So we discover in the last week that some of the world’s largest and most influential tech companies, had entered into non-compete pact, with regard to recruiting staff from each other.  In this instance Google, Apple, Pixar, Adobe, Intel and Intuit are the co-accused in this particular cartel.  Of course these companies are all headquartered in relatively close proximity, and for decades there has been a well worn employment path in Silicon Valley.  It’s long been a badge of honour for an engineer to have worked at these companies and others, including Amazon, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard etc.  The motivation for non-poaching agreements is plain; reduce harmful attrition rates, and keep control of salaries in the hands of employers.

Over on this side of the Altlantic, recruiters end employers know that there are some equally fierce sectors here, where competition is such that candidates can virtually write their own paycheck (apologies for the Americanism).  With these kinds of competitive factors, we shouldn’t be surprised to hear of similar underhand practices.

Whilst I can’t (and won’t) point to specific companies, I have had personal experience of employers hanging a “Do not touch” sign on their own employees.  Amongst professional recruiters it’s commonplace for a tacit agreement to be in place, whereby you don’t actively recruit individuals from your own clients.  If you think it through, this means recruiters consciously setting aside candidates who have applied for a post, without telling them why.  In my book, this is crossing the line.  To deliberately spike or block an application by a candidate, for any reason other than their suitability for a role is downright discrimination.  I have even had experience of employers asking to be notified if any of their staff start looking for a job.  This, a professional recruiter should never do.  Conversely, recruiters have let it be known that any employer who won’t use their services, becomes a legitimate target for headhunting.

In the 1990’s, I worked in a very tight knit niche sector myself, where I was the dominant recruiter in Scotland.  I recruited for all the firms in this particular manufacturing sector, and registered candidates from every employer too.  I made this plain to every client and candidate, and that I could not have any part in cosy protectionist arrangements.  This way, everyone knew where they stood, and it worked well for me too.

I don’t doubt that there are currently pockets of extreme competition for talent in many sectors and locations in the UK, and that some recruiters will facilitate similar cartel arrangements (sometime to the unfair disadvantage of candidates).  Jobseekers may have a sense of being part of a larger game, but will rarely know for sure.  This insidious practice is not one that the industry is usually criticised for, as it is never spoken of.  However, in my view, open discussion and even regulation is long overdue.