How To Fight Illegal Recruiting Practices

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the recent allegations that several tech companies colluded to control employee movements and compensation in Silicon Valley. It’s a subject few of us are strangers to.

Maybe you’ve been asked to keep a “gentlemen’s agreement” to refrain from hiring your talent from certain other companies. Maybe former employees of yours have tried raiding your own team. Maybe your team, like mine, has been ruthlessly targeted by practically every one of the large tech players that have established themselves in the area over the last few years. In a lot of ways, it’s a bare-knuckles fight for talent out there. And sometimes it seems like anything goes.

But anything doesn’t go. It is in fact possible to behave like the thoughtful and mature professionals we are. We can choose not to ruin otherwise collegial relationships. We can choose not to run afoul of the law. We can choose not to infringe on the rights of engineers, who should be free to seek employment at the very best companies and compensation levels they can.

You can hire people away from your friends’ companies without damaging your relationship with that friend. You can fight to retain people while they’re being aggressively approached by other companies. Sometimes you will win, and sometimes you will lose. But through it all, you should keep a very important lesson in mind: You must refuse to engage in any agreements with other companies that insist you not hire from each other. Because that’s bad business. Plain and simple.

I didn’t always know this to be true. Early in my tenure at HubSpot, I sat down with a Google Ventures Recruiting Partner to discuss some candidates that she had in her file. When I saw some of the companies they were from, I said, “Sorry, but I can’t approach that person. I’m friends with their boss.” That’s when the recruiting partner reminded me that it is actually illegal to create a Do Not Call list for talent sourcing.

Once more: It is actually illegal to create a Do Not Call list for talent sourcing.

But it’s also just bad business.

Trying to offer talented engineers the best possible workplace, colleagues, and compensation is, in fact, the opposite of bad business. It’s the fair, upright, and professional way to go about things.

In the end, recruiting can and should be done in a fair, upright, professional manner. In my experience, engineers don’t try to switch jobs for no reason. They’re only going to go looking elsewhere if (1) their manager is terrible, (2) your company lacks vision, (3) the work or technology is uninteresting, or (4) they aren’t being compensated properly. If your star engineer hears from another company when they’re feeling pain from any of those symptoms, there’s a good chance you’ll lose that great engineer.

My advice is to focus on serving your team extraordinarily well. That’s the only really effective way to win the war on talent. Everything else is just noise.