Experts: Is Applying for a Job at a Competing Company Worth the Risk?

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Today’s tight job market means there are plenty of jobs but few workers to fill them. Maybe a competing company recently reached out in an attempt to poach you. Or perhaps you’ve been considering jumping ship for a competitor with an exciting opening. 

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“Applying for a job at a competing company can be an exciting opportunity to explore new challenges and opportunities, as well as expand your network and gain valuable experience,” said Darren Shafae, founder of ResumeBlaze. However, there are also potential risks in doing so. 

Before you consider going for a job at a competing company, know how it could impact you and your career.

Should You Consider Jobs at Competing Companies?

On one hand, Shafae said landing a job with a competing company may help you get ahead in your career. “Given the value you can bring to a competing company, you may find yourself in a more favorable position in terms of salary and benefits,” he said. It’s also an opportunity to learn from different corporate cultures and approaches to business, which Shafae said could help you develop or refine your skills. 

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Some of your best networking opportunities are also with colleagues who have moved on to other companies in the same market, according to Amy Feind Reeves, a Boston-based career coach and author. “Be sure to stay in touch with colleagues who may have left where you are working now, in case you apply to where they are performing someday and want to reach out for an internal referral.” She added that everyone benefits from a referral, as most companies will give a bonus to an employee who refers to a successful candidate.

Even though there are some big benefits to getting a job with a competitor, there are certain risks involved, too. “Most companies have strict non-disclosure agreements, so if you’re caught sharing sensitive information or engaging in other unethical practices, you can be subject to legal action,” Shafae said.

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When interviewing with a market competitor, Reeves recommended proceeding with caution if you’re asked about certain sensitive information related to your current company. That may include details about clients, the company’s finances or other proprietary details. “If you feel your interview time is being used to get sensitive information out of you, walk away,” she said.

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In other cases, your current employer may require you not to pursue a job with a competing organization within a certain period of time. “In this case, it’s important to double-check the terms and conditions of your current employment contract before applying elsewhere,” he said. 

There’s also potential for bad blood between your former and current employers, which Shafae said could damage your reputation in the industry. “But remember that not all companies view job-hopping in a negative light — as long as you are honest and open about your reasons for leaving your current job,” he said.

How To Apply For a Job With a Competitor the Right Way

If you are thinking about applying for a job with a competitor, there are certain steps you can take to ensure things don’t go awry.  

Think About the Future

If you want to maintain a strong relationship with your current employer, there should be significant upsides that outweigh the risk of applying for a job with a competitor, according to Eric Cormier, manager of HR services with Insperity. “For employers with stiff competition, value loyalty or have concerns about trade secrets, a worker who leaves for a competitor may not be considered a strong rehire in the future,” he said. 

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Research the Repercussions

Cormier noted that some businesses have strict policies about leaving for a competitor. For example, some may not allow you to continue working or finish out your two weeks’ notice if you accepted a job with certain competitors. “Before applying for or accepting a new role in a hypercompetitive industry, workers should research the implications, especially if they have financial concerns about being terminated before the end of their notice period,” he said.

Be Aware of Legal Issues

Cormier said that non-compete/non-disclosure agreements have become more commonplace in today’s work environment. You should verify whether you signed these types of agreements with your current employer — likely during onboarding — before reaching out to a competitor. Otherwise, you could face legal backlash.

Be Discreet

Of course, your boss and coworkers know that you won’t stick with them forever. Even so, Cormier said you should avoid discussing your job hunt in the workplace where it can be overheard, even with trusted friends. It’s also a good idea to choose your references carefully. If possible, only list colleagues from previous jobs. If that’s not an option, avoid using your present supervisors as references and focus on coworkers. “Supervisors may feel more pressure to share intentions to apply to a competitor with upper management,” Cormier said.

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