Puzzling out the non-compete clause

What if I signed a non-compete clause?

Here is an excerpt from a question I received, regarding the infamous compete or non-compete clause:

I’m not quite ready to leave my cushy job as a magazine writer, but I know I will be someday, possibly soon. The problem is that I’m sure I signed a six-month non-compete when I was hired several years ago. I know my colleagues all have signed one, I just don’t remember doing the same — I guess I was so thrilled to be in reporting again that I was willing to sign anything.

I write about a niche tech industry where there are great opportunities in the Northeast, Silicon Valley and even the Pacific Northwest. The problem is, there’s no way I can afford to go six months without working, especially at the pay rate I’ve reached. I have no intention of stabbing my company in the back, but I will have sources and expertise to take with me, as does anyone who’s taking the next step in their career.

So, when the time comes to move on, how do I handle this? What do I do? Can I do anything?

My answer:

Get a copy of the signed agreement and see what you have agreed to. It should be in your file, and personnel should let you see what is in there. Most no-competes, as they are sometimes called, are meant to prevent you from taking what you know to the competition. They are not meant to prevent you from working altogether. You may have to put some sources on the shelf for a while, but you are probably not prevented from writing anything at all. The magazine probably just wanted to ensure that you did not take your expertise to a direct competitor. Read the agreement and pay attention to how it describes the competition. If it looks sticky and you decide to leave, consult an attorney.

Mastering the newsroom:

Want more advice on the compete clause? These questions, answers and advice come from my book Ask The Recruiter, where I have collected years of experience from recruiting in newsrooms. The book contains popular questions and answers dedicated to breaking open the occasionally opaque nature of newsroom hiring, promoting and managing.

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