Competitors react to a shortage of highly trained and credentialed employees the old fashioned way: They poach them. It may not seem like a kosher way to recruit. But many experts recommend shopping for new hires among competitors, reasoning that often the best job candidates are already employed. That means you need an early warning system and a protection plan to keep your valuable employees. Three things you need to know about shielding your work force: 1. It helps to know where you are vulnerable. 2. There are tactical legal moves you can make to protect your company’s vital secrets. But they might not be foolproof. 3. Watch for changes in the marketplace that could leave your pay and benefits in the dust. Figure out who the targets are If you don’t know which of your employees are most likely to be wooed by your competitors, engage an expert opinion. directory of search firms that might address your needs. Watch your back Sometimes the very recruiters you hire could be facilitating the placement of your employees with other companies. Block online poaching Take steps to keep your employees from checking out recruiter Web sites or surfing for a new job on your time. Block phone poaching Recruiters also make cold calls after hours in an attempt to reel in employees after the reception desk is no longer staffed. Post blind ads Find out which of your employees are vulnerable to poaching by placing blind ads. Consider the hammer Non-competition agreements are standard in some fields, but if they are applied to low-level employees or drafted in an overly broad way they can be chopped down or nullified by the courts. Protect trade secrets Even if your employees don’t take a job with a competitor, you can still get stung by the poaching process. If an employee simply agrees to be interviewed by a competitor, your company trade secrets could be vulnerable. Reward retention You can convey your interest in keeping valuable employees and their confidentiality in your shop without binding legal agreements. Keep tabs on at-risk employees Gather the background information you need to keep particularly valuable employees and act on it.