Hands of two professionals haveing an interview at a table.

Interviewing With a Competitor Company?
Here’s What You Need to Know

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
Last Updated: September 02, 2020

Making the decision to try for a new job is difficult in itself. Yet, when you decide to accept an interview with one of your current company’s competitors, you have more to think about than the perfect attire and stock answers to industry-specific interview questions.Anything you say or do could result in trouble for you in your current job, or even scare away your prospective employer.

However, the risk is worth the reward, according to resume expert Donald Burns. “Working for a competitor company can catapult your career to the next level because outsiders value you more highly (especially if the management of your own company has come to take you for granted),” Burns says.

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Strategies for Interviewing

Interview on your own time

Avoid faking an illness or a work-related meeting, advises Amy Gallo, contributing editor at Harvard Business Review. Instead, Gallo suggests, schedule a vacation or personal day. This will help you sidestep dishonesty and give you an excuse if your boss questions you about your absence. Simply tell him that you have personal business to attend to.

Know your value and use it

There's a reason why your current employer's competitor wants to interview you — you have experience in the industry. Melody Mwendwa, Career Advisor at Corporate Staffing Services, states that interviewees from the same industry are likely knowledgeable about how the competitor company operates, its achievements, and even its weaknesses. Use your knowledge of how the industry, and more specifically, the company, works to prove you can hit the ground running. This will increase your value to the competitor.

Leave out specific details about your current employer

Trade secrets and confidential information aren't ethical to reveal in the interview or even after you're hired, according to Chana R. Schoenberger, freelance business and financial journalist. And, if you've previously signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), you're legally bound not to reveal sensitive information to a competitor. To do so can land you in a legal snafu. Or, at the very least, the interviewer will see you as someone untrustworthy and not eligible for a job offer.
Instead, reveal your capabilities and achievements in general terms. "While you may not be able to elaborate on the finer details of your experience, or the entire business strategy, you are certainly allowed to explain your general responsibilities and the scope of contributions you have made and are capable of making in the future," recommends Elaine Varelas, managing partner of Keystone Partners.

Prepare in Advance

Even though you need to answer questions in general terms, that doesn’t have to mean you have to come across as boring and uninspired. Varelas offers the following tips:
  • "Prepare your presentation. Know what you want to say, what you want to demonstrate and the areas you need to avoid."
  • "As you develop your accomplishment statements, ensure they are powerful even without detail."

Cautionary Measures

Be aware if you’ve previously signed a business non-compete agreement (NDA): An NDA places restrictions on you in regards to working with a competitor, but don’t feel defeated. While a non-compete agreement can seem like an obstacle to accepting a job from a competitor, it often isn’t. Alan L. Sklover, employment attorney and career strategist advises that, “. . . those of us who regularly go to battle over non-competes know that – more often than not – there exist good legal and practical defenses to them, and effective ways to negotiate to limit them, or get around them.”

Delay telling the prospective employer that you signed a non-compete agreement

While it is important to disclose this piece of information, it's more of an advantage to you if you keep it quiet until you have a job offer, according to Dr. Randall S. Hansen, career and job-search expert. "If the prospective employer is truly interested in hiring you, they may assist you in getting out of the previous agreement," Hansen says.

Additional Considerations

Tell prospective employers about your non-compete

Once you have a job offer from the competitor, tell them that you have a non-compete agreement with you current employer. "In that way, the new employer can have the agreement vetted by their legal counsel. In many instances, if legal counsel opines that an employee is not barred from working at a company because of a non-compete, the employer will agree to provide their employee with legal defense in the event the past employer seeks to enforce the agreement," advises Rod Stephens, attorney.
Interviewing for a job with a competitor company may seem full of pitfalls and obstacles; however, with proper planning and a cool demeanor, you may receive a job offer that makes all your efforts well worth it.

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