The Ethics of Headhunting and How to Mitigate it

Posted on January 30th, by Sourcing Ninja in Featured, Knowledge Base. 5 comments

In recent years there has been a lot of exposure around the practice of companies entering non-poaching pacts (see also here, here and here) to prevent their competitors from headhunting their staff. Aside from the legal issues, Fraser Hill takes a different perspective in his latest article and talks about the ethics behind using headhunters. Essentially he argues that there is no ethical dilema in companies headhunting from their competitors “because companies don’t own people”. Furthermore, he highlights the somewhat flawed perception that although it is unethical for corporations to headhunt directly from their competitors, the practice is condoned if it is performed by a third-party. He illustrates his point with the following example:

“In the criminal world, you’re still considered as bad as the person who pulled the trigger if you hired the hit man to do it. The person who hires the hit man can’t just stand there in court and say, “well I didn’t do it your honor, I paid this man to do it so it’s all his fault.” Isn’t the hirer just as guilty as the hitman himself because he ultimately instructed “the hit” in the first place?”

Mr. Zebra was the best damned IPX Engineer we’ve sourced in the past few years… Image: ornello_pics


I’ve always shared the belief that headhunting is a non-ethical issue, though I may be somewhat biased because I work in the industry. Having been on both sides of the fence as a employee and employer, in my opinion, nothing overrides the fact that if you have the opportunity to move to a better workplace (whether it be increased salary, better environment, better location, etc), your employer has no right to prevent you from having the freedom to choose where you want to work. This autonomy sits within the restraints of your legal obligations to abide by all non-compete clauses, respecting your previous employer’s right to protect their own IP, etc etc. Loyalty is earned and it’s a two way street. How much has each party invested into the employment agreement beyond the statutory requirement of remuneration for work?

Regardless of where you stand on the ethics of headhunting, he suggests that there are some strategies companies can adopt to reduce the likelihood of your staff wanting to leave:

  • Train the actual hiring managers how to interview and how to best represent your brand. Not just training, but sitting in on interviews and giving constructive feedback.
  • Having a structured end-to-end interview process in place where candidates aren’t faced with countless repeat interviews where too many people can’t reach a consensus on a hiring decision.
  • Having a clear and well-defined feedback policy for all candidates who come to interview with a service level agreement that hiring managers must adhere to in terms of providing feedback.
  • Having a first class onboarding process with adequate feedback channels to be able to track in real time, the effectiveness of them, and the satisfaction of the newly onboarded candidates.
  • Working with your own recruiters and suppliers to maintain accurate and up-to-date competitor salary and benefits information and leaning on the business to take action to maintain a competitive environment.


What are your thoughts on headhunting – do you consider it an ethical practice? What Google-like perks do you offer your staff to keep them happy? Share your thoughts below.

[See the full article on ERE]



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