Maybe you work in a small industry where everybody knows everybody. Or, perhaps other companies in your chosen field are constantly on the lookout for top talent — which means you’re always getting LinkedIn messages and emails from eager employers trying to poach you.
Either way, you’re debating leaving your current job, and you know that pretty much guarantees that you’ll be joining forces with a competitor of your existing company.
Quitting a job is always complicated and anxiety-inducing. But, competitive relationships and dynamics introduce a whole new layer of complexity.
Stuck in this situation yourself? Here’s the lowdown on what you should know before leaving your job to work for a competitor:
1. Be wary of potential opportunities
I’m not here to rain on your parade, but I do want to give you a reality check: That competing company might really be interested in hiring you, or they might just be trying to get the inside scoop on your employer.
Yep, it’s sad and even sleazy, but it happens. Companies recruit for non-existent jobs just so they can get details about your responsibilities, what tools and software you utilized, and even your salary and benefits.
So, do some due diligence to make sure that opportunity is legitimate before you dive headfirst into an interview. Remember that the hiring process is a two-way street, so don’t hesitate to ask your point of contact detailed questions about the job and the hiring timeline.
Additionally, avoid sharing any confidential information throughout the process — when in doubt, keep your lips zipped. Blabbing trade secrets can quickly land you in some legal hot water. And of course, make sure to get a formal offer letter before handing in your resignation for your current role.
Avoid sharing any confidential information throughout the process — when in doubt, keep your lips zipped.
2. Check your contract
Your first day at your current job might seem like a lifetime ago, which means you probably don’t have super detailed memories of all of the paperwork you signed during that frenzy. That’s why it’s smart to return to your employment contract right now.
Is there a non-compete section in that document? Not all employers dictate this, but many do. In fact, a report from the U.S. Department of the Treasury found that non-competes are demanded in one out of every five jobs.
If you indeed did sign one, read it carefully. Does it state who you can and can’t work for? Is there a set amount of time you need to wait before working for a competitor?
It’s important that you understand those details before moving forward with your decision-making process. While it is possible to get around a signed non-compete agreement, UpCounsel warns that it can be a tricky — and oftentimes lengthy or costly — process.
3. Know how much you’re willing to share
You’ve checked everything over, and you’ve decided that you’re well within your rights to leave to work for a competitor. You’re going to jump ship.
You’ll want to draft a formal resignation letter (it’s always good to have one, even if your employer doesn’t require it!), and then schedule a one-on-one meeting with your supervisor where you can thank them for the opportunity, hand in your resignation, and discuss your notice period.
Hopefully, that conversation is positive and productive, but regardless of the dynamic, you’ll want to be prepared to answer this question: Where are you going?
Again, check your employment contract to see whether or not there are any requirements for divulging where you’re headed next. But, if there isn’t, know that you’re perfectly entitled to keep that information to yourself.
With that in mind, if you really don’t want anyone to know where you’re off to, it’s best not to disclose that to anyone — not even your closest colleagues or team members. That type of information always has a way of spreading through the grapevine the moment you let it slip.
4. Be prepared to get walked out
If you do decide to share that you’re leaving for a competitor, understand that you might be walked out — meaning, you’ll be expected to grab your things and leave right then and there.
Understand that you might be walked out — meaning, you’ll be expected to grab your things and leave right then and there.
That can come as a shock. But, for that reason, it’s smart to take care of any loose ends (like writing down some of your colleague’s email addresses so you can keep in touch!) before you walk into that meeting with your supervisor.
Just be sure you don’t take any confidential or proprietary information with you.
5. Always prioritize confidentiality
Speaking of confidentiality, that matters — even long after you leave. First and foremost, it’s wise to check if you signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with your previous employer, which will restrict what you’re able to share and talk about from your past role.
But even if you didn’t sign on the dotted line of an NDA, it’s still smart to not disclose any trade secrets or insider insights at your new job. Give yourself a gut check. If that information isn’t something that’s common knowledge or can be found just by researching your past employer, it’s probably best not to share it.
Age-old advice will tell you that you don’t want to burn any bridges, but providing details about just how your past company got things done is a surefire way to send those bridges up in flames.
Leaving your job to work for a competitor can be complicated (at a time when the last thing you want is more stress on your plate, no less), but it’s certainly not impossible. Jumping ship for a competitive company will just require that you tread carefully and ensure that your i’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed before making any moves.
Remember that the more mindful and attentive you can be those details now, the easier time you’ll have making that transition to your next adventure.