Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Down in the Valley: How Tech Leader Policies Limited Recruiting

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Google. Apple. Intel. Adobe. Intuit. Pixar. Each of these names is known to elicit superlatives for innovation and leadership. Each is also counted among the most desirable employers of Silicon Valley. And yet, as a U.S. Justice Department investigation has revealed, working for one of them could mean your career prospects could be severely limited for the rest.

On Friday, the aforementioned gang of six collectively consented to a Justice Department order to cease a series of clandestine no-poaching pacts. The department alleges that, through much of the past decade, the implicated parties kept do-not-call lists to mark each other’s staff as off-limits for job offer solicitation. In turn, those recruitment restrictions hampered opportunities for rising talent at top companies.

As the government’s resulting settlement describes, “The agreements eliminated a significant form of competition to attract highly skilled employees, and overall diminished competition to the detriment of affected employees.”

For tech professionals, the existence of such policies can only be disheartening. It’s difficult enough to soldier on in the IT field’s current state, as the rise of mergers and acquisitions threatens to consolidate the industry—and squeeze out workers in the ensuing layoffs. To know that employers actively avoid certain candidates can quash not just advancement or competitive salaries, but the perceived value of one’s own accrued skills and experience.

Moreover, Silicon Valley is a climate that thrives on migration. For decades, the industry has been characterized by the ability of its workforce to roam amongst market leaders and scrappy startups alike. It is this viral spreading of knowledge and talent that bolsters progress. The actions of Google et al risked stifling that dynamic, at a time when new ideas were so vital to the market amid a dire recession.

But even after striking a blow against the major players, this may only scratch the surface. In announcing its settlement with the six conspirators, the D.O.J. said it “continues to investigate other similar no solicitation agreements,” raising questions as to the scope of this practice. It may be minimal: while leaders such as Microsoft and IBM were implicated at the investigation’s inception, they were ultimately omitted from the settlement. But given the industry’s interwoven dependencies among firms, it’s not hard to suspect that many alliances have included deals to prevent poaching.

A statement by Google (thus far the only party to publicly respond) bodes particular ill: Assistant counsel Amy Lambert assures on its Public Policy Blog that Google “abandoned our ‘no cold calling’ policy in late 2009.” But by acknowledging “a number of other tech companies had similar ‘no cold call’ policies,” she seems to imply that the company followed an established trend, rather than marching to its own drummer. That’s not what you come to expect of an innovator.
— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

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