Recruiting Rules for the Road

Recruiting, especially in the IT industry, is one of those controversial topics nobody really talks about. The issues facing Scott Consulting Corp. are still the same as most of ENT’s readers: How do we attract the best and brightest people, and once we’ve attracted those good people, how do we keep them?

Here’s my naive, Minnesota-nice vision on how everyone should behave in an ideal world.

If you’re an employer, stay in touch and build a positive relationship with your employees. The people in your company take care of your customers, who pay your bills so you can keep your house. You owe your employees a huge debt, and you should treat them with respect and dignity for the work they do on your behalf. Encourage everyone to openly talk to you about career issues. If somebody honestly wants to leave for a better opportunity, plan an orderly transition together and let him or her go with your blessing.

If you’re an employee, stay in touch and build a positive relationship with your employer. Your boss bet heavily on you to represent the company in a positive, professional manner. Because of your employer, you have an opportunity to further your professional career and earn a good living for your family. You owe your employer a huge debt, and you should treat your boss with respect and dignity for the opportunity you’ve been given. If you honestly decide you want to explore a better opportunity someplace else, talk to your boss about it openly and go explore the opportunity. If you decide to pursue it, work hard to ensure an orderly transition and leave on good terms.

OK, so the world doesn’t really work this way. Not even in Minnesota, where everyone is nice.

I’m afraid that in the real world, recruiting is more often a clandestine exercise with vague guidelines at best.

I recently encountered one company with a turnover problem in its rapidly growing IT department. To address turnover issues, the company hired a full-time recruiter to find and hire more IT workers. Everything is secret here -- even positions the company needs to fill -- until it publishes ads in the local newspaper. As some of them explained to me, the unemployment rate in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for IT workers is 0.4 percent, and this IT department’s competition is everyone else trying to find IT workers. They want to raid other companies’ talent without being raided themselves. Now, I’m just some skinny, bald guy from Minnesota, but it seems clear to me why these folks have a turnover problem.

Meanwhile, a few weeks ago, a recruiter from Microsoft Corp. approached one of our employees with a job offer. To my employee’s credit, he told me about it. We went over the pros and cons of taking the job, and decided it made more sense for the employee to stay here. In the recruiter’s defense, it turns out my employee’s resume was posted in a Web page someplace on the Internet.

I’m trying to decide if I should be mad at Microsoft or not. On one hand, I have concerns about Microsoft recruiting people from its Solution Providers. On the other hand, Microsoft is a big company. Perhaps its recruiter in Chicago didn’t know we are a Solution Provider. Besides, I’ve tried to entice people to leave Microsoft and other companies to work for Scott Consulting Corp., so maybe fair is fair.

When I recruit people, I usually ask them to talk to their current employer before seriously talking to me. They are generally afraid to do so. If they tell their boss they’re talking to me, they are afraid -- often for good reason -- that their boss will fire them.

I have learned this lesson: The consequences of proper and improper recruiting are powerful. Several months ago, we hired a person from an IT department for which I have lots of respect. We did everything in the open, the manager of the group OK’d it, and we are all on good terms today. Meanwhile, a vendor secretly hired another person away from that same group. The manager found out the day the employee left. Not only will the customer will never do business with that vendor again, the employee subsequently left the vendor and went to work for another company. The vendor lost a customer, hurt its reputation in the community, and eventually lost the prize employee it secretly recruited.

What exactly is proper and improper recruiting? What are the rules? As an employer, how do you approach good people and respond to inquiries? As an employee, how do you approach good companies and respond to offers? --Greg Scott, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), is president of Scott Consulting Corp. (Eagan, Minn.). Contact him at