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Poaching Employees: Is it Ethical to be Recruiting From Your Competitors?

In Sourcing — by Dave Anderson

Recruiting from Competitors… aka “Poaching”

In recruiting terms, “poaching” is a dramatic way to say hiring current or former employees from a competitor or similar company. You have open roles that call for certain experience and knowledge and a person who already works in your industry likely has the attributes you’re looking for.

However, many recruiters wonder if poaching is an ethical hiring practice. Aren’t you helping someone betray the employer who has invested so much in them by convincing them to jump ship? Will they bring over secrets about their former employer that will give your company an unfair advantage?

In reality, “poaching” is a loaded term that can lead to emotionally-charged thoughts and feelings like the questions above. What you’re actually doing is prospecting passive candidates from logical hiring sources and there is really no reason for anyone to get upset by this common hiring practice.

Why poaching employees is perfectly fine

While a person’s loyalty to their employer is an admirable quality, it’s not required by any means. Professionals are allowed to choose where they want to work and when it’s time to move on to a new job. Everyone wants to progress in their career and pursue opportunities that can change their life for the better. You should certainly strive to retain great talent and help them grow with your company but you won’t always have a senior position available for someone to move up to or align with their personal timeline.

Prospecting Playbook: Get started with prospecting to fill open roles

As a recruiter, you’re allowed to reach out to your competitor’s employees, tell them about your opening and ask them if they’re interested in learning more. If they’re happy with their current job, they’ll tell you or not respond and you can move onto another candidate. No harm, no foul. And if they’re ready to make a change, you’ll be fortunate enough to hire someone who already understands your customers and industry.

You should also be ready for your competitors to poach your employees. You can take steps to prevent it by offering favorable compensation, the right benefits and a great culture but some people will need a change of scenery and new challenges. Even if your company is a great employer, the grass can seem greener on the other side.

Why do employers get upset about poaching?

It’s rare to be happy to see an employee go on their own terms. While you should wish them the best of luck, your business operations will halt to some extent during the search for a replacement. And if your company invested time, money and training in them, it might seem like a step backward.

Even more so, it can especially hurt to see an employee leave for a competitor. Emotions run high when you’re battling over customers. When someone who was helping your company succeed takes their talents to a rival, it can feel like a loss for you and win for the competitor.

Click here to download the guide: “Hiring Pipeline Audit”

However, expressing any ill-will toward a former employee for doing what they perceive as best for themselves isn’t professional behavior. Thank them for their contribution, find a replacement and get back in the game.

What to be aware of when poaching employees

While this blog post takes a pro-poaching stance, confidential company information falling into the hands of competitors is a real concern for businesses. Innovative companies that develop new products or services often ask employees to sign a non-compete clause. These are legally-binding contracts that prevent employees from taking a position with a similar company for a certain period of time after resigning.

When prospecting, the candidates you contact should know the details of any non-compete clause they entered into, as they’ll have to deal with the consequences of breaking it. However, you should definitely consult your legal team before contacting your competitor’s employees to understand what repercussions your company could face for unknowingly hiring someone subject to a non-compete clause.

Legalese aside, you shouldn’t strive to hire candidates strictly so they can tell you what your competitors are up to. You should ask them to join your team because you’re impressed with their skillset and professional background and believe they’ll be a talented addition to your team.

How to successfully convince a competitor’s employee to join your team

Hiring passive candidates can have a positive impact on your hiring efforts. Sometimes you have a specific type of candidate in mind for a role and need to actively seek them out instead of hoping they come to you.

Since industry knowledge is so important, the ideal person will often be employed by a competitor. Comply a list of companies to target and review their LinkedIn page to see who holds what position. Then contact the right person and reference what exactly about their background impresses you so you can capture their attention. If you don’t hear back, follow up one or two times since they might be busy. If they still ignore your outreach, move onto the next candidate. When you get a positive response, convince the candidate to speak with the hiring manager or come in for an interview.

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