Hiring Executives from the Competition: Advice to Keep in Mind
Finding the right executives for your company can be difficult — after all, this is not an instance when you can afford to make a mistake.
That’s why it’s important to proceed carefully when hiring executives. You don’t want to rush the process, and you may want to enlist help. Working with an executive search firm will increase your odds of identifying someone who is a good fit for your organization, because they have resources, contacts, and expertise necessary to identify strong candidates.
A strong candidate for an executive position will have more than just the right experience and skills; they will also know your industry inside and out and be a great culture fit. Your competition is one place you may be likely to find someone who fits this bill.
Recruiting an executive from a competitor may seem like an excellent idea at first place, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Hiring from competitors can offer many advantages, but you’ll need to proceed carefully. Here’s what you should know.
Understand Potential Legal Factors
Don’t jeopardize your company by violating the law when you hire from the competition. It’s important to thoroughly understand all applicable legal factors when pursuing an executive with a competing organization.
A competitor’s executives will likely have access to proprietary information. Both you and the executive you hire could face legal consequences if they share this information when joining your company. Keep in mind that the person you hire may not even intend to reveal proprietary information, but they may do so inadvertently. An offhand “We used to do X at my previous company” could reveal more than the person intends. Even a casual discussion in an early interview could result in proprietary information being shared, especially if the talk veers to subjects like industry projections.
Additionally, you’ll want to ask the person you’re trying to recruit about any non-compete, non-disclosure, and non-solicitation agreements he or she has signed. Ideally, you’ll ask this very early in the recruitment process. You may wish to obtain physical copies of these agreements so you can understand the exact terms.
These legal considerations are another excellent reason to work with an executive search firm. Their expertise will help you assess the risks involved in trying to hire from a competitor.
Consider Adjacent Industries
It’s worth noting that you may not want to hire from a direct competitor. Although there certainly are instances when doing so is appropriate, you should also consider pseudo-competitors in industries that are related to yours.
This simply adds another degree of protection. When you hire from a competitor outside your industry, you limit the chances of hiring someone who will reveal proprietary information or violate a non-compete agreement.
Be Prepared to Stay in Touch
It’s always important to stay in contact with candidates when hiring a new executive. Maintaining a relationship is key to maintaining their interest in a role.
However, this is particularly vital when hiring an executive from a competitor. There’s a good chance they won’t be ready to simply quit their current job and start working for your organization right away. You’ll probably need to spend considerable time persuading them — and you will likely have to offer a higher salary and/or better terms. Again, this highlights the importance of coordinating with an executive search firm when filling these positions. Executive recruiters know exactly what’s needed to lure someone away from their current role.
Have a Strategy
Don’t just poach from other companies in your industry, assuming it will automatically give you a leg up on the competition. Even if an executive from a competitor would be a good fit for the role, ask yourself: What is this person really bringing to the table? What have they individually contributed to your competitor that makes you think they’ll benefit you similarly?
Consider also that your goal is to outperform your competitors — not simply to copy what they do. You want fresh ideas, not stale ones. Consider also that the executive’s strategies may not be replicable within your organization.
The point here is not that recruiting from a competitor is always a bad idea, but that you should not go about it blindly. The recruit’s experience with your competitor is not automatically an asset.
Consider Their Personality and Work History
The ideal executive will stay with your company for a long time. You want to hire executives willing to spend time putting strategies in place and overseeing their execution. If you hire leaders who leave sooner than expected, you’ll waste a lot of time and money repeating the executive search process, and you won’t benefit from hiring leaders committed to their visions.
That’s something you need to keep in mind when hiring from a competitor. If the candidate accepts your offer, that means they’re the type of person who is willing to leave a position when a more attractive opportunity arises.
Of course, today, fewer people stay with their company for years and years, as was common in decades past. In addition, a willingness to leave one position for a better one indicates ambition and a desire for professional growth, two great qualities in any leader. Just be sure you understand a candidate’s motivation for leaving their current position and what interests them in your role. Make sure they’re coming to you for the right reasons.