Recruiting, Talent

The Difference Between Recruiting and Poaching

When it comes time to fill an open job position, proactive companies don’t just wait for qualified applicants to come to them. They may already have a list of people they’d be interested in hiring. But how do you start a conversation with someone who’s already employed? Couldn’t that be seen as the dreaded “poaching”?

Poaching gets a bad rap, likely because the name is a reference to illegal hunting practices. But poaching talent isn’t illegal. In fact, in some industries, it’s remarkably common. If you’re seeking an employee with a very specific, technical skill set, it makes sense to look at whom a competitor has working for it. But poaching still has a negative connotation within most industries, and it makes HR departments particularly wary. Companies are afraid of both their employees being poached and being seen within their industry as “poachers.”

But making sure your business has the best-possible talent working for it isn’t something to be ashamed of. Here’s how to walk the line between being an unethical “poacher” and being a perfectly-within-your-rights “recruiter.”

Why Are People So Afraid of Poaching?

Poaching is an emotionally charged term that refers to the business practice of intentionally going to someone who’s already employed and convincing him or her to jump ship for your company. Understandably, companies are afraid of their employees leaving for greener pastures. No matter how well your employees prepare you for their exit, work will probably be ceased, or at least a bit bumpy, while you search for their replacement. It’s also frustrating when the employees weren’t looking for a new job due to unhappiness or changing circumstances but instead just had more money or benefits dangled in front of them like a carrot. It may make you feel angry at the other company or even at the employees.

But recruiting is an age-old hiring practice that really isn’t anything new and doesn’t need to be emotional. Companies want the best of the best working for them, but the best of the best probably aren’t sitting around unemployed. They’re making major things happen for other businesses. So looking at other companies isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably smart! If you’re attending industry conferences and putting time into networking, you know that you’re in competition with other businesses for the best talent. Directly inviting people to learn more about your company isn’t something to be afraid of.

What Makes Poaching Seem Shady?

Poaching may be annoying for businesses, but it usually doesn’t cross an ethical boundary—unless, of course, you’re doing things illegally. When recruiting employees, you need to be aware of any nondisclosure agreements or private things they’ll be leaving with their previous company. For instance, if your hope is that by hiring new salespeople, they’ll bring along a long list of their previous clients, you may want to reconsider. There are likely strict rules in place preventing this. This is also true for companies that are designing new products or services. Furthermore, businesses may have a rule in place that prevents employees from working at a similar company within a few years of their current employment in order to prevent trade secrets from being revealed.

But a business shouldn’t recruit someone just because it’s hoping for client connections or secret information. Recruits should be people you truly think would be a great fit for your company due to their skills and personality. If that’s how you’re going about the process, you’re not “poaching”—you’re just recruiting.

Furthermore, pay attention to where you’re recruiting from. If all of your employees used to work at the same company, that begins to look a bit unethical, or as if you’re trying to take the other business down. Don’t just go after employees from one business if you’re a headhunter. Instead, focus on specific skill sets or industries. That way, you can assemble great talent without a competitor getting angry with you for specifically “stealing” its people.

How Can You Limit Poaching from Your Business?

Are people swayed by money? Of course. So if a company comes in and offers your employee a higher salary, the easiest course would be to simply offer to match it. But even if you can’t do so, there are other practices you can implement to improve your employee satisfaction and make people love working for you. If employees think they have a terrific job, they’re unlikely to fall victim to recruiters. Yes, this may have to do with money—you want your employees to be fairly compensated and to give benefits that help families. But you can also think about your company culture. How do you make sure employees feel celebrated and welcomed? Flexibility is a key concern, too; in fact, many employees may prioritize flexibility over a larger paycheck. Do you allow employees to work remotely if need be? Can they adjust their hours in order to pick kids up from school? If you’re able to implement some of these best practices, you may be able to cut down on poaching. This is where employee feedback comes in. If you aren’t regularly asking your employees how satisfied they are, you’re missing an important opportunity to improve your compensation or culture, and you may find yourself losing out to recruiters.

How Should You Handle an Employee Being Recruited from You?

At the end of the day, your employees have every right to decide where to work and to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. It may be frustrating, but if no rules are being broken, there’s no reason to get emotional or to refer to it as “poaching.” Job turnover is simply part of keeping a company running. Wish them well, have a solid exit interview to find out how you could have potentially kept them around, and get to work finding their replacement. Now may be your turn to recruit a star employee you’ve had your eye on.