How to Poach Talent Politely

How to Poach Talent Politely
Image credit: Andrew Rich Photography
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Reliable, talented, hard-working employees are difficult to find. Often, the best employee for your own business currently works somewhere else. If that employee happens to work for a colleague or competitor, you may find yourself in the position of weighing the talent of the employee against the feathers you’ll ruffle by recruiting him away.

When a business actively lures an employee away from a position it risks hard feelings. But poaching has become accepted business practice because of shrinking talent pools for specialized skills. Small businesses must compete with all of the other businesses out there for the talented app developers, data analysts and content strategists they need. When the best employee for the job works for a business colleague, here are a few things you can do to lessen the blow.

Ask permission.

One of the most respectful things you can do is to simply ask your colleague before discussing the opportunity with the employee. This is especially true if the colleague has become a personal friend or business partner. Mention how the opportunity will be better for the employee’s career and make it clear that if the colleague doesn’t approve, you won’t pursue the employee. Before asking for permission, though, test the waters to see if the colleague is closely tied to that employee. Through that discussion, you may even find the employee isn’t the hard worker you thought.

Related: Jawbone Accuses Fitbit of Stealing Confidential Company Information Via Poached Employees

Check for non-compete agreement

Before you get too far into the interview process, check to make sure the employee is allowed to work for you. Some employees have agreements in place that won’t allow them to work for a competitor within a set period of time after leaving. These agreements are often specific to direct competitors, so make sure you don’t qualify under the terms of the agreement. You may need an attorney for this part of the process. Not only will the employee want to avoid a lawsuit, you will want to avoid having the employee give notice, only to find legalities keep him in his present position against his will.

Show respect.

Whether the colleague is someone you know personally or not, make sure the employee leaves respectfully. Allow the employee to give at least two weeks’ notice and don’t allow the employee to bad-mouth the former employer in your presence. If possible, contact the colleague and discuss ways you can smooth the transition. If handled unprofessionally, poaching will come back to haunt you. When you handle it professionally, you may find you open up a channel of communication with the employer that didn’t exist before. After all, if you poach a competitor’s employees, there’s nothing stopping that competitor from luring away a few of your best and brightest.

Related: Apple Sued Over Alleged Employee Poaching

Have limits.

There are people you shouldn’t recruit, no matter how impressive their skills. If an employee works for a business partner or vendor, you’ll likely find the lost business connection is far more costly than losing the great employee. Even if the employee contacted you, rather than the other way around, you're smarter not to hire someone who will cost your business money in the long term. Additionally, avoid luring employees of personal friends. A friendship is worth far more than a good employee. Instead, ask the friend if that employee can refer someone who has similar skills and talents.

Good employees may be hard to find, but great working relationships with colleagues are important, too. Before poaching a valued worker from someone else in your industry, weigh the risks to your business’s future. If you see very little risk in doing so, make sure the employee handles the transition as professionally as possible to avoid resentments.

Related: 4 Places to Find Job Candidates You Probably Never Considered