So What's the Definition of Poaching Talent? What Does It Really Mean?

by Joel Cheesman

What Is Employee Poaching and Is It Ever OK?

If we listen to the unemployment statistics, one might conclude that employers do nothing but turn prospects away. But, some industries go out of the way to attract new talent, even if it means luring them away from an already lucrative position. 

But What Is Talent Poaching, Exactly?

The term employee poaching represents a bit of a misplaced metaphor. We may conger up an image of illegally hunting exotic animals to destroy them for their ivory or beautiful hides. Employee poaching doesn't result in anything quite that dramatic. Employee poaching does involve seeking out talented people who already make up part of your industry and encouraging them to join your business or organization. 

Employee poaching takes on two possible forms. Most typically, an employer seeks out an established candidate in the field. Employers love passive job searchers, especially those with five to twelve years of experience in the industry. The adage that tells us it's better to look for a job while employed rings true. 

The other form of employee poaching happens when one employee leaves and several others follow that person to the new company. Groups of employees leaving sometimes happen with startups. 

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When Is Poaching Employees Illegal or Wrong?

The act of employee poaching doesn't constitute a crime. However, legal repercussions may occur in the event of a contract breach or stolen trade secrets. Fickle employees may also find that their previous employer possesses the right to take away bonuses and profit sharing.  

It makes sense for both the employee and the employee poacher to thoroughly look into binding contracts and any other misappropriation possibilities before making a significant move. 

The employee also needs to consider any changes or benefits that may diminish. Will they give up weeks of vacation and a healthy 401K match for a new opportunity? Weighing the advantages of the new position and those they will lose often involves more than salary.   

Is Poaching Talent Unethical?

One way to avoid costly legal problems or a bad reputation as a member of a particular industry involves taking precautions to prevent contract disputes. Employment agencies and viable headhunters will most likely provide that screening process. 

Employee referral programs offer current employees an incentive and a way to lure new talent over to an organization on their terms. If an employee leaves a position on good terms, it also allows their former company to hire someone with a fresh perspective. Often, the outgoing employee may even assist in training their replacement.

Don't Be Afraid to Poach Your Competition

Anyone receiving an offer from a company without actively applying should minimally feel flattered. It no doubt means you excel at your profession. Some industries that look for talent through means of poaching include technology, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, robotics, and AI. Any place where the pool of qualified candidates doesn't meet the demand represents a target for poaching. However, an exceptional salesperson or fundraiser may also find themselves with unsolicited job offers. 

Of course, your considerations for taking on a new position should involve weighing the benefits and money. But, it would help if you also looked at the risk involved. Are you leaving an established company to work for a startup? You will also want to do an inventory on the big picture as it pertains to your career and your personal situation. 

Very few people spend their careers working for one company like they did 50 years ago. Mergers, layoffs, and the personal need to strive for more mean that people change employers and even careers with growing frequency. The professional landscape somewhat coincides with the world of baseball; even if we're under contract, we eventually become free agents.   

Poach Founder Joel Cheesman

About the Author

Joel Cheesman is the founder and all-around handyman at Poach. When he's not busy putting together the world's most perfect poaching machine, he's creating content like this. He calls Indianapolis, Ind. home.