It's time we talked about clients who poach recruitment talentPosted over 2 years ago by Nick Boulton

There is a bad practice within recruitment that everyone is aware of, but doesn’t talk about. It’s been going on forever and begrudgingly accepted as a price of doing business – but it needs to be brought out into the open.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You sign terms with a client and work diligently to fill their roles. Part of that involves signing non-poach or solicitation agreements, where you agree not to go after any of their employees. And fair enough – soliciting staff from clients makes recruiters look unprofessional, untrustworthy, and unprincipled. It’s bad business.

But then one of your own consultants hands in their notice saying they were approached to join your client’s internal recruitment team.

“Do as I say, not as I do” sound about right?

When companies try to hold you to non-poach/solicitation agreements but at the same time are courting your employees, there’s only one term for it: double standard, and it really gets my goat. The sheer arrogance of it and brazen disregard for an open trusting relationship is infuriating.

It tends to happen more in highly competitive markets, as companies begin to eye the best talent from rivals, suppliers, and partners driven by their desperation to hire.

‘Poaching’ does make it sound like an illicit animal hunt, but unlike animals, people can make choices. Given this fact, poaching or solicitation isn’t an ethical dilemma, it’s a misunderstood figure of speech.

Unlike rhinos, employees aren’t an endangered species whose plight teeters on the edge of extinction, despite the current shortage of talent on the market. And unlike sheep, employees don’t belong to their employers, even if they have been made to sign non-compete or non-solicitation agreements. So that means they are free to wander off to another employer whenever they want, and that’s a good thing, right? Absolutely! The threat of losing employees keeps the labour market purring and ensures employers treat people well.

So rather than have all the ‘cloak and dagger’ charade of trying to message a supplier’s staff on the sly, why don’t you just be honest? Why don’t you just apply the same logic you do when hiring other people? Tell them you like them, tell them you want to hire them, offer them a job, and pay a fee for them?

Agency recruiters have gone internal for years and will continue to do so long after I’m gone. So why can’t we be adults here? Paying a fee is commiserate with a recruiter placing a candidate in any other role a client has – why not this one?

There is a thin line that separates aggressive hiring from solicitation – Solicitation is where you are adamant about hiring an employee from a competitor who has not expressly shown an interest in joining your organisation. Encouraging employees to leave their current job and defect to your company may help you get good talent, but it may also prove to be disadvantageous in the long term. Employees open to being poached may gain a poor reputation as someone who may quit his or her current position easily and is vulnerable. And if you’re the one who did the poaching, you risk losing the respect of your competitors and suppliers.

So what’s the solution? Be honest, pay a fee like you do for any other hire, and keep it ethical.

You should set boundaries, and use the same set of standards across the board. What’s acceptable and what’s not needs to be decided by the business beforehand as part of a comprehensive recruitment policy and then agreed that with your supplies. Both parties should have a level playing field so neither of you is looking over your shoulder.

The talent market is crazy right now, how about we agree not to make it worse?