Is it unethical to recruit a competitor’s top employees?

It can often feel like a dog-eat-dog world in the business community and perhaps there’s no more contentious point than when one company makes a move on another’s employees. Is this best practice in recruitment, or is it simply unethical?

With the rise of social networks, particularly LinkedIn, businesses can now have a sneaky peak at what their competitor’s team’s look like with a quick search and a couple of clicks. It’s extremely easy to find your competitor’s top talent – and what’s more, you can very easily send them a message with a tempting job offer.

In writing this blog I’m acutely aware that I’m stepping in what may be ‘unchartered territory’. Talking about poaching talent from your competitors is something of a taboo subject but it’s a question that I know plays on the minds of a lot of HR professionals.

There’s clearly no definitive answer to the question: “is it unethical to recruit a competitor’s employees?” but I’m going to try and offer a few words of wisdom to help you tackle this question within your own organisation.


  1. Establish your company’s recruitment guidelines

Bring your executive team together and establish a set of recruitment guidelines that provide consistency across your business. Agree on the recruitment practices that you feel fit your businesses corporate identity: is it okay to recruit on the basis of a current employee’s referral? Would you consider it controversial to recruit an employee from one of your lesser competitors?

  1. Consider a headhunting agency who will manage the process properly

Naturally headhunting or talent scouting agencies will have more experience of approaching standout candidates. They’ll have resources, software, experience and tact – all of which go a long way when approaching sensitive recruitment ethics. Find out more about talent attraction from an agencies perspective.

  1. Trust your chosen agency

It’s imperative that, if you opt for a headhunting agency, that you actually trust them. Make sure their ethics and approaches match your corporate identity. After all, they will be the first point of contact a potential – and high calibre – candidate has with your business.

  1. Find a balance between being effective and ethical

When you operate in a highly competitive market it’s obvious that you need to be quick of the mark whether it’s releasing a new product, pitching to a new client or, perhaps, recruiting a talented candidate. It’s a fine line between establishing your organisation’s ethics and sticking to them, and being left ineffective because you’ve not acted quickly enough. This brings me back to points one and three. Establish some guidelines that work both ways and trust an agency that will have ready-made contacts, allowing them to be quick off the mark.

  1. Look at it from another angle

Consider the recruitment dilemma from a different point of view. As an employer it’s often easy to see it from your competitor’s standpoint: how would you feel if they poached one of your best employees? However, consider yourself in position of the candidate: is it fair to cut them out of a potentially lucrative job offer and great experience, simply because they work for a competitor?

  1. Remember not to restrict yourself

Although recruiting from a competitor works for many businesses, it’s also important to remember there are a huge number of other high-calibre candidates out there. Whether a candidate was made redundant, moved location or even took it upon themselves to look for a new position, if they have the right experience and soft skills they may just be the right candidate for the job.


As one last point, I’d like to highlight the absolute importance of doing your research before you make contact with any of your competitor’s employees. There are often relationships within businesses that make approaching certain candidates inappropriate and it’ll avoid any awkward conversations if you’re clued up first. Another reason for using an agency – they’ll likely know a little more information about who is appropriate to contact!

As this is a tricky subject, I’d love to hear your thoughts too. Have you ever been head hunted yourself? Or would you simply never consider employing a competitor’s employees? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!



About the Author

Anne Corder

Anne Corder


Whilst still actively handling recruitment assignments, Anne specialises in Human Resources with many years of experience in that sector. She blogs on wider recruitment issues affecting both candidates and clients, commenting and offering tips and advice to help achieve the right outcomes.