Your Competitors Aren’t Shy About Recruiting Your Best Employees (Be Sure to Return the Favour)

A Shy Dwarf - Kathbern Management Toronto Recruiting Agency

You go to the effort of spending money on advertising, perhaps hiring a recruiting firm or executive search firm like Kathbern Management, spend hours reviewing resumes, interviewing and then training, and showing them the ropes, only to have them picked off by one of your competitors who is now enjoying the benefit of your investment.

Sound familiar?

Don’t get mad – get even!

An Angry Competitor - Kathbern Management Toronto Recruiting AgencyRecruiting from the competition (also referred to as “poaching”) is a common practice and, although understandably not welcomed by companies who are losing employees, it is a legitimate tool to be used in an increasingly competitive business environment. Let’s face it – This is War!

Unless restricted by their employment agreements, other companies’ employees are free agents who can decide for themselves whether it is in their best interests to remain with their existing employer or make themselves available to other offers. A wise employer accepts this practical reality and does everything possible to ensure that valued employees know that they are valued and are treated with respect, offered challenges that keep them motivated and offered financial rewards that keep them from even thinking about exploring other opportunities. Sadly, the proactive employer who inoculates their employers against being vulnerable to being “head-hunted” from outside is probably in the minority. As such, employers who expose themselves to “poaching” have probably not done everything that could be done to keep their employees from listening to offers from the outside world. That’s good news for you as successful recruiting from competitors involves exploiting this weakness and also doing employees of those competitors a favour by providing them opportunities that were not available with their current employer.

Read More: 5 Ways Your Hiring Process Can Lose Top Talent (And How to Stop It)

There are many advantages to recruiting from the competition. Your competitors’ employees know your industry, have a provable track record in their field, know your other competitors and know the customers served by your competitors.

Here are six tips for successfully recruiting from your competitors:

       1.   Understand the Motivation

A Happiness Scale - Kathbern Management Toronto Recruiting AgencyMost employees who are being treated well and compensated fairly by their current employer are reluctant to make a change unless there is another factor involved such as commuting distance or the amount of business travel (nights away). Employees, whose positions are not under any current threat, will require an improvement to their situation in order for them to consider making a change. It is your job to understand what, if anything, would motivate them to make such a change.

       2.   Ensure Your Company is Seen as a Good Place to Work

If you want to be competitive in securing great employees, you need to make sure your company is known as a great place to work. This is a longer term branding exercise which is the sum of everything that you do regarding your employees and ultimately how you treat your customers. It is not something that can be changed overnight and the best time to get started was probably at least five years ago. Failing that, tomorrow is the next best starting date.

Regardless of the strength of your brand, arm your recruiters and hiring managers with the best expression of the facts about your company and have them lead with it when recruiting. Talk about how fast your company is growing, the high-profile opportunities your company has to offer, the access employees have to mentors and advisors, career growth, and innovative projects. Lead with this when you are recruiting from competitors to let them know that your company has exciting things on the go, and that your company is a good place to work.

Also, pay attention to sites like Glassdoor, Indeed and other employee-rating websites. How is your score? On these sites, employees can state salary, write reviews, and comment on what it is like to work at your company. You want to see what employees are saying and work on increasing those scores if they are low, or prepare your hiring managers to address questions related to what are on those sites. Ambitious employees are laser focused on their career, and they will do their research before even taking a call from your hiring manager or recruiter. So, make sure what they find online puts your company in a good light.

       3.   Be Discreet

Before embarking on a recruiting project, take a targeted approach. Which competitors would you not want anyone to approach? Even though they are “competitors”, you may have some sort of cooperative relationship that you would not want to put at risk. Put those on a blacklist that are not to be contacted.The Black List - Kathbern Management Toronto Recruiting Agency

Aside from those blacklisted competitors, you may also not want to take a shotgun approach that blankets the industry with your offer. This will be sure to stir up resentment and leave you standing alone in the corner at the next industry social event. Target a handful of high value employees that you would like to have a conversation with and approach them on a selective basis.

Reach out via personal email or phone, or LinkedIn. Avoid contact via company email unless on a very discreet basis.

       4.   Make Use of Executive Recruiters

Companies are often reluctant to contact their competitors directly. By engaging a third-party recruiting firm, they can achieve a level of insulation from the process.

A Finger Pointing at a Successful Candidate - Kathbern Management Toronto Recruiting AgencyExecutive recruiters are known for their discretion, and often make contact with a target candidate on the basis of seeking information about other possible candidates for a given job opportunity. If the target candidate is interested themselves, they will usually speak up. Only then will the conversation turn to the motivation of the target candidate and the factors in their current situation that could make them open to considering an offer to move.

Read More: Our Services

       5.   Use Your Own Network to Find Good Candidates

A Social Network of People - Kathbern Management Toronto Recruiting AgencySpreading the word can also be an effective way to have a competitor’s employees hear of your opportunity. Industry conferences are renowned for their role in connecting people interested in facilitating a move between companies. It is probably slower and involves less of a broad approach than engaging an executive search firm would, but has the benefit of communication directly from the hiring manager. As long as the communication is tactful and exploratory, it can be very effective.

       6.   Watch Out for Non-Competes

Broad non-compete agreements are almost impossible for employers to enforce but, if your target hire has a well drafted agreement with their current employer that is reasonable in its time frame and its scope, it could represent a barrier to you hiring them. Before proceeding to the hiring stage, be sure to obtain a copy of the agreement in question and get legal advice as to its impact on your hiring plans.

Open Your Front Door to Hires from Your Competition While Closing the Back Door to Being Poached

A Door With a Welcome Sign - Kathbern Management Toronto Recruiting AgencyAcquiring talented employees from your competition can provide a double impact: your company is strengthened while, at the same time, your competitor is weakened. Your new employee can advise on how things were done “over there” in terms of processes and workflow, and can breathe new life and ideas into your team. This additional knowledge and expertise can really help your company grow and expand.

Equally important (if not more), do everything you can to protect your employees from even considering making a change when the competition calls them – because those calls are coming.


Kathbern Management is an executive search consultancy based in Toronto, helping companies find the executives and senior managers who not only have the experience and credentials to fulfil their responsibilities, but also have the emotional and “fit” requirements that will enable them to be successful in a particular environment. We simplify the process and, through our deep research, are able to bring more and better candidates forward than would ever be possible through a do-it-yourself passive advertising campaign.

Contact us today for a free consultation about your key person search.

Join our community to receive more monthly insights

Subscribe - Blog CTA
  • Hint: it comes down to good leadership (Reading time: 5 minutes)   In the early days of my career, I was hired as the general manager of a small ...
  • Don’t rely solely on resumes. (Reading time: 5 minutes)   The frustration of recruiters Imagine the frustration of recruiters when their carefu...
  • Do you know the story behind the development of the Oxford dictionary? It involves a dedicated editor, a mansion housing the criminally insane, and a ...