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Post by Rich Moy on Oct 20, 2015, 2:00:00 PM

Recruiters have long been privy to the fact that hackathons are a great opportunity to meet lots of developers under one roof. However, unlike traditional job fairs, these meetups are often designed primarily for developers to collaborate with each other. This creates a unique challenge for tech recruiters in attendance: With developers laser-focused on tackling the tasks in front of them at a hackathon, any interruption can irritate them, especially if you’re not thoughtful in how you approach them about a new job.

To help you get the most out of your next hackathon, here are a few tips to engage developers without getting in their way.

Understand Exactly Why Developers Attend Hackathons

Although hackathons are quickly becoming a popular forum for recruiters to attract high quality tech talent, developers aren’t attending them with the sole purpose of being recruited. Joanne Selinski, who teaches computer science at Johns Hopkins University, told Business Insider this week that despite the appeal of recruiting at hackathons, the goal is for developers to come together to build a quick, simple prototype.

In fact, some of most successful recruiters at these events don’t hire developers immediately after meeting them. Alex Donn, a senior marketing manager for the AT&T developer program, told ERE Media that the recruiting aspect is secondary to other facets of the events. He continues, “The sign of a successful event is when the CTO reports back that the hackathons have created goodwill.”

Learn About Developers’ Interests Before You Discuss Job Openings

While you shouldn’t ignore your need to hire developers, Tom Harvey—a recruiter here at Stack Overflow—says it’s important to stay focused on being social with attendees before you discuss any roles you’re looking to fill. “Ask people about themselves, what they’re doing at the moment, and what they’re excited about,” Harvey continues. “Not only will this help you stick in the minds of developers you’re interested in hiring, it will also improve your knowledge of what’s currently happening in the tech industry.”

Additionally, as you’re getting to know developers, showing that you understand how busy they’ll be over the course of the event will go a long way in building those relationships after the meetup wraps up. Nick Larsen, a Software Developer here at Stack Overflow, adds that in this setting, “It’s much more effective to say, ‘I’m interested to learn more about what you’re working on, but I don’t want to get in your way. Can we touch base after the event?’”

When a developer agrees to continue the conversation after the event, Harvey suggests asking that person to write their contact information down for you. “The act of them writing it down makes them remember you,” he continues. “If they’re someone you want to follow up with, they’ll be sure to get in touch if it’s a conversation worth having.”

Engage With as Many People as Possible—Even if They’re Not a Fit for Your Current Openings

With some of the larger meetups boasting thousands of attendees each year, it would be easy for a tech recruiter to be mindful of how much time he or she spends with candidates who aren’t a fit for any of their openings. However, Harvey points out that recruiting at hackathons with this mindset would be a mistake for any recruiter looking to hire developers.

Even if you leave a meetup without hiring developers, conversations with the people you do speak with present great opportunities to boost your employer brand and build your pipeline for future openings. “Every person is a potential advocate for your conduct at the meetup, so make a good impression on everyone you meet,” Harvey adds. “Don’t just cut the conversation short because it doesn’t look like there’s much in it for you.”

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