Predatory Hiring: The Best Hire Is Your Competitors’ Top Talent

Most salespeople spend a majority of their time trying to “steal customers” away from their competitors. Great recruiters also realize that the best hire a firm can make is a hire from their direct competitors’ top talent! Perhaps an example or two can help to illustrate. I was consulting in New York with a well-known investment banking firm, when they announced to a group of HR managers that they had just hired away the competitor’s best salesperson. The HR people were less than impressed and asked, “But what will he do for us?” The hiring manager shot back immediately with a great quote “I’m not sure, but he won’t be making $50 million a year for the competitor!” Imagine another scenario where you were the Philadelphia 76’ers and you were soon to play the Lakers in the world championships. If you lost the first game, you would hire Kobe Bryant away from the Lakers. If you lost another game you would hire away Shaq. Yes, it might be expensive, but you would flat out win some games! Why Hire Your Competitor’s Talent?

  • Your talent pool goes up immediately
  • Theirs goes down proportionately
  • You can directly learn from their techniques and approaches
  • You might get a few customers along with the new employee
  • It forces you to pay close attention to your own top performers in order to keep the competitors from poaching them away
  • It forces them to pay extra time and resources toward retaining their own employees

Some Actions to Consider

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  1. Identify and hire away their most innovative people to slow down their rate of improvement.
  2. When one of your salespeople competes head to head with a competitor and loses the sale, hire away their salesperson the next day.
  3. Ask your own top performers who’s better than them at the competitor and then target them..
  4. Offer an increased referral bonus (bounty) for referrals from key competitors.
  5. Use the names of your competitors in your resume keyword search engine in order to flag and prioritize resumes from that firm.
  6. Ask your new hires on the first day (who came from a direct competitor) who else is good and target them.
  7. Target your competitors’ top recruiters.
  8. Have you recruiters target and hang out at restaurants and watering holes across the street from your direct competitors.
  9. Hire top talent from a competitor whenever you can get them. Hire them as a “corporate resource” and get them on board, even if you don’t have a current opening for them.
  10. Search your competitors promotion and PR announcements for names of top performers to target.
  11. Search industry publications, awards, and conference proceedings for the names of the best at your competitors.
  12. Hire an unbundled search firm to give you the names and profiles of the best.
  13. Encourage your mediocre and poor performers to join the competitor’s team! (joke)

Conclusion I realize that for most HR people predatory hiring is out of the question, because too many HR people are more “social worker” than fierce business competitors. Perhaps this is due to their lack of aggressiveness or courage, or else it’s some misguided set of ethics. But they need to face reality. Business is a competitive game and those with the best talent win. Hiring unemployed people and people from non-competitors has some merit, but generally it pales in comparison alongside the impact of hiring away your competitors’ top talent. Sure, after you hire them you might have some legal constraints on the projects they can work on initially, but in most cases the probabilities are low and the rewards are much higher. In a war there’s only one way win. And that is to fight like warriors! <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



1 Comment on “Predatory Hiring: The Best Hire Is Your Competitors’ Top Talent

  1. John’s article and recommendations are right-on! While this may be considered controversial, he is correct – in the WAR for talent, one must be prepared to go to battle, not to the water cooler. Thanks, John for your bold and forthright recommendations.

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