I recently started a new job at a company that has been growing rapidly. I left my previous job of four years on good terms. My new company has been seeking employees to hire, and I recommended someone from my old (and very small) company, even though they weren't actively searching. The HR rep reached out to this employee and mentioned my name.

It appears like the person I recommended is indeed interested in the position. I'm excited that he may join my new company, yet I'm worried that this will burn bridges with my old company, as I know he is a highly valuable (and maybe irreplaceable) asset.

Is this sort of poaching frowned upon or am I overly worried about nothing? Is it likely that my old company will confront me about this?

  • You may want to edit the part about this particular company's reaction. – user8365 Sep 9 '13 at 15:07
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    Several huge US companies have been fined several 100 million dollars for having dealings between each other to avoid poaching. So yes, poaching is morally absolutely fine because it gives employees one way to get a higher salary. – gnasher729 Aug 26 '16 at 12:08
  • @gnasher729 Unless you have signed an agreement that you wouldn't be doing this. Most huge US companies have this as part of your hiring or termination process. It's typically time bounded (I' have seen anywhere between 3 months and two years). To the OP: read your paperwork carefully first. – Hilmar Aug 26 '16 at 14:24
  • I'm not even sure this really would be considered Poaching. Generally that means one company targeting a competitors employee's or possibly a management or higher level employee attempting to take several of his subordinates with him to another company, again likely a direct competitor. Off hand it doesn't sound like either of these apply to you. – Evan Steinbrenner Aug 26 '16 at 20:50
  • @Hilmar: Read it again. These companies had agreements to avoid poaching and were fined several hundred million dollars for these agreements. A company in California can get into trouble for making their employees sign such agreements, because they are preventing their other employees from getting better jobs. – gnasher729 Aug 27 '16 at 16:10

Is this sort of poaching frowned upon or am I overly worried about nothing? Is it likely that my old company will confront me about this?

This happens all the time. Even without your involvement, one person in a group leaving often leads others to ponder if it is time for them to leave, too. And when one person goes to a good company, it's not unusual for others to follow. In my career I have been both follower and followee.

While of course your prior company will frown upon this, there is little they can do about it (assuming you didn't have anything in your prior employment agreement prohibiting this).

It's extremely unlikely they will confront you about this, although you may indeed be burning some bridges with your former boss.

Sounds like it's a done deal anyway, so stop worrying and move on.

In the future, you may want to make it clear to your HR rep and to former co-workers that you recommend, that you would appreciate keeping it quiet so as not to upset your former employer. You never know when contacts in your network (like your former employer) might be useful - so it's always best to keep them on as good terms as possible.

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    Agreed. I poach people whenever I can, if they're good people looking for a change (you can't poach happy people...). "Whenever I can" means "when it's not specifically prohibited by an agreement I signed saying I wouldn't do it for n years". – jcmeloni Sep 8 '13 at 12:01
  • I would worry if it were 4 months after you left, but 4 years is no big deal at all. – Telastyn Sep 8 '13 at 14:09
  • @joestrazzere - ah, I did. Then this answer is spot on. +1 – Telastyn Sep 8 '13 at 16:13
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    @Telastyn It seems like the OP was employed there for 4 years, not 4 years ago. – Myles Mar 12 '15 at 13:50

"Poaching" is often the word of the sore loser.

In experience, the benign recommendation of people you like working with, and the reachout of the current company's HR is the lightest of all possible recruitment efforts. After all, your coworker didn't even have to tell you no. And if you were peers, there's no case of former-boss pressure, either.

The times I see the most defensiveness on this score is when a major manager or executive leaves, and a huge chunk of the work force follows along. Most people find bosses they love, and when a big boss leaves, there's both a morale issue, and a desire (if the boss is good) to follow the good leader. The old company knows this, and may put serious pressure on the outgoing boss to avoid "poaching". How that breaks down is a largely case by case situation.

From a peer to peer level, if you were actively recruiting your old coworkers - taking them out for drinks, convincing them to apply and then reaping a reward - you might want to watch the pressure of your sales tactics. But if you're just recommending a good person for a good opportunity, you don't have to be afraid of in a rational situation.

NOTE: I say "rational" - there's all sorts of drama and ill-will in this area of the work place. Having employees quit your company or group is never fun as management, and I've heard plenty of tales of fairly insane responses to this event. So... while I'd like to think the majority of former companies will realize that this happens, you can end up with the irrational case pretty easily with the right adverse conditions adding to the mix.

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No one is truly "irreplaceable". There may be a painful transition, but companies manage to get new people to replace old ones and muddle on.

The thing to be concerned about is if you violated anything in a separation agreement you may have signed with your former company when you left. Many companies explicitly state that a former employee is forbidden from contacting employees and offering them work.

If you haven't signed any such agreements, you are OK.

As far as burning bridges go, it's going to depend on the personalities of the managers and executives in your former company. Are they the type of people who carry grudges? If their business fails, and they blame the turnover (and you), I don't think they were running their business very well. If their human capital is their most important asset, they will take steps to keep they valued employees.

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  • I have to concur. As much as we'd like to think we're important part of a company, we have to remember that anyone can easily be replaced. Now that isn't to say you wouldn't bring a unique, irreplaceable skill to the company, but it does mean your presence in the company isn't exactly vital. – Dan Aug 4 '15 at 14:30

One of the questions in all this is 'why are they willing to leave and come work for you?'. All one could believe is that they're either bored, disappointed, or not seeing an opportunity for advancement in the roles they're in. Your old employer may resent this, however it's a wake up call.

One can see some collection of follow-on consequences. The first is that people that come work for you realize they could do better on their own, so your organization splits up. The second is that the employees discover downsides to working with you and return to the old employer. The third is that the old employer discovers you're on to something and offers to buy you out or merge. In the latter case, you've basically demonstrated business skills, something that might not have been evident in the role you were in.

This isn't something to worry about, but be prepared for surprises.

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    The examples given in this answer of what could happen seem very far-fetched and imaginative. – zfrisch Aug 3 '15 at 17:43

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