As a niche recruiter(Product Development and R&D in the food manufacturing industry), I run into non-compete agreements on a daily basis.
Individuals that tell me they are “not interested, not looking, content where they are” only because they’ve got a non-compete in place…otherwise brilliant, rational, and high-integrity people would rather wallow in a lesser state of happiness than run the risk of waking the sleeping giant in their employment contract – that little non-compete clause.
As to my credibility in this matter, I was on the pre-pre-law track in college(after realizing debits and credits were not my thing…or was it credits on the left and debits on the right?), but I am not an attorney. I’ve been told I think like an attorney, talk like one when I’m negotiating, and can weave a trap like a trial attorney(are these compliments??), but I am not one.
Nor did I sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
I do however have personal experience with non-competes(I’m still alive, unscathed, and all the more happy for it) as well as countless successful placements with candidates who’ve seen through the smoke and mirrors and decided to ply their trade elsewhere.
With that said, I’d always advise finding the best(not the nicest or the friendliest per se) attorney with a huge chip on their shoulder – one that a) knows employment law b) has a track record of defending individual employee rights in your state, trial and otherwise.
The second caveat to what follows is this, and it’s very simple and rooted in a basic rule(The GOLDEN RULE) that precedes all employment covenants, non-disclosure agreements, employment contracts, and non-competes that have come since then.
Don’t steal from your current employer
If you have intentions to do so out of spite or what you perceive as mistreatment, then you deserve to be penalized to the full extent of whatever the employment agreement dictates, and then some. Talk to a therapist, a counselor, a trusted advisor, a recruiter you trust and make sure that you’ve either compartmentalized your discontent for your current employer or rid yourself of the poison; individuals that make decisions based on bettering themselves, or “attaining gain”, are almost universally more successful than “running from pain”, joining a new employer only because “it’s better than the hell hole I was at before”.
Don’t share information about clients, products, process technology, prototypes, pipeline detail with prospective employers, prospective peers, or anyone who can use that for gain at the expense of your current employer.
If you do so, whether to make yourself look better in the eyes of your friends, peers, hiring managers, etc., you are violating most agreements and most importantly, the spirit of any employment contract. Any new employer that asks, insinuates, expects, or creates a condition of your employment based on your “book of business”, knowledge of your past employer’s “inner workings” is as guilty as you are and should throw up an immediate red flag.
Don’t do anything to your past employer(or soon to be past employer) out of spite – don’t talk poorly, don’t take customer lists; in short, don’t be mean, spiteful, vindictive, sneaky, manipulative, or vengeful.
Check yourself now and throughout the process – your feelings and emotions will ebb and flow, but it doesn’t have to impact your actions.
HERE’S WHAT I SUGGEST YOU DO
Living and working in the United States allows for individuals to pursue their own happiness….for whatever reason….in most any context….as long as it’s not hurtful to anyone else or most anything, including a business.
If you want to leave your employer, you can…..as long as you do nothing to injure, slander or cause financial loss to your current employer.
Moving forward, your “marketability” to other companies is directly tied to a) your expertise gleaned over your entire career and education b) your industry, product, and technical expertise gleaned over your career AND your personal time and c) your compensation history – the combination of a), b), and c) defines your marketability.
The companies that will value YOU the most(and reward you the most) are the ones where you can step in and “hit the ground running” – the least amount of ramp-up, the easiest transition based on any number of factors, NONE OF WHICH INCLUDE YOU DISHING ON YOUR FORMER EMPLOYER!
To those who look for the easier, kinder, non-confrontational path to getting around a non-compete, I often hear “what about if I step outside the industry?” To do that is to a) reduce your marketability b) reduce your market value and c) reduce your financial contribution to your family, your goals, your retirement, etc. – this “path of least resistance” will typically hurt your career….hence why many just sit and wallow rather than take control of their career. Individual rights within the US were not built on punishing those that achieve a different personal happiness, and that’s at the crux of this issue. You spend a lifetime building up equity in yourself…by osmosis, educational investment, on the job training….and as long as you’re not injuring an employer, you have the right to “cash in” on this investment, on your terms.
So play your career search out – use a recruiter who’ll maintain discretion and help you navigate the waters. Engage an attorney – preface any dialogue with the condition that you won’t do anything to cause financial loss, slander, or harm to your current employer, and play it out. Stop using that little clause as an excuse.
Here’s what happens……you may get threatened, you may have an icy exit interview, your current boss may not like your explanation on why you’re leaving, you may receive a letter from a corporate attorney, you may be asked to sign an affidavit saying you agree to do what you’ve already agreed to do in your non-compete, and you may be looked at with contempt by those you left behind(contempt or jealousy or respect, whatever….), but in the end, if handled appropriately, you’ll be able to live and work happily ever after. In some circumstances, not all and not that many, some addendum may be agreed to that limits interaction with a particular client or product, but all that I’ve seen are negotiable and typically whittled down from what was originally required in the original agreement. Again, as long as you intend nor create direct financial harm to a past employer, and conduct yourself accordingly….you’re practicing high character, equitable, and respectful behavior.
There’s more to say and there’s always an exception, but the main take-away is to not allow this type of agreement to stop you from looking and considering a change – you owe it to yourself. Every employer I’ve worked with and fought against has said a similar thing(I say it too with my staff) – “I want to protect what we’ve worked so hard to build”. So do that – allow everyone, even your previous employer, to pursue and protect their business and everything THEY built up, and move on. As long as you stay clear of doing anything that directly harms that, I encourage you to pursue your career dreams with conviction and a clear conscience.
If you’d like to discuss further, contact me directly and confidentially at:
Gulf Stream Search
GULF STREAM SEARCH is an executive search firm that specializes in the identification, assessment, and capture of top talent within the food and nutraceutical manufacturing industry.
Our recruiting expertise is second to none – we’re commonly asked to identify talent for clients when other search firms have failed or given up.
Our industry know-how, sense of urgency, and persistence has helped to cement our position as the go-to search firm for food manufacturing clients in the US.
Our customer base includes companies in:
Food manufacturers, nutraceutical manufacturers and marketers
Food co-manufacturers, co-packers, contract manufacturers for nutraceutical products
Private Label Grocery, Mass Retail, Club
Successful, closed searches within the following disciplines since 2011:
R&D / New Product Development / Technical Services / Product Line Extensions
Brand / Product Management / Marketing Management
National / Strategic / Senior-level Sales & Business Development
Our narrow focus on this niche allows us to serve a select group of clients and help them identify talent they could not find on their own or through general search firms.