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Virtual hackathons: A complete guide

Talent Assessment | 8 Min Read

Virtual hackathons: A complete guide


A hackathon is a time-bound competition where teams or individuals try to find solutions to technology-related situations or problems. The event centers on one idea, theme, or problem, and participants try to develop and present a solution or product as a working prototype. A panel of expert judges evaluates the solution to declare a winner based on specific pre-defined parameters.

Initially, hackathons were conducted onsite and focused only on coders. However, with changing times, hackathons have gone virtual, increasing their accessibility and popularity. These events now focus on different issues and use cases related to technologies or programming languages.


Types of hackathons

Depending on the objectives, hackathons can be organized internally or made open to the public.


Virtual hackathons A complete guide_Infographic 1

Internal hackathons

A company conducts an internal hackathon for its employees. It aims to crowdsource ideas, promote collaboration, and increase employee engagement. Here, companies can involve employees from different backgrounds and give them the freedom to develop innovative ideas that can be pitched to senior management.

External hackathons

External hackathons are open to the public. Anybody, both within and outside the organization, can participate. The participants are usually attracted by the theme and the prize on offer. Virtual external hackathons allow companies to crowdsource ideas from across the world.

Hackathons can also be categorized as:

  • Coding competition: The goal is to create software within the assigned time. These hackathons can last from one to three weeks.
  • Language-based hackathons: These hackathons aim to create an application based on a specific programming language.
  • Industry-based hackathons: Such hackathons are organized to drive innovation in specific industries.


Benefits of a virtual hackathon

Economical execution


Onsite hackathons are costly, ranging from renting a place for the event to taking care of participants’ needs. There is also the cost of hiring staff to organize and run the event efficiently.

A virtual hackathon allows most people to participate from their homes, eliminating the need to rent space and arrange food and accommodation. Businesses may need to hire extra staff to monitor the participants, but the number of temporary hires would still be less than onsite hackathons, which makes virtual hackathons economical.


Increased participation


Physical hackathons limit participation to those near the venue or people who can travel. This means contestants are primarily local. With virtual hackathons, people from all over the world can join. Only a stable internet connection and a device to work on are needed. With people joining from all over the world, businesses have increased chances of receiving a working solution and finding top talent.


Enhanced participant experience


Everybody has different conditions under which they work better. For example, some candidates might prefer working from the comfort of their homes. Virtual hackathons allow each participant to work in conditions where they are most comfortable working. This directly contributes to increased productivity and improved results.


Better collaboration


The intensity of trying to find a solution in a set time frame breaks the monotony of day-to-day functions. Hackathons also encourage collaboration and creativity among the team members in a fun environment. This is especially true when members are connecting virtually. They will need to communicate and delegate tasks efficiently, which builds camaraderie.


Virtual hackathons A complete guide_Image 1


Reasons to organize a hackathon


How to organize a virtual hackathon?

Despite being virtual, organizing a hackathon is challenging. Here are the three essentials to hosting a successful hackathon.

The prize

Be it an onsite or virtual hackathon, prizes are essential for boosting participation. Rewards can range from cash and gift cards to an internship with the organization or a permanent position. Awards can also depend on the target audience, like software licenses, which help attract tech professionals.

The software

To host your hackathon, choose a platform with robust capabilities. It should have optimum features, the ability to handle the size of the event, and a platform for participants to engage with others. Also, the software provider should have excellent tech support in the case of technical glitches.

The judges

A panel of qualified judges is necessary for the event’s credibility, as participants know they will be evaluated by experts in their field. Well-known judges will also attract top talent and help boost the virtual hackathon's popularity.


Steps for hosting a virtual hackathon

Virtual hackathons A complete guide_Infographic 2

Decide a goal: The why of your hackathon

Before organizing a hackathon, businesses must decide the reasons behind holding the event. What does the business want out of it? Does the business intend to use it as a marketing campaign? Is the business looking to check the security features of an upcoming app or software? The hackathon idea will set the tone for the planning process and help attract the right audience.

