Forced to sign a Non-Compete Agreement (NCA)?

Forced to sign a Non-Compete Agreement (NCA)?


When will we be free from the cursed NCA (Non-Compete Agreement)? I got sucked into one years ago. When I left the company, I was barred for a year from taking a job with any of the company’s competitors or working in a similar business. It cost me a lot because I was unable to parlay what were then very hot skills into a great salary. I’ve missed out on other good jobs because I said never again will I sign an NCA. I’m reading that the laws are changing but it’s a little here, a little there. Do you think NCAs will ever be banned?

Nick’s Reply

non-compete agreementThere has certainly been a lot in the news recently about “cursed NCAs.” And that’s good, because very, very few jobs can justify an NCA. The freedom to have a job of your choosing and to earn a living is fundamental. But employers from fast-food joints to software companies and doctors’ offices routinely require employees to sign these nefarious agreements. That’s changing.

Thumb down on the non-compete agreement

California, which often leads the nation in new trends of all kinds, recently made NCAs illegal. That’s one sign of what’s coming. Earlier this year the Federal Trade Commission proposed a rule that would effectively kill NCAs nationally. Shortly after, the National Labor Relations Board issued a legal opinion that NCAs violate the National Labor Relations Act in most circumstances. Now the FTC has joined with the Department of Labor to further protect workers from employers trying to curtail the freedom to work.

My favorite story about the death knell of NCAs is about two podcasters who were sued by their old employer for competing with the company. The Washington Post reports that this case could end NCAs as we know them.

So to answer your question, I think soon you’ll stop getting job offers that include NCAs designed to interfere with your freedom to work anywhere you want.

Protect yourself

But we’re not out of the woods yet. Because we don’t know when or if this will actually come to pass, I’ll refer you to some advice about how to avoid the pain of an NCA:

What does your non-compete agreement say?

In the meantime, I’d like to ask everyone:

  • Were you forced to sign an NCA in order to get hired?
  • Have you had to pass up a good job because you didn’t want to sign an NCA?
  • If you have an active NCA, what are the main restrictions and what is the timeline?
  • If you’ve ever gotten out of having to sign an NCA, how did you do it?

Let’s compare notes and try to protect your right to work while the FTC, NLRB and Department of Labor finally bury the NCA.

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Getting in the door and past HR

Getting in the door and past HR


I have changed my approach to employers. I know I’m taking a risk, but I really believe what you teach, that succumbing to “the HR screen” almost always diminishes someone’s chances of getting in the door. Here’s what I did — a recent e-mail thread is below. If you print this, I’d love to hear from other readers about whether they’ve done something like this or whether they would. And if they’ve done it, what were the results? Whatever happens with getting interviews, I believe the added pay-off is that I’m saving myself from lots of wasted time. Thanks.

E-mail to employer:

getting in the doorHi, Manager,

Hope this message finds you well. Understand your department is looking for an energetic go-getter to join the team.

You’ll have to pardon my unorthodox approach to job hunting. I also dabbled in the library sciences for a time, which is how I got your contact information.

Good news for you: My career is focused on PR and internal/employee communications, working with high-tech companies like [company 1] and [company 2].

With regards to grabbing audiences by effective storytelling, I can do both in the written word (blogs) and via social media (Twitter). [links to specific posts omitted here]

If it’s not you, who is the hiring manager I should contact?

Best Regards,

[job seeker]

Employer’s response:

Hey [job seeker],

This isn’t a role in my team. The best way to route your resume to the right person is to apply via the careers section on [company].com.


[company manager]

Answer to employer:

Hi [manager],

Thanks for the quick response, but there’s no way I’ll apply through the HR portal — I’ll never stand a chance. That’s why I contacted you in the first place! Please see:

Ask the Headhunter – Go around HR to get the job

Best Regards,

[job seeker]

Nick’s Reply

Now you’ve done it! You’ve broken the rules and put yourself at risk of angering an employer! What insanity will job seekers reveal next?

I’m happy to put your questions up to the Ask The Headhunter community. We all get frustrated with the job application labyrinth, but most people enter blindfolded anyway. We also know few come back out with a job.

This reader doesn’t say what success they’ve had. I’m hoping we hear more either here in the discussion or via e-mail. If the latter, I promise to report back.

Is this insanity, or a smart job seeker’s last stand?

Dear readers: Have you ever done what this reader did? If not, would you? If you have resisted instructions to “apply through the machine” when you’re trying to deal directly with the hiring manager, how did you try to get in the door? What was the outcome?

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Top 5 Job Search Questions & Advice

Top 5 Job Search Questions & Advice

Hello, All!

job search questionsThe Ask The Headhunter website and weekly newsletter have been on hiatus since the end of April because I couldn’t type. Surgery for a torn rotator cuff (shoulder) will do that — and can take months of physical therapy to recover. (Take good care of your shoulders!) I’m happy to report I’m doing well and recovery is proceeding apace, though it has taken longer than I expected. Thanks for the hundreds of e-mails and well-wishes — and thanks for your patience!

