Help! Stop the Headhunter...I say, don't bother

So many times I’ve heard on the street complaints from companies about headhunters trying to steal their employees…and everytime I laugh a little. Yes, partly because I am a headhunter, but my thoughts go deeper than that. It kind of reminds me of a relationship where one partner is always scared of the other straying away into someone else’s arms. What can we do to stop this from happening? Without realizing until writing this blog, the heart of my advice is relatively the same.

We have all heard of companies implementing no headhunter policies. This is almost the same as banning your significant other from going to Starbucks because of the possibility of bumping into a new love prospect. Come on! Anyways, back to business. My opinion on the policy thing: pointless. Good headhunters have the right tools and brainpower to connect with their target; and a policy is hardly the first thing that gets in the way. It is only human nature for smart people to entertain conversations and weigh out their options, especially when it comes to a career.

So how do you keep your people from being poached, scooped or stolen? Is it giving them higher salaries and handing out a counter offer when they try to depart? This is not the best tactic and it can backfire. Although it is important to pay people what they are worth, making a counter offer may work at first, but if all other factors remain the same, resentment sets in and your superstar employee might start to think ‘why wasn’t I being paid this before’. And, if word gets out to the rest of your team, or company, you might end up with a line up of others trying to pull the same trick. Sounds like this is getting expensive, no?

Besides, your best employees are not talking to headhunters for the sole purpose of an increase in pay. They are networking and researching their competitors and options. They want to know who is on the other team, how smart are they, what is their environment and if applicable, what kind of technology do they use. In other words: are they better? After this information is gathered, your employee will ask themselves ‘will I be happier and more satisfied working on the other side?’

Take it as a compliment, headhunters go after great people. Being recruited is an indication that they are smart, have desired skill sets and work with the best technology. Know this, and if you haven’t already, work to foster an environment that empowers, engages and includes your employees. This is what keeps people. This is what’s going to stop a headhunter in their tracks.

Views: 571

Comment by Isaac on April 9, 2010 at 6:04pm
OMG!!!!!!!! you hit the nail on the head!

I recruited for a company in the greater L.A. area. They had no quarrels with H-H's. One of the reasons being that they were rated L.A.s #1 employer. They take care of their own.

And your right, like a marriage, when you love your spouse unconditionally, you receive the same in return. If employers paid a little more attention to their human capital, they wouldnt have a daily pending exodus on their hands.

Great post there Sharon.... now if employers would only read this.
Comment by Sharon Alderson on April 9, 2010 at 6:35pm
Thanks Isaac!
Comment by Barbara Goldman on April 12, 2010 at 11:51am
Great post. It made me smile. It is amusing that companies' would believe headhunters have power to steal their people. We aren't that powerful. And, you are right, don't bother trying to stop the recruiters. We are people who are networking. How can you stop that?
Comment by Greg Bennett on April 12, 2010 at 12:01pm
Awesome article Sharon. And I agree with Isaac's comment as well. I've been a headhunter for over 15 years and, as my old boss once told me: "Those you don't recruit for are the ones you recruit from." But... he also taught me never - under threat of dismissal - to call people up and blatantly try to recruit them. First, it's just wrong on a lot of levels. Secondly, unless I already know all I need to know about them, I have no idea if they're a fit. And why, would I want to inflate their ego unecessarily... it will happen soon enough. LOL. As a result, I've always called and simply asked people if they know anyone who might be a fit for the role I'm working on. If they say "ME!" then it's a whole new ballgame. But, by keeping it open-ended I'll double my chances for a positive result to the call. Generally I either get the resume of the person I've called OR the name of someone they know who may well fit the role.

A funny sidebar. After reaching out to several people at one company and doing a "who do you know" approach the president of the company called to tell me to stop. I explained what I was tellling his people and said that if they're happy they will only tell me who else to call. But he didn't like that either and issued a memo to all his people that they shouldn't take calls from ME. That's right he told them that under no circumstances should they take a call from one recruiter - whom he named! Guess what happened next. My phone was ringing off the hook within a couple of days from all of his people wanting to know what I was working on and could they be considered.

I do love this job.
Comment by JR Fent on April 12, 2010 at 12:03pm
Great points Sharon. I had one firm that I recruited people from that used raises and promotions as a way to counter offer and keep employees from leaving.

This caused a huge ripple in their internal culture. Employees soon learned that if you wanted a promotion - just get an offer elsewhere and plan on the counter offer for getting you a promotion. This also caused people that did not deserve management roles (and were not the best people for management roles), to become managers.
Comment by Amy Gardner on April 12, 2010 at 2:09pm
Great post Sharon. I have always thought the same thing. Funny how the good companies tend to work with and embrace headhunters, and those companies that might have something to worry about won't use us.
Comment by Doug Beabout on April 12, 2010 at 2:24pm
Great post Sharon. It brings up a really timeless question. One of the earliest lessons learned by this executive recruiter was that I cannot recruit or place anyone who lacks a compelling reason to consider leaving. Although this reason can be beyond the workplace, most often it is not.

It is my fervent hope that employers start awakening to the idea that investing time, dialog and dollars in employee containment is no substitute for employee retention, in its truest form. There are employers that practice these principles and they make up my best clients.

The ones who fail to see the value of becoming a magnetic employer continually provide the talent pool with great candidates.

As the overall candidate pool becomes inverted with no available talent soon, due to demographic facts, those companies that practice retention principles while concurrently tranforming into a magentic attractor of talent will weather the impending perfect storm. Others, I fear, will not.
Comment by J Michael, on April 12, 2010 at 5:03pm
One more point to add - if a company is open to possibility of a headhunter stealing a talent, they will also be prepared to build a bench of talent who can replace him/her. That happens is just overall good business practice. In an ironic way, there is a positive side to the talent leaving, because others will get career advancement


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