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Jobs and career: Are you being poached by another company?

If you are being poached, ensure that the differences in resources and leadership will not hamper your ability to deliver at the new workplace, says Devashish Chakravarty.

Devashish Chakravarty | Print Edition: April 2011

The phone rings yet again. This time it's not a pitch for a personal loan but a polite voice asking you for a convenient time to discuss a 'profile' with a firm known to you. Intrigued by the offer, you settle for a chat over the weekend. The caller turns out to be well informed about you, your profile, your experience, your present terms and conditions and offers you a challenging and rewarding opportunity with the company. If you haven't realised it yet, you are being poached.

In the early days, poaching merely meant inducing key employees to shift jobs from a firm to its rival. It was most common in labour-intensive and high attrition businesses, such as software and BPO industries. But, today, with the job market booming and a dearth of talent apparent, poaching has spread even to low-attrition industries that wish to grow quickly. Further, do not be surprised if the firm that approaches you is a vendor or even a distributor for your present organisation. Unlike the usual recruitment consultant, who found your resume through a job portal, here you are being specifically targeted to be signed on. There is probably no competition for the position for which you are being considered. This puts you in a position of power while negotiating terms and conditions. So, what are the factors to be considered and what risks do you need to guard against?

First, consider the relationship between your present firm and the company making the offer. The contours of their official, as well as unofficial, agreements would determine many terms and conditions of your offer. A number of firms are used to competitors poaching their employees-in what they essentially perceive as quid pro quo. However, some firms have official arrangements with their rivals, clients and vendors to deter from poaching from each other. What it implies for you is that you may be required to sit at home or work elsewhere for a period of time as part of the offer negotiated. Ask and make sure before moving ahead with the offer. If the conditions do not suit you, make it a point to negotiate since these are rarely sacrosanct.

Second, test the waters to figure out how your present firm would react to the news of you being poached. If you sense that they are going to be unhappy about it then you may lose out on contacts and their goodwill and may be shutting doors to future opportunities. The best way to minimise damage would be to have open communication with your employers at all times.

Being poached by a rival company puts you in a great position of power to negotiate the terms and conditions of your employment.
Third, if it is a vendor or client who is poaching you, then your work performance, salary terms, etc., would probably be well known. There would be little additional information that you may have to provide. This means the new firm would already have a specific list of goals for you. In such a scenario, it would be best to clarify their expectations well in advance to avoid pitfalls that may arise due to a difference in opinion later on. Make sure that the new employer is not harbouring expectations that would put you on the wrong side of the law, such as, and especially, divulging confidential or proprietary information from your previous job.

Lastly, it pays to remember that the reason you are being poached is that the new company does not have the talent or the processes to develop someone to fill the post internally. On the other hand, your present firm is the place that provided the resources which helped you build and utilise your skill sets to make yourself valuable. Make sure that the difference in resources, leadership, internal networks and a team will not hamper your ability to deliver to such an extent that the decision to shift turns out to be expensive in the long run.

On the positive side, an attempt to solicit your services helps you evaluate your true market value. The bargaining power, resultant of the attempt to poach you, makes it easier to negotiate through many minor terms on your wish list at the current job. Just the attempt may cause your employer to make serious efforts to retain you. The new job invariably will push you beyond your comfort zone and thus it gives you the challenge and satisfaction that may have been lacking in your career. The added responsibility, as well as the change in role, will add depth to your resume. At times, when a firm is setting up a new division or vertical, it will prefer to pick up entire teams to get the business up and running quickly. If that is the case, your relationships with your co-workers will be maintained as well.

Finally, as is the case while changing roles, pause to think and evaluate the poacher's solicitation as you would analyse any other. Will this further your long-term career goals? Does the net sum of all benefits outweigh the benefits of continuing in your present role? Meet your prospective new team members if you can. Discuss the opportunity with your mentor and a critical friend. If the signs are good-congratulations. You have, in all probability, negotiated a great deal.

The writer is CEO, Quetzal, a human resource solutions company started by four IIM-A graduates.

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