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Take 5: How to poach a star staffer from your competitor

by Cory Todd

He knows your industry and has a proven track record, but how do you get your competitor’s top staffer to jump ship and come work for you? Mike Sweeny, principal at Cherry Hill’s MAS Recruiting, specializes in executive search across a range of industries, including positions that involve highly specialized skill sets. He offers insight into when, and how, to flip a competitor’s employee onto your team.

1. Ask, “Is it worth it?”
“The company leadership needs to assess whether the benefits of recruiting from the competition are worth the potential downside,” Sweeny says. “For example, if recruiting a key salesperson or key technologist/scientist from the competition would potentially be a huge windfall for your company, then it is worth the potential legal battle and higher level of compensation that would come with hiring this person.” If the value of the worker isn’t certain, it may not be worth the risk.

2. Bring in a third party.
“If your company wants to recruit candidates directly from your competition, it is best to use a third party executive search firm to accomplish the task,” Sweeny says. “You don’t want your own employees calling directly to recruit from the competition because it may open up your company to legal action, retaliation, and potentially a bad reputation in the industry.” A search firm, on the other hand, has experience broaching such matters, and can provide initial confidentiality.

3. Be careful what information you share.
“If you plan to interview a candidate from one of your competitors, you will need to instruct your interviewers to be very careful what information that they reveal to the candidate,” Sweeny says. “It is not unusual for the competition to send someone in for an interview just to get some inside information.” If it is necessary to reveal sensitive information, ask the candidate to sign a non-disclosure agreement in the presence of a witness.

4. Closely review any noncompete agreement.
Before making an offer, Sweeny urges, “have your legal team carefully review the candidate’s noncompete agreement. Some states are stricter than others in interpreting the noncompetes—and, depending how the agreement is worded, it may be very difficult to get around. It is better to spend the legal dollars up front for advice than to be hit with a costly lawsuit later.”

5. Be prepared to compensate accordingly.
Know that recruiting a competitor’s star worker won’t come cheap, Sweeny notes. “You figure that his/her current company is paying them well and will fight hard to retain the person. While money will be a major motivating factor in moving to your company, a candidate will also be looking at the upside that your company offers in career development, market growth, and product/service capabilities.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 1, Issue 6 (June, 2011).
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