What is talent poaching?


Talent poaching is the practice of recruiting highly skilled professionals from other companies or organisations.

Talent poaching is the practice of recruiting highly skilled people from other companies or organisations. Talent poaching occurs when hiring managers identify and approach individuals with skills they need and entice them to leave their current position through the prospect of higher salaries, better benefits packages, career advancement opportunities and more.  

While talent poaching may take place through an existing contact or former colleague, it typically occurs when one company seeks to gain a competitive advantage by acquiring the best talent from its competitors or other companies within the same industry. It is often seen as a strategic move to strengthen a company's workforce and enhance its capabilities.  

Despite being a controversial practice, talent poaching is not illegal. As such, some organisations include restrictive covenants in their employee contracts. ‘Non-competes’, for example, prevent employees from working for rival companies for a set period or place restrictions on poaching other team members.   

History of talent poaching   

Talent poaching emerged during the Industrial Revolution when competition for skilled professionals intensified with the proliferation of new industries and technologies. As businesses multiplied and economies grew over time, so did the practice of talent poaching – though the definition as we know it came later.  

Professional sports are awash with examples of high-profile talent poaching, with many tales of billboards being placed outside competitors’ offices and people standing in car parks handing out flyers to staff. However, some of the best examples of talent poaching come from Silicon Valley – where competition for tech talent has been fierce in the past.  

Recent trends in talent poaching   

While employees with high visibility have often been the target of talent poaching in the past, the advent of platforms such as LinkedIn have made it much easier for recruiters to find and approach people behind the scenes.  

Recruiters leverage these platforms to identify, engage and build relationships with potential candidates and can gain insight into their professional interests, activities and connections – allowing for a more targeted outreach. As they are not actively looking for a job, individuals that are approached in this way are known as ‘passive recruits.’  

The rise of platform-based talent poaching has therefore made it more important than ever for workers to detail their core skills and qualifications on their digital profiles, as they may miss out on opportunities otherwise.  

Talent poaching has also been affected by the rise in remote working following the Covid-19 pandemic. Now that hybrid and remote working are more common and companies have the right systems in place to onboard distance workers, recruiters can poach talent from other cities and even other countries.  

However, traditional employee referrals continue to be a popular tool in talent poaching. Companies incentivise their current employees to refer skilled professionals from their network, leveraging their connections and personal relationships. This method often yields high-quality candidates who are more likely to fit in within the organisation’s culture. 

Advantages of talent poaching   

  • Employers who engage in talent poaching don’t have to wait for the right talent to come to them. 
  • Busy professionals being pursued by a talent poacher may be able to get a better job with minimal effort.  
  • When the hire happens through a personal referral, both the recruit and recruiter have a better understanding of what to expect.    

Disadvantages of talent poaching   

  • Salaries can become overinflated as organisations enter bidding wars for top talent. 
  • Going to work for a direct competitor may result in burnt bridges. 
  • It may be hard to return to the old company if the new job doesn’t work out. 
  • Talent poaching can strain relationships amongst competitors. 

Use case 

In 2015, social media platform Snapchat used its own app to poach software engineers from Uber. According to Uber employees, a new geolocation filter appeared when they were in the company’s San Francisco headquarters that read, “This place driving you mad?”, and featured drawings of Snapchat’s trademark ghost driving a cab while making sad faces. The filter also included a link to Snapchat’s careers page.  

Another example of talent poaching is Tesla’s 2016 hire of automotive industry veteran Peter Hochholdinger as vice-president of vehicle production. At the time, Hochholdinger had worked at Audi for 22 years and held a senior production role. Through the hire, Tesla acquired a rare, high-level skillset from a traditional car manufacturer that would enable the company to dramatically scale up production of its own vehicles. During Hochholdinger’s tenure, Tesla’s annual production nearly quadrupled.