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Competitive Recruiters Poaching Talent?

Competitive Recruiters Poaching Talent?

Carol Morrison | i4cp

December 22, 2009

Cindy Akins, Vice President of Human Resources for marketing research firm Millward Brown, observes that the economic downturn has made some employees particularly amenable to contact from competitors. "Companies have downsized, but they’ve held onto their best people. However, I think there’s a feeling that those employees aren’t necessarily that happy. So if you can reach in and get a couple of good people from your competitor, the industry knowledge is already there, and you may be getting someone who has client relationships and other attractive attributes.

I think the feeling of dissatisfaction that a lot of employees have right now makes them more inclined to jump if they’re contacted." She adds that “unfortunately that happens with our employees as well. We haven’t lost many people, but we’re worried about the situation in 2010.” In fact, another recent i4cp study found many employers are already taking action to prevent increases in employee departures as the economy gains traction.

Things may get even more aggressive in the future as the economy turns around. “We plan to use these techniques much more,” said 16% of respondents to i4cp’s study. Twenty percent said they intend trying the approach either for limited regions or positions. Another 22% said they were discussing it, while 20% said they didn’t know. That left fewer than a quarter of participants denying they’d use headhunting methods more in the future.

Some respondents express reservations about assertive recruiting tactics, fearing that they might trigger a bidding war for talent or incite competitors to “drop the gloves” and target their talent. Few expressed concern about the use of such techniques being seen as “bad form” for internal recruiters, although our research suggests that in Europe – at least in Germany – the question of ethics keeps some firms from taking action. The former head of recruitment for the Europe/Middle East/Africa region of a major business software firm noted that the “gentlemen’s agreement” sensibility is still strong there. “We don’t do outreach to our competitors’ employees,” he says, “but we do accept applications from them.”

Making the most of methods used

While the study primarily concerned itself with the activities of internal recruitment functions, it also asked about external search firms and the use of social media for applicant sourcing. About two-thirds of respondents said they used outside recruiters “once in a while for certain key positions.” Most often, companies turned to headhunters for help finding talent to fill senior leadership positions. And larger companies were more likely to take that route than were smaller firms. Gruppo Campari, a leader in the branded beverage industry, uses headhunters to help locate talent for specific roles across their Italian operations.


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