Raiding Volkswagen: It’s Always OK to Take Talent From a Company in Trouble

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Oct 6, 2015

Unless you have had your head in the sand, you are aware that Volkswagen is in serious trouble because it appears that it tampered with pollution control devices on millions of its diesel engines.

If you care about the environment or corporate ethics, you should be concerned about this nasty behavior. However, if you are a recruiter, you should actually be excited because today is the “right day” to recruit away top talent from Volkswagen.

A right day is any day or time period where a normally reluctant top-performing employee would be significantly more likely to say yes to an offer to consider a new job.

Proactively taking steps to take advantage of right-day opportunities is quite common in business.

Obviously, a rainy day is a right day to sell umbrellas and Valentine’s Day is a right day to sell flowers. Unfortunately, unlike their business counterparts, most recruiters are simply not aware of right-day opportunities and how valuable they are. For example, there is data that shows that the time periods right after an employee’s annual work anniversary is when they are most open to a new job opportunity.

Data also shows that right after sales professionals receive their yearly bonus is the best time to successfully recruit them. But there are also right days that occur because a well-known company is in trouble. It happened when BP was in trouble and during the last Wall Street crash, so raiding VW for its top talent shouldn’t require a second thought.

And even if you don’t need automotive talent, remember that large firms also employ a good number of finance, HR, social media, and marketing talent.

Raiding companies in trouble is good business

For great recruiters, this is a historic recruiting opportunity that can’t be missed. However, before you act, realize that you will certainly get some pushback from the “social workers” in HR.

Those who lack business acumen may argue that you are taking advantage of another firm’s misery, and when the firm is vulnerable, which in fact you are. But business is a competitive game where you routinely take advantage of your competitor’s weaknesses.

Firms “steal” a competitor’s customers all the time with no regrets, so why should poaching employees be any different? In fact, you can bet that the salespeople at other car companies are already jumping on the opportunity to talk down VW to their potential customers.

Be prepared for those pseudo lawyer types (without law degrees) in HR to erroneously argue that you are violating some fairy tale ethical or legal code against poaching. Instead, you should be aware that the courts have recently ruled that it is illegal not to poach, because anti-poaching agreements and a lowered competition that they create illegally lowers employee salaries and career opportunities.

Some might also fear that Volkswagen will retaliate and raid you back, but realistically there is no chance of that because for months it will be laying off people, not recruiting new ones. In fact, you owe it to your shareholders and coworkers to recruit the very best. And since employees are not owned by a company, your job as a recruiter is to provide your target’s employees with the best opportunities, and they are free to take or leave them.

Think of yourself as someone who is providing choices and opportunities to employees who have themselves done nothing wrong. And incidentally, you better recruit quickly before the recruiting competition intensifies and before VW offers retention bonuses to keep its very best.

Develop a plan to raid VW

VW is a great company and its employees have traditionally been quite loyal, so don’t be naïve. It will take more than a haphazard effort to recruit away their very best. Start by putting together a written plan and assign your best recruiters to the project.

  • Determine the right timetable, so that you do your recruiting before all of the best talent is gone.
  • Next, identifying your recruiting targets should start with LinkedIn (where it is easy to find any current employee). But also conduct a simple Google and Instagram search to identify the best employees and see examples of their work.
  • Ask your employees who have current VW contacts to contact them in order to find out where they hang out and where they would most likely see/read a recruiting message.

Employee referrals are by far the most effective tool for both finding and selling your recruiting targets. You might put up a sandwich board in the lobby or cafeteria to remind employees that you need their help during this short time period.

You should proactively ask your employees to search their contacts in order to identify any existing relationships with VW employees. Spend extra time seeking names from any of your employees who have recently worked at VW.

You can improve your chances of selling VW employees by monitoring sites like Glassdoor in order to find out what issues are frustrating their employees. Also, when you hire someone from VW, not only ask them for names during onboarding, and also ask them if they would be willing to help you “sell” some of your identified prospects on your firm. And finally make sure that you have stories that demonstrate how well former VW employees have performed at your firm.

5 categories of “right days” to use in recruiting

Once you learn how effective “right-day recruiting” can be, it makes sense to educate your recruiters on the additional categories of right days that they should take advantage of. The five right-day categories include:

  1. Right days to target a company — The best days to recruit at a company include days or time periods when there is a lot of turmoil and change. Those days or time periods might include a stock price drop, the CEO leaving, a major scandal or legal issue, major layoffs, a major project/product failure, losing a major customer, labor troubles, and the announcement of a major merger, pay freezes or plant closing.
  2. Right days to target an individual employee – The best days to recruit an individual may include days that repeat each year including their work anniversary date, right after their performance appraisal, right after bonuses are awarded. There are also “days of reflection” that repeat each year which include their birthday and New Year’s Day. Ad-hoc days or time periods to recruit individuals include: when their boss or best friend quits, when they are turned down for a raise/promotion, when they have an idea/project rejected, when a major project ends, when they get a layoff notice, when their budget is cut dramatically, and when they are about to be relocated.
  3. Right days related to their personal life — Outside of work events and issues can also increase the chances that an employee will consider a new job. Those personal life factor events might include: a personal illness, a new child/pregnancy, a divorce, an illness/death in the family, finally graduating from college, a child is ready to enter school, right after a holiday that they had to work, and a landmark birthday where they turned 30, 40, or 50.
  4. Right days relating to natural phenomena — Natural and weather events that might cause individuals to consider leaving their current firm include: immediately after hurricanes/ tornadoes/ floods, after a long period of extremely harsh weather that everyone complains about, and after returning from vacation in a place with great weather.
  5. Right days related to their location  There are certain days and events that awaken people to the fact that they are living in the wrong city or region. If you’re trying to get a target candidate to relocate, there are just certain times when they’re more likely to listen. Those factors include: when the cost of living or housing prices have increased dramatically, when crime rises dramatically, when community issues become unbearable, around large tax increases, when local schools are in trouble, when the infrastructure is crumbling, and when the local economy is tanking, so that jobs are scarce for other family members.

Final thoughts

Whether you are in recruiting or sales, everyone knows that you make your pitch when the customer is in the mood to buy. So realize up front that asking any top candidate to apply for a job or accept an offer requires precise timing. The same offer given to the candidate on one day will get and no, while making the same offer on the appropriate right day will get a resounding yes.

In a highly competitive talent marketplace, recruiters must learn to be proactive and seek out every opportunity to attract and hire truly exceptional individuals.

And because at Volkswagen, employees are facing increased uncertainty, lower job security, lower bonuses, budget reductions, 401(k) losses, and layoffs, reach out and recruit their very best. If you have the courage and the ability to act quickly, now’s the time to cherry pick a handful of its soon-to-be-frustrated” employees and bring them into your firm.

Incidentally, if you’re successful, it is highly likely that each one that you recruit will also bring along a handful of additional top VW talent with them, making the ROI of your initial recruiting initiative even higher.

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