To get us back on track, I’d like to share a shortlist of some of the top job search questions I’ve received, along with my advice. I hope you find something helpful here. And I expect you will chime in with comments and with your own advice! Please feel free to once again submit your own questions and challenges about looking for a new job and about being successful at your work. As always, I’ll select the best, most relevant submissions for publication in the coming weeks.

It’s great to be back! Thanks for subscribing and for your participation!

Top 5 job search questions

1. Should I get a job, or start a business?

Many people toy with starting their own business when they lose a job because it’s so natural. Most would rather control their own destiny, were it not for fear of the unknown. Everyone knows it’s an enormous amount of work (and risk) to strike out on your own.

My advice: Stop pretending that it’s easier to get a job. Today, the only way to positively, absolutely convince a company to hire you is to demonstrate that you will add profit dollars to the bottom line. If you truly understand that, then you know there’s little difference between getting a job and creating your own.

Today, the Net makes it easy to apply for any job, or for thousands of jobs. But to apply for a great job that you really want, and to demonstrate that you are the single best candidate — that’s not very different from carefully creating a plan to start a business.

Remember that any great job is a business; a little operation that you run for your employer. So before you dismiss striking out on your own, prepare a business plan for the job you think you want. If it’s good enough to base a new business on, then you may have the pitch you need to get funding. Or, it might make a great script possible for a successful job interview.

2. How can I get the job boards to produce interviews for me?

The job boards continue to hide the facts. None of them report how often their users find or fill jobs. But studies conducted by independent third parties reveal that the results aren’t good. Over the years, the boards have been shown to collectively fill only around 10% of jobs, while some claim to fill over half of all jobs (see Indeed delivers 65% of hires. Yup? and this video). Ah, but there are so many jobs on the boards! Doesn’t that mean even having only tiny odds could yield success?

My advice: Less is better. Spend your time developing good, deep contacts at a small handful of companies you really want to work for. In other words, don’t chase thousands of jobs; select a few companies. Then do what’s required to get insiders to recommend you to management. That’s a lot of work, but so’s that great job you want. Start doing the hard work now.

3. It’s a wasteland out there. Who can help me land a job?

The harder it is to find work, the more e-mail you’ll receive from sophisticated-sounding scammers offering to help you. It used to be that these “job search consultants” charged thousands. (See Recruitment Ripoff from CBC-TV.) Now that it’s even harder to land a job, you can sign up with a “job-search club” for $49, because the scammers are desperate for your attention. The legitimate ones are very few and very far between. Don’t waste $49 thinking you’re saving thousands.

My advice: Hook up with a professional association that’s related to your work and that has online discussion groups. Look for managers and successful members who will take time to get to know you. Establish your credibility. These are the insiders who will make the credible personal referrals that will help you. (Needless to say, establishing such work-oriented relationships in person is even better.) The key to productive networking is shared experiences.

4. How can I get an offer at least as good as my last salary?

The economy is in upheaval. One reason that you got laid off was because your old company couldn’t afford your salary. Many companies are not willing or able to spend much on new hires. You may have to reconcile yourself to that. So there’s no easy answer to this question. But there are two things you can do to protect yourself.

My advice: First, never reveal your salary history, even if the HR manager tries to beat it out of you. (Your best, most honest tactic may be to explain that your old compensation is company-confidential and you cannot divulge it.) Once you reveal your history, they know where to peg any offer they make to you. In most cases, you’re better off if they have to figure out what you’re worth by talking to you. Then you at least have an opportunity to influence the offer. (Better than disclosing your salary: Check this Wired article about insider salary information.)

Second, you must be ready to discuss what you want in terms that will benefit the employer. This isn’t easy, but then again, companies don’t hand out money just because job candidates ask for it. It’s up to you to understand two or three things that are broken at this company; things they’re hiring you to fix. Prepare a brief but clear plan to show how you’ll do it, and include estimates of how you’ll do it profitably. Hang your desired salary on that, and you will have a defensible basis for negotiations.

Now let’s look at this last of our five job search questions.

5. They haven’t called back since the interview. What should I do?

Just send the employer a check — for $1,000, or whatever you think will get their attention. And now maybe I’ve got yours. (I was kidding. Don’t send employers money!)

Once you’ve made your presentation and demonstrated your ability to help the employer, the rest is up to them. In your wildest dreams you’d never learn what’s taking them so long because most companies are, to be blunt, inept at hiring. Contrary to what many career books suggest, there is next to nothing you can do to get a company off the dime.

My advice: Don’t let someone else control your agenda. Stop telling yourself, “But I really want that job and I need them to know it!” The single best way to deal with “the wait” is to develop other opportunities at other companies. I know you don’t want to hear that, because you really, really know you have a great shot at this one… but trust me: Most interviews end without job offers, and yours may be one of them.

Get working on two or three other targets (jobs, or maybe your own business ideas), and you will be more in control of your life.

What are your top job search questions? We spend all our time here tackling such challenges. How have you handled the five issues we’ve discussed here?

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