Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

For certain specialized industries, finding qualified job candidates can be extremely difficult — and the best talent may be at a competing firm.

While poaching talent often comes with a negative connotation, there are ways employers can make the process a bit less uncomfortable for all parties involved.

Technology has played a big part in opening up the process, but employers must still tread carefully when trying to lure candidates away from their existing employers.

“You should be very judicious about when you absolutely need to do this,” says Christine Ippolito, principal at Compass Workforce Solutions, a Deer Park-based HR consulting firm. “It should be an option when you’ve exhausted all other alternative ways of filling a position.”

You don’t want to unnecessarily burn bridges, she said.

“With the rapid pace of change in business and technology, a current competitor could be a future business partner or client,” she says.

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Other avenues to consider include offering referral bonuses to current employees who bring in talent, and posting jobs directly on professional websites where some of these specialized candidates may be, Ippolito says.

Poaching is a short-term solution, because in high-demand jobs, there may be only one person for two or three available positions, says Renée Nielsen, president of Islandia-based Nielsen Associates, a staffing and recruitment firm. Instead, many companies are looking to grow their own talent by creating internship programs for college students they hope to hire upon graduation, she says.

But if all else fails and poaching is unavoidable, then you should go about it stealthily.

“Years ago when I started, the only thing you could do was cold-call into companies,” says Janine Truitt, chief innovations officer at Talent Think Innovations, a Port Jefferson Station business strategy consulting firm. “Now technology has made the conversations a little more clandestine.”

With social media tools like LinkedIn, you can connect with various candidates without ever having to call their offices, she says.

You can make an introduction by saying you are reaching out to thought leaders and top performers in your industry and invite them to a webinar or teleconference that lets them know what’s going on at your company, she says.

It’s less blunt than coming at them with a straight offer.

“A lot of people who are at the top of their game are not impressed by a straight offer,” Truitt says. “They have options.”

So you have to be creative to woo them, she says.

Consider what motivates a candidate to leave one firm and join another, Nielsen says.

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For instance, many candidates are asking about flexibility, perhaps the ability to telecommute a day or two a week, she says.

Also consider your leadership and culture, she says. “If you can honestly say you have a great team and an engaging culture, you can get people to come to your company.”

It also pays to show them up front that you have high ethical standards, Pruitt says. Make it clear that you’re interested in their background, not any confidential information they may have, she says.

This is important, says Nasir N. Pasha, managing attorney at San Diego-based Pasha Law, a business law firm.

For the most part, anti-poaching laws are not prevalent nationally, he says, although some large tech giants have entered into no-poaching agreements with each other. But employees may be bound by noncompete agreements with their current employers that restrict them from joining a competing firm.

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“If you’re notified that one of the employees you are about to hire has a noncompete, assessing whether that noncompete is enforceable is an important part of analyzing your risk,” Pasha says.

Gauge whether it’s worth getting into a legal battle with that firm, especially if it’s a close colleague or client.

“It could damage the relationship,” Ippolito says.