Decide the other four w’s

Deciding the goal takes care of the ‘why’ of the hackathon. But the other four – who, what, where, and when are also important. Here is everything to know:

  • Who: ‘Who’ defines the target audience. These are the people who will be participating in the virtual hackathon. To increase participation and maximize the audience, select judges and guest speakers that appeal to the target audience.
  • What: It refers to the prizes and incentives offered to winners and participants.
  • Where: In the case of onsite hackathons, this is the place where the event will take place. But in the case of online hackathons, it is choosing a platform that meets business and contestants’ needs.
  • When: Choosing a date for a virtual event is vital to ensure maximum participation. Avoid major holidays or events in the region or countries where you wish to attract people from. Also, factor in different time zones when planning the event.

Promote the event

After deciding on the virtual hackathon’s theme, prize, judges, and guest speaker, it is essential to spread the word about the hackathon to encourage the target audience to register for the event. Start promoting it on the company website and social media pages and include it in email marketing campaigns. Additionally, posting about it in relevant online communities is another excellent way to promote the hackathon.

Streamline registration

Virtual hackathons tend to attract more participants than onsite ones, which makes it essential that the registration process is easy and streamlined. It would be best to clarify the cutoff dates for registration and put a cap on the number of participants. All of this will help you manage the event effectively.

Include some fun activities

Online interactions are different from offline ones. This makes it important for the business to provide opportunities for participant engagement in a fun and casual way. Such events encourage connection and improve participants’ experience.

Take stock post-event

Post-event analysis is critical to capitalize on things that worked in favor and find the ones that didn’t. Ask participants to provide feedback through a survey form or informally ask them about their experience. This will help the business get better insights for event hosting the next time.

Finally, remember to promote the success of the hackathon through post-event promotions. Share images and videos from the event with key audiences via social media posts, newsletters, and blogs.


Things to avoid when hosting a hackathon

Miscommunication in promotion


From the beginning, any promotional posts about the hackathon must be clear and concise. If the hackathon’s advertisement or newsletter is not clear, it will confuse the target audience, bringing down the number of participants.

The easiest way to avoid such a situation is to have a clear goal before communications begin. Businesses can also have a separate events page for FAQs that address common questions.


Not choosing the right platform


The hackathon platform chosen can help execute the event successfully. ‍Select a platform that works well for the business and participants.

A platform that offers tools for collaboration among participants, easy access to attendees’ information, and the ability to assign scores for the organizers is ideal.


No incentives or prizes for participants


A hackathon is a competition, and the winning team is entitled to an award decided in advance. However, what about other participants? Lack of recognition can reduce motivation among the attendees and cause participation to drop the next time the event is organized.

To avoid this scenario, deciding on a participation prize is ideal. The goodies could be the organization’s promotional items or limited access to a product’s full features. Remember to communicate the same when promoting hackathon to draw more people.


How Mercer | Mettl can help

Mercer | Mettl’s online hackathon platform, Xathon, is an all-in-one solution for organizing a hackathon. The end-to-end platform lets businesses seamlessly organize hackathons for hiring or engaging employees.

Some of the features of Mercer | Mettl platform are:

  • Personalization: Create a custom event page for the hackathon to increase awareness and engagement and streamline participation.
  • Single dashboard: Easily schedule tasks or access information through a single dashboard.
  • Collaborate with ease: Be it organizers, participants or judges, the Mercer | Mettl platform allows collaborating with other members easily.

Apart from these features, businesses also get access to a 24X7 support team that helps ensure seamless execution, making the hackathon a success.



Whether businesses are looking for talented individuals to hire or want to generate ideas and engage employees, hackathons are the answer. Organizing an event may sound difficult with the planning involved, but the rewards are just as high. It helps engage the community, find talent, and boost morale.



What is a virtual hackathon?

How to create a successful virtual hackathon?

How tough is it to get a job through online hackathons?

What is the purpose of a hackathon?

Originally published December 14 2022, Updated January 12 2024

Written by

Vaishali has been working as a content creator at Mercer | Mettl since 2022. Her deep understanding and hands-on experience in curating content for education and B2B companies help her find innovative solutions for key business content requirements. She uses her expertise, creative writing style, and industry knowledge to improve brand communications.

About This Topic

A hackathon or ideathon is an event where people with different skill sets come together to solve predefined challenges within a specified time frame. Ideathons and hackathons are increasingly being used for corporate branding, hiring at speed, innovating and engaging employees.

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