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Poaching Employees From Your Competitors: Is it Ethical?

Poaching Employees From Your Competitors: Is it Ethical?

All’s fair in love and war—and recruiting.

According to Manpower’s U.S. Talent Shortage Survey, 77% of employers are having difficulty filling jobs—a 17 year high.

We’re in the midst of a talent shortage, and smart recruiters know that they have to go out and proactively source the candidates they want to hire.

Oftentimes, this means poaching candidates that are already employed. The question that many ponder however, is whether poaching employees is an ethical practice.

This writer’s opinion: in many cases, yes.

If you aren’t poaching employees from your competitors, someone else is


According to Bankrate's latest job search insights, 37% of workers are "very likely" looking for a new job in the next 12 months.

That indicates that many workers are interested in pursuing other opportunities, but only a subset of them are searching and applying for your jobs.

The rest are sitting back and waiting for opportunities to come to them. If you aren’t actively poaching employees from your competitors, other organizations may be—and they’ll get the talent that you need.

There are times, however, where it would be considered unethical to poach employees


Trust is key when we're talking about business. This is true whether we're dealing with recruitment agencies, clients, or other partners. One big part of this trust is knowing that these business relationships won't be used to sneakily recruit, or "poach," talent.

It’s usually considered unethical to poach employees from companies you have a business relationship with. When you have a business relationship with people in an organization, they will often introduce you to others in the organization that you may not have otherwise met.

They trust that these introductions will help your companies work better together. Don’t damage this trust by promoting your own agenda at the sake of their organization.

It’s also unethical if you misrepresent your opportunity or slander your competitors in any way. Always be open, honest, and kind when dealing with candidates. Otherwise, candidates will eventually see through you, and it may permanently damage their perception of your organization (and your reputation in the industry).

Working with direct hire agencies to poach candidates


Many organizations prefer to work with direct hire agencies to poach candidates because it allows a certain degree of separation from the practice.

Direct hire agencies can gauge a candidate’s interest in a new opportunity before they disclose the name of the hiring organization. This approach reduces the chances of contacting a candidate who may not be interested and could perceive the outreach as overly assertive.

Direct hire agencies also share the responsibility of poaching candidates so hiring organizations have an easy way out in the event that the company being poached calls them out.

When working with direct hire agencies to poach candidates, provide clear direction on which organizations you’d like to recruit talent from—and which you’d rather not. Organizations with cultures that resemble your own are a good place to start, particularly if you’ve had successful hires come from those organizations in the past.

Explain to your agency, in detail, what makes your opportunity worthwhile for a candidate who may be content in their current position. Again, be careful not to misrepresent your opportunity or badmouth your competitors—just be honest and open about what makes your organization unique.

Poaching employees is not a new practice by any means, but is becoming increasingly necessary as more organizations struggle to hire qualified talent.

Chances are, your competitors are already poaching employees, and your organization may be left high and dry if you don’t use this proactive approach to recruiting.

 

Updated July 2023

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