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Impact Hacks for Hiring

by Keerthi Surapaneni and Heather Corallo

For today’s technical candidates, there is a pronounced intrinsic motivation to help others and impact the world around them through their professional work. These opportunities to participate in “social good” hacks are often included as part of the value proposition when considering an organization for employment. For today’s companies there is a desire to give back and engage with members of their local communities by helping to solve technical challenges for public schools, local government and other non-profits. They do this through corporate foundation work, charity sponsorship or employee volunteer programs for those who value community contribution.

A Closer Look: Why do people like to participate in Hackathons?

In addition to the community impact and intrinsic value that stems from social good hackathons, we also know that social good hackathons tend to be incredibly supportive and collaborative environments for creative problem solving. Due to the nature of the event there is a baseline atmosphere of psychological safety, there is less opportunity for confirmation bias to impact the solutioning and the participants can all navigate through an environment with a shared set of values (usually set at the beginning of the hack through code of conducts and clear missions) which returns high engagement, personal and team satisfaction.

The structure supports everyone doing their best work. A structure that the Tech industry has struggled to create in their recruiting experience for years. So we ask- why not use this same framework for internal hiring of experienced Technical candidates?

Hack for Hire

Hiring in technology is cost prohibitive, highly subjective, often times biased and incredibly time consuming. It’s not unusual for many companies to interview hundreds of people (anywhere between 2–25 hours of interviews per candidate) to fill less than a handful of jobs. In addition to the hiring that happens when a company wants to add new permanent employees, there are a number of hiring processes associated with screening and evaluating temporary workers, interns, and volunteers for a variety of positions and tasks.

Couple that initial investment of time and risk with the new normal of high turnover (According to recent statistics, the median number of years a U.S. worker has been in his or her current job is just 4.4, down sharply since the 1970s. ) and well- hiring stinks. The “Hacks for Hire” concept could eliminate many of the challenges current recruiting teams face while improving overall candidate experience as individuals consider new opportunities AND deliver value and social impact to the communities we all live in.

So How Does This Work? (Hypothesis and Experiments)

Hiring teams in Technology need to work together in an integrated way to develop this type of hiring practice. If we approach this in an Agile way the recruiting process could lead to much better and more efficient end results; hiring with shorter time to fills, better cultural and technically capable candidates and higher acceptance rate from candidates who now hold a much deeper understanding of company culture. The idea is not to complete the hiring process during a Hack For Hire but rather to create a powerful funnel for candidates for further engagement that would replace much of the initial recruiting processes.

First. Find your social community groups in need of hacks.

By partnering with local government agencies, non-profit groups, spiritual communities and more there are many ways to find opportunities for social hack/innovation opportunities.

Second. Train your internal hackers/evaluators in the skills necessary to create the right hackathon environment. Running a hackathon isn’t obvious to all so it’s best to make sure you’ve got a shared understanding of what you want the experience to be for all who participate. Next, make sure your “interview training” relates to evaluating candidate participants in a dynamic working “hack” environment rather than a traditional static question/answer format.

From an interviewer/evaluator perspective, if you unpack the key areas of evaluation above we are really using modern agile principles in the evaluation process. As they approach the problem:

  • Do their solutions make people awesome?
  • Do they experiment quickly and learn from early mistakes?
  • Do the solutions deliver something of value to the customers/end users?
  • Have they agreed to make safety a prerequisite?

Third. Build a communication strategy that allows for the candidates/participants to understand what they are getting into by joining in a hack for hire. They will be evaluated on:

  1. How they collaborate
  2. How they communicate with others
  3. How they use creative problem solving techniques (design thinking?)
  4. When coding, how comfortable are they to be pairing or even mob programming. (How and when do they think about quality in the stages of building software. Yes they are building an MVP, but are they thinking about scalability, health of the code, testing?)
  5. When in the process do they start thinking about the customer/end user? Does what they are building deliver value? In most social good hackathons the goal is to deliver some immediate value to the social group that you’re helping as quickly as possible. Do your candidates translate that ask easily?

The key concept around this Agile approach to Hack for Hiring is to let job seekers and/or volunteers form small teams through self-selection, experiment, implement and iterate. This provides opportunities for deeper understanding, experiences and evaluation at multiple levels for all involved.

This is only one of many flavors of experimentation and discovery of this approach. The reference section has details to experiments and implementations of similar flavors across the globe.

Call to Action

Would you be willing to experiment with this? We can help share our experiments, learning lessons and templates in progress! Please feel free to reach out to Keerthi@ or Heather@ to share your story!


Here are some examples of the flavors of hackathons/competitions elsewhere:

Work Samplings

Thank you

Thanks to Arlo Belshee, and Birgit Hansen that helped review this article. Thanks to Michelle D’Couto, Susan Kraemer, and Marie Haggberg for their initial feedback.