Poaching Employees: How to Get Tech Talent on Your Company’s Side

Let’s get one thing straight: poaching is a despicable practice.

Poaching employees, on the other hand, is not cruel, but kind.

If you find a talented tech pro who is ready or getting ready to move on from their current position at a competitor’s company, then “poaching” them away from their current job is doing them a service. While their employer has lost a valuable player, they were going to lose this employee anyway, as you cannot poach an employee who does not want to be poached.

Poaching employees has advantages over traditional candidate sourcing methods, namely, that you’re choosing a candidate who is already doing the job that you’re hiring them for. Then, there is the benefit of gaining insights from someone who has worked for the competition. Another advantage for people interested in poaching tech talent right now is that there are signs that the tech boom in Silicon Valley is starting to lose steam.

According to SF Bay Area Software Recruiter Mark Dina, “We’re starting to get a lot of résumés from [software engineers at] companies where the business model isn’t working and they can’t get funding, so they are closing down or cutting back.”

A whole generation of developers, engineers, and tech experts of all kinds caught startup fever, and, given that 35-58% of startups fail (depending on the industry), many of these talented tech employees are looking out for their next move.

No matter where they work, if you can provide the employee you’re trying to poach with great reasons to take your job, there’s no reason you can’t get them over on your company’s side.

Poaching Employees

When trying to hire someone who is already gainfully employed, remember that you only have a limited amount of leverage. If they are content where they are or are uninterested in your company’s work, then you have very little chance of hiring them from their job. Making a good impression, however, is a must, because it can lead to hiring them when they finally leave their current job.

Here are the most important points to remember when poaching employees:

An employee who does not want to be poached, cannot be. If they aren’t interested in what you’re offering, save yourself some time and move on to finding another professional you’d like to hire.

You need to have a legitimate offer. In order to get tech talent onto your company’s side, the job you’re offering needs to be a good step in their career, or at least not a step-down. You need to provide them with a complete, captivating description of how their life will improve at your company. Whether it’s the cutting-edge nature of the work, the culture you’ve cultivated, or the salary you’re offering, poaching employees will depend on the objective strength of your job offer.

You need to know what they want. If you plan to extend an offer, you should know enough about the employee that you’re trying to poach to be confident in their interest. You can never be 100% sure that someone will be interested in the job you want them to do, but poaching employees is only possible through speaking to the desires of the people you want to hire. 

You need to provide assurances and make a good impression. Changing jobs can be highly uncertain and highly stressful. In order to successfully poach from any company, you need to build a strong relationship with the employee in question, so they feel they can trust you with their next career move. You also need to make good on any assurances you make, as failing to deliver will get you dismissed by the person you’re trying to hire, probably permanently.

Poaching Employees from Different Types of Companies

Besides depending on these best practices, your success with poaching employees will depend on how you differentiate your company from the one you’re hiring from. Here are some guidelines for approaching employees from different types of companies:

Poaching Employees from a Successful Company

If you want to try and poach from a successful company or competitor, look to how your company is different in order to get the interest of tech talent. You may not have the same market share as the company you’re trying to poach from, but this doesn’t matter as long as you speak to the interests of the employees you are trying to hire.

Employees who work for successful companies often dream of the day they can apply what they’ve learned at companies that are still building their reputations. When talking with employees from successful companies, tell them about what your job offers them in terms of ownership, creative freedom, corporate ethics, company culture, and other key differentiators.

Poaching Employees from a Startup

Startups provide their employees with a unique opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an emerging company. That being said, startup life isn’t for everyone, and many who thought they would enjoy the experience, are now realizing their error. On the other hand, many other employees would not have it any other way, and will only be interested in working for emerging companies.

The key for poaching from startups is figuring out which group your target employee falls into. If they are sick of startups, then attracting this employee to an established company may be fairly easy. If they are sick of established companies, then you may have no luck in luring this employee to anything but a comparable startup.

Poaching Employees from a Faltering Company

Faltering companies can be a veritable gold mine for poaching employees, but you should still be sensitive to the circumstances their company is under. The person you’re trying to poach may be fighting tooth and nail to help their company survive, and may not take kindly to an outsider looking to make a hire.  On the other hand, some employees within faltering companies will be thrilled to begin talks with you, as they can see the writing on the wall and want to prepare for their next move.

Never try to poach desperate employees, because their desperation can lead them to take a job they have no interest in or no experience in. Approach employees at a struggling company the same way you would a company that’s thriving: offering compelling reasons to take your job, not talking about the dire straits their employer is in.

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