hr best practices, hr policies, Human Resources Training, Law & Compliance, Regulatory

Poaching vs. headhunting

Two of the most common hiring techniques HR professionals employ are poaching and headhunting. There is a difference between the two methods, in terms of both content and need. Different organizations employ either or both of these methods depending on the fit they are looking for. Let us examine how the two differ from each other.


Poaching, as the term suggests, is a method of hunting for the required staff that carries the necessary skills for the job. This is akin to assembly line production in that there is no need for highly specialized training or skill when hiring such staff. This is very common in service companies, where the organizations do just what anybody else does, and the job requires similar skills. Any candidate from a competitor’s firm is a soft target. Poachers go about this technique in the belief that the employee from the competitor’s firm needs no training or additional skill. Higher pay or benefits could be about the only incentive.

Although pundits in management circles have their own views about the morality or legitimacy of this kind of recruiting, it is a fact of life. The advantage that organizations which poach employees have is that the learning curve is very short. What the employee used to do in the previous organization, he will continue doing here. Also, these employees are easy to find in a market flush with jobs.

However, one drawback is that employees who are habitual job-hoppers are difficult to keep for long. When they could leave their previous employer for a higher pay; an even higher pay from another competitor could be the bait.


This is the more challenging of the two. It is about finding a highly specialized, very experienced person for employment, generally for a particular assignment. These people, who usually join as CTO’s or CFO’s, are people who have to be located like the proverbial pins in the haystack. They don’t usually advertise their profiles, because they are looking not so much for a job or a career as much for the opportunity of doing something different and new in their long careers.

Typically, product development companies, startups or companies that are in a disaster recovery stage look for such people. These highly specialized senior professionals are difficult and challenging for HR to find. Ironically, it is challenging to keep them, because job stability or a hefty pay packet is not among the reasons for which they join. Also, if they feel that the organization is not fuelling their appetite, they could leave and go.

Finding this kind of professional requires a specialized skill on the part of HR because they are not usually very accessible. Management needs to be very clear about its expectations and goals from this senior pro.


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