Jean-Baptiste Bouché, the author of this article, is the Agorize community’s most capped veteran. He has taken part in 21 open innovation challenges in two years, reaching the podium 11 times – including five top spots.
Why compare a recruitment fair to an open innovation challenge? Because they’re both tools designed to identify and attract the people your company needs to prepare for the future. In this article, I’m not aiming to pit these different recruitment methods against each other (in fact, they’re complementary). Instead, I’m going to use the weaknesses of recruitment fairs to highlight the strengths of open innovation challenges.
In my last year at university at Centrale, I was strongly encouraged to attend the university’s Employment Forum. People who had attended in the past had managed to get interviews and internships. So I went along, but I soon gave up. The way fairs like this are run didn’t suit me – the students were dressed up in business wear, trying to sell themselves to companies they didn’t really know.
And the companies were represented by people from HR who had been sent to attract students without comprehensive knowledge of the innovation needs they were recruiting to address. It seemed like a slightly outdated role-play. Unlike a recruitment fair, in my opinion, an open innovation challenge has three main benefits:
- Being open to everyone
- Challenging participants and testing their ability to innovate
- Giving challengers the chance to get to know the company, its business activities and its culture
1. Reach as many different candidates as possible
Recruitment fairs, whether aimed at university students or open to everyone, always have a localized impact. They take place over one or two days in a specific location – meaning they have limited reach and attendance. On the other hand, challenges take place primarily online. By definition, they are open to everyone, everywhere.
Challenges mean you can reach as many universities, and as many students, as you want, all over the world – something that’s impossible at a fair. You’ll also attract students who might not have thought about applying to your company. The future innovators you need could come from anywhere.
An example? I ended up considering several companies that I wasn’t initially attracted to because I enjoyed their challenges, such as BforBank, Saint-Gobain, and Microsoft. My fellow challengers and I can also vouch that we’ve often seen teams from less well-known universities and colleges take the top spots ahead of teams from HEC, Centrale and others.
The wider the range of candidates you attract, the more chance you have of finding the people you need.
2. Put candidates to the test
Have you ever noticed that at interviews, recruitment fairs, and elsewhere, people talk more about the past (qualifications and experience) than the future? We don’t really talk about what the position will hold in the future, the challenges to address, the company’s mission, or the long term. But when you take part in an open innovation challenge, people get stuck right in – there’s an obstacle to overcome, you’re working right at the heart of a business issue, and plus, you have room to innovate.
Personally, my team has twice been head-hunted without even getting to the final. We were offered meetings and HR interviews with the coaches who had helped us in the semi-final. Just because people within the company liked our work.
And as a result, two of my classmates ended up being hired by companies that they hadn’t considered at first. Their applications were bolstered by the fact that they were grounded in real experience – they had addressed one of the company’s actual issues and put forward a concrete solution.
I was offered my first permanent contract after winning a challenge organized by an online bank. I didn’t know anything about the bank, but the director of strategy hired me as her right-hand man on a major brand expansion project. Why? Because she liked the way I worked during the challenge. The gamble paid off, both for her and for me – the project was successful and I twice scored 100% in my annual reviews.
Launching an open innovation challenge means putting candidates to the test in the best possible way. It means testing their ability to innovate, their creativity, their technical knowledge and their interpersonal skills.
3. Discover atypical profiles
Recruitment fairs are swamped with clones. Everyone does their best to conform and to fit into boxes – whether real or imagined. It’s a human reflex. The HR staff who run the stands can’t know everything about all their open positions or their company’s innovation needs. The stands are all alike, and so are all the promises.
Ultimately, in my opinion, it’s innovation that matters the most, not your initial training. It’s adaptability, the ability to learn quickly, and finally, being able to focus on the value delivered to the customer. Plus a dash of competitive spirit to spice it up a bit. That’s what you need to win a challenge.
My team won the BforBank challenge without a banking or finance student, two SNCF challenges without an engineer, and a smart object hackathon without an IoT expert.
Launching a challenge allows companies to showcase themselves to a wide range of students, which has two positive impacts:
- Encouraging applications from people with atypical profiles who have discovered the company
- And following on from this: avoiding applications from unsuitable candidates. During some challenges, I realized that the business culture at the organizing company didn’t quite match up to my expectations. It meant that we – the company and I – could both save time and money by avoiding long and expensive recruitment processes.
Here’s another example: an electronics engineering student from a couple of years below me had been turned down by several artificial intelligence companies because he wasn’t a specialist in the subject. He saw it as ‘just’ something he was passionate about, not a degree. He won a chatbot challenge launched by a major insurance company, and now he programs chatbots in the company’s innovation department. So the advantage was twofold:
- He hadn’t considered insurance as the first step in his career (he didn’t even know that the careers he was interested in existed at the company), but the fact that the managers were interested in the challenge convinced him;
- The managers saw him working, and saw that his project won at the grand final, so they already knew about his passion and his ability to work before discussing contracts with him.
An open innovation challenge is a chance for you to tell conscientious and hard-working students about your company, its business activities and its culture. And your business culture is essential.
So, recruitment fairs or open innovation challenges?
Let’s not forget that recruitment fairs and open innovation challenges are of course complementary, but to sum up, innovation challenges have three advantages:
- Your company reaches out to a much larger and more varied audience
- You put students to the challenge with a real-life case, meaning you can test them directly
- In doing so, you highlight your business’s challenges and culture, attracting atypical yet qualified profiles
There’s an essential point to note here – unlike traditional interview situations, which are biased towards the company, open innovation challenges put students and managers on an equal footing. It means that the students have much more information about the company (its business challenges, methods, culture and ambitions), and the interaction is based on a real situation.
If they apply, it means they’re truly motivated. Their coaches and the jury members know them. The result is a relationship that’s much more well-balanced and productive. Essentially, it’s a true professional relationship.
So as we’ve seen, for students with atypical profiles and a competitive spirit like me, this new and innovative method of recruitment truly is a small revolution.