Ben Horowitz on Hiring from a Friend's Company

March 31, 2014 at 6:00 AM by Kathleen de Lara

poaching candidatesIt takes one to know one. And when you have friends or friends/business partners who are successful in the same industry, you're likely to have similiar notions about what makes an ideal candidate.

When the probability arises that your team ends up vying for a candidate who happens to be currently employed by a friend's company, what do you do? Are there unwritten recruiter codes of honor that should be abided by, or is the hunt for talent a free-for-all?

Ultimately, the choice is up to both you and the candidate, but here's some food for thought from tech entrepreneur Ben Horowitz: 

Keep in mind a candidate who's employed and looking for new opportunities can reflect a company that isn't doing well.

Perhaps it's not until midway through the interviewing process that you realize a candidate in line for your open engineer position is making a quiet exit from a good friend's company. Be sensitive. On the other side of the fence, your friend may be scrambling to keep the team together, and that candidate is the first of a number who happen to be leaving. To start, while proactively poaching candidates can strengthen your team with the addition of top talent, if executed inappropriately, it can have a damaging effect on your reputation and relationship with the competing company. Consider how much you're willing to put at risk to make a great hire. What's more important, maintaining a positive social standing or filling hiring quotas? Recruiting may be a dog-eat-dog field of work, but there's a fine line between being an industry bully and being a smart sourcer.

Maintain transparency between your organization and the candidate's current employer.

Find out from your recruiters if the candidate came to you or if they approached the candidate with an opportunity. That way, you can figure out if your company is breaking any established or unofficial no-poaching policies or agreements. Horowitz states that either way, it's best to keep in mind that the hire will go one of two ways: Your company ends up making one of their best hires yet, or you get stuck with an average, lackluster employee. 

"A good rule of thumb is the reflexive principle of employee raiding which states: 'If you would be shocked and horrified if company X hired several of your employees, then you should not hire any of theirs.' The number of such companies should be small and may very well be zero."

He advises that from the moment you find out about the two degrees of separation between you and your buddy-turned-slight-business-rival, address the situation before too much time passes to effectively deliver a pseudo-apology.

Notify the recruiter, the candidate, and your connection to ensure that the process is legal, mutually understood, and avoids undermining professional relations between your team and your colleague's team. Having a sense of consideration for competitors on the road to success pays off for your company brand and team, who in the future, may be actively sourced by other organization's interested in your current talent. 

In the end, no single recruiter or other individual has absolute control over who gets hired and which bridges are burned for the sake of keeping a company one step ahead of its competition. There may not be a universal guidebook on how to handle the case of recruiting talent from a friend's company, but be as straightforward and transparent as possible to avoid misunderstandings, which can taint your company's image, and to draw clear distinctions between your professional and personal connections to others in the industry.

Want to learn more about recruiting top talent and how to make the great hires for your team? Check out our free eBook we just published, "The Modern Tech Recruiter's Guide: Volume 1" here:

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