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A customer want’s to work for us. How to deal with the situation?

Background: My employer is a German company of roughly 1200 people that develops very complex and specialized investment goods, supporting the development and test of electronic control units. The main market is Automotive (80%) followed by Aerospace and Research Institutions.

I work for this company for 11 years now, with previous jobs in development and application. Three of these years were spend in Japan to help building up the local subsidiary.

Currently I’m a senior sales engineer in charge of projects for another Asian country. I work closely together with a local distributor who deals with the day-to-day business and visit the country roughly 4 times a year to maintain a relationships to key customers and to discuss complex inquiries face-to-face. Together, we have grown the revenue about five-fold since 2009, when I took over this job.

Now to the issue: After visiting us in Germany for the commissioning (i.e. check-out/test) of a very complex system, a customer has decided that he would like to leave his country and work for us, in support of this market. Yes, just like that. :-/

This is of course a great compliment, and our distributor is full of praise for him. They see him as a valuable because of his contacts and his supposed influence on decision makers.

We (my boss and I) are more skeptical, since he would be most useful for us based in the local market. This issue has so many thorny problems, ranging from his motivation for such a major life change (on a whim?) to his probably not optimal fit to the local team.

Still, we have to handle this quite carefully, since he is still a valued customer whom we don’t want to antagonize. My boss and I will have a telephone interview with him next week Tuesday. (I’m not in charge of hiring, but my opinion will have an impact)

Any guidance from this great community on how to organize my thinking, what questions to ask or anything else is very welcome. Thanks for reading through this. I’m happy to answer clarifying questions.

mmcconkie's picture

If you're a MT member, you should look at the Interview Creation Tool. It is extremely helpful at developing the questions to see if the interviewee has the skills necessary for your position. 

Good luck!

donm's picture

I often have customers inquire about working for us, especially in today's environment where our prospects are very much limited due to global financial variables. We have a strict "no poaching" policy. When I am asked, I tell them bluntly that we do not and will not hire any customer or customer employee. I usually follow this with a quick story (I really am a high-I on DiSC, so I like to tell stories):

"Imagine what would happen if we did hire from our customers. We would antagonize those who remain at their company by hiring one of their best assets, and they would be less inclined to do business with us in the future for fear we would raid their personnel again. At the same time, we ask our customers not to hire our employees. If all of our best assets are raided, whom can we send to the next crisis? We would be inclined to send only junior, less-experienced people to the site for fear of losing our best people. This truly is a two-way street."

Usually, after the above discussion, the person realizes that hiring between supplier and customer is a bad deal for everyone involved, and to my knowledge there have been no hard feelings afterwards.

The above having been said, if the employee were to terminate his employment before applying with us, we would certainly interview and hire (or not) based on standard criteria. I would not hire someone who applied and afterwards terminated his employment with our customer or supplier, as it still has the ethical smell of raiding. His old employer might think, "So, he won't hire our people, but he might hint that after one resigns, he'll be considered." I want to be able to honestly state, "We did not discuss employment at any time with any of your employees." I don't want the appearance of a "We can't hire you until after you resign (wink, wink)" situation.

FMF's picture

...and for taking the time to read my long post.

Especially the customer-supplier relationship aspect brough up by donm is a point which I didn't consider yet.