-person event, include breaks in the schedule.
  5. Remember to measure the impact
    Evaluate the hackathon's performance against the established KPIs and assess its overall impact.

Get in touch with our team and learn more about SHL Hackathons and SHL Technology Hiring Solution.


headshot sheilin herrick


Sheilin Herrick

Sheilin Herrick heads SHL’s Technology Hiring Solution from Seattle, Washington. She has worked in technology for 15 years and spent the past five years researching and improving hiring processes for the world’s leading software-driven companies. Sheilin’s experience includes a go-to-market strategy for Technical Talent Acquisition solutions, including partnerships with the industry’s foremost thought leaders in DEI, structured interviewing, and the economics of technical hiring.

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