How to steal A-Players from the competition

This post is inspired by a presentation from Greylock Partners, an investment firm in Silicon Valley. As an early investor in Facebook and Dropbox, they know what it takes to hire top talent in competitive markets.

Before you start your journey to steal over A-Players from other companies, keep this in mind. It’s not easy.

You’ll need to:

  1. Use your network to source A-Player job candidates
  2. Offer them a lot more than what they are currently getting – and it’s not just about more pay 
  3. Make sure they have what it takes to be an A-Player in your work environment

Even if you pull all this off, keep in mind that poaching A-Players is risky in closely-knit industries where competitors often partner up.

Still eager to poach an A-Player or two? Let’s explore the 3 action areas.

Where to find A-Players

It’s all about the network

Your main source of potential A-Player hires will be networking. They are less likely than others to respond to job postings. 

Why? A significant number get new job opportunities from the people they impress in their day-to-day work.

They are passive candidates – if they are treated like an A-Player, they don’t actively look elsewhere.

How to do the networking

Seek new connections

You can increase your network by turning up to more industry events like conferences, mixers and casual meetups. 

You don’t have to go to these events holding up a sign with “Seeking A-Player. Are you it?”. If you do, send me a photo. It’ll brighten up my day. 

Build connections as naturally as possible. One way is sharing unique and  beneficial insights based on your work.  

Call on existing connections

You will ideally keep an open channel with various people in your industry. Quality sources for A-Player introductions include:

  • Vendor relationship managers. They talk with a lot of people in your industry including your competitors’ employees.
  • Coworkers. They might know someone – often a friend or subordinate – from a past employer looking for greener pastures.
  • Ex-colleagues. They might know someone looking to move from their current employer. Works best if they’re still in your industry. 
  • Industry influencers. Key people in your space can generate buzz around your job offer. Only if you have a relationship with them.
  • Alumni connections. Can be hit-or-miss depending on how open that alumnus is to helping others leverage their network.
  • Old professors and teachers. They often stay in touch with their brighter students, so ask them if one of these people are looking.  

What you’ll need to offer the A-Player

Once you get introduced to an A-Player, you’ll need to work out what you can offer them. Here’s the thing…

Show me the money

More pay is a key reason for many to change jobs. It’s best if you don’t skirt around this issue. Here are some tips:

Be direct 

Ask the A-Player in clear terms, “What do you get to get paid?”

If they ask, “What are you offering?”

Reply with “We pay competitive in the market. What’s your current salary?”

If their salary is lower than you’d pay

Offer a pay bump to a degree that would make them think seriously about your offer

If their salary is higher than you’d pay

Think about what you can offer – other than matching or beating their salary – to sweeten the deal. More on this in a later section. 

If they don’t want to disclose their salary

Be prepared for this scenario by asking HR the maximum salary you can offer. But don’t offer this off the bat. Do this instead…

Reiterate the need to discuss numbers followed by “What’s your idea of fair pay?” If they still don’t budge, you may need to negotiate.

Start with the salary you’d be easy with offering. If they baulk, say you’re open to negotiation. Work your way up, but not so much that it hurts.

It’s not always about money

Offering more money all the time can trigger a talent war with competitors. Luckily, it’s not the only reason A-Players make the move.

Think about what your team and company does better than others in your space. For example, you can offer the A-Player:

  • More autonomy. They’ll get increased authority to make decisions that affect their work.
  • Better technology. Your team/company uses better technology that makes the work easier or higher quality.
  • Direct reports. Some A-Players crave to be leaders. Can you offer employees who will report to them?
  • High quality clients. Your team has access to higher quality clients than their current employer does.

Hiring an A-Player? Make sure they’ll perform

You can only call an A-Player that, if they can replicate their past success in your work environment.

Check for mindset

This means they don’t rest on the laurels of their past results, but also have strong mindset traits like being a self-starter.

Check for culture fit

Their performance may be subject to forming strong relationships in your team and company. That happens best if they’re a culture fit.

You can work out culture fit by asking better interview questions that can help understand the values driving the A-Player’s actions.

If you’ve found someone else’s A-Player who’s ready to talk, keep the above in mind. There’s no guarantee that they are destined to remain one.