All’s Fair in Love and War…but Recruiting? Some Rules for the Talent War

The talent war is very real when you are faced with your competitors stealing your best people, courting the same college students on campus and stealing your candidates. We have heard many stories of how recruiters from one company are poaching employees and candidates from others. When large companies with good reputations and deep pockets start to compete for talent, tactics can get devious. I know of a firm who was ?leaking? the names of poor performers so that the competition would think they were top-notch employees and go after them. One firm was identifying the email addresses of anyone logging onto their web site from a competitor and having a message pop up that offered the person an interview immediately. Other recruiters are standing outside the doors of their competitors and making the candidates better offers at their company. Some are tracking college students who are being courted by a competitor and, at the last moment, swoop in with a better offer and more stock or benefits. Candidates are confused and often upset by these tactics, which they clearly recognize as desperate moves. I have talked to a few candidates who decided to turn down all offers because of the mean spiritedness of the recruiters who were competing with each other. Back in the early days of the semiconductor industry (and I?m dating myself here), the competition for semiconductor engineers and designers was as vigorous as today?s war for IT and other scarce professionals. The competition was a little different because all the semiconductor firms were located near each other and the Internet hadn?t added the ability to automate and speed up the process. Yet, it had many of the same characteristics. Recruiters would pay top dollar for the organization chart or internal phone book of a competitor, or meet current employees in the parking lot to offer them a better deal at their firm. Eventually a set of unwritten rules evolved that helped to regulate this competition. Sports teams have their set of rules. I think a set of written rules could be developed to help ethically guide the recruiters of today, as well. Here are a few thoughts on what some of those rules might be. Rule #1: Agree not to knowingly provide false or misleading information to a fellow recruiter or candidate. At the very least, let?s keep the dealing honest. Provide no opinions on competitors, even if asked directly by the candidates. Do not leak information to cause a reaction in a competitor. Rule #2: Respect the right of any recruiter to interview and ?sell? a candidate on the merits of the job and company. Don?t try to prevent the interview or try to get candidates to agree to not speak with a recruiter from a competitive firm. Rule #3: Make sure your firm has proactive and positive approaches to employee retention. Instead of trying to filter email or prevent your employees from interfacing with competitors, make sure you have good career paths, development programs, flexible managers and flexible benefits, and the other things that we know help keep people happy and productive. People rarely leave just for a slightly larger paycheck. Rule #4: Don?t begrudge employees who leave for genuinely better positions or for advancement. If your firm can?t offer them the same, be glad that they have found the opportunity elsewhere. Let them know that they are welcome back at any time and make it easy for employees to return. Rule #5: Be aggressive and strong in your recruiting. Send out the best managers and employees to recruit for you. Show off your organization?s strengths and showcase its services and products. While all may be fair in love and war, in recruiting outright lying and deviousness should not be tolerated. Some organizations make agreements with each other not to actively recruit certain types of candidates and establish methods to show that a candidate contacted them freely of their own will and were not enticed or ?bought? to apply for the new position. This is especially useful when competitors are located near each other. Rule #6: Let all candidates know that you subscribe to this list of ethical guidelines and give the candidates a copy of them. Wars fought without rules and Geneva Conventions are brutal affairs with no winners. I believe it is far better to develop a win-win approach. In the semiconductor days I mentioned above, many of us recruiters made pacts between each other that regulated what we did and how. These agreements cemented many friendships and helped to build the semiconductor industry of today. I would welcome any suggestions for other rules that you might have. If I get enough, I will publish an amended list. Fight hard, but fair!

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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