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I work in the tech team of a media company, and we have recently started working with another company who will provide us with an API/service which we will use. Hence, they have a pretty close relationship with my boss and the heads of my current company.

I am in regular touch with the company because of the integration work that we are doing. I know for a fact that they are actively hiring, and because I really admire this other company, they are on their way to becoming one of the bigger companies in the industry here, and I feel like I have served my time in my current job and it's time to move on.

My questions:

  • Are there ethical considerations here?
  • What would be the best way to try to join this company smoothly (including not losing my current job if it all goes wrong). I don't want my current company to think that the partner company "stole me" from them.
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    Are they competitors? Are non-competes enforceable in your state? This is not so much an ethical question so much as a legality issue, I think. People move to different companies in the same industry frequently (like within the defense space), and I have seen people poached by companies that contracted with other companies. And your other question - I do my job searches in secret, though I also have had great managers who understood my situations. I had a manager who heard my side and refused to let me quit until I had found a job, in one case. – wkl May 29 '12 at 16:42
  • @birryree No. They are not competitors. Completely different work we do. The prospective employer just provides a service that my current employer needs. – Anonymous1 May 29 '12 at 16:54
  • This is an old post but I'm curious how this went or if anyone has experience with being in this situation. - My main question is whether you should explicitly ask the company you were applying to to keep it on the down low/not tell your employer? – user53056 Jun 21 '16 at 21:03
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Some people have touched on the legality and contractual aspects of this, and if that is a concern I would definitely take that up with a legal professional.

1: There is nothing inherently unethical about changing jobs. People do it all the time for various reasons, including jumping on better opportunities as they come along. What could be considered unethical (and sometimes illegal) would be things like: divulging company secrets, poaching clients from your old employer, not doing your best to secure a smooth transition to whomever will take over your responsibilities.

2: Normally, you would not let your current employer know until you have agreed with the new company and all papers are signed and you are sure it's going to happen. After that, I always advocate openness with your current employer. Give humble thanks for your time together and all opportunities you have been given. Explain why you are now deciding to move on, that you are looking for new challenges that are not available at your current employment. That your personal focus does not align with the companies focus any more.

If there are negative aspects of your current employment that is causing you to want to move on, I would not present them unprompted. Politely ask your current boss/employer if they want you to elaborate further on things to consider for your replacement. If they want that, frame everything in terms of constructive feedback and suggestions for whoever takes over after you. Don't make it like you're reading of a list of complaints, that will not get your a positive response.

After this, your current employer will decide to be ticked off or not for you leaving and there is not much you can do about that. You know your relation better than anyone else and if you think your employer will be upset for you leaving then you'll just have to weigh if the new job is worth it.

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  • Waiting until a signed offer is in our hands before telling your boss is a really good idea. Do not offer any feedback that is not requested of you. You might come back at some point. Do not burn bridges unless the bridge is already on fire :-) – Donald May 31 '12 at 17:21
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This happens all the time; the ethics vary by situation.

A different way of asking this question is to objectively ask what the effects will be on both companies (your current and your prospective new one).

Rules and Regulations

You also need to find out if there are any no-compete / anti-poach clauses within your terms of employment the existing work contract between the two firms. Both types of clauses are fairly common, and give legal recourse for your question.

If there's a non-compete clause, you can ask to be released from it by your current employer. They may or may not agree.

If there is an anti-poach agreement between both companies, you can again ask for an exception to be allowed. Sometimes, those clauses are there simply as part of the boilerplate that ends up in all the contracts.

Relationship Effects

Now you need to look at what the effects of your moving from current employer to new employer would do to relations between current and new companies. If your current employer is going to be incensed about your jumping ship to them, then it's unlikely that the new company will pick you up. What is "right" in this case is to maintain the existing relationship and make sure the contractual terms can be met.

OTOH, your current employer may see your shift as a net benefit. Maybe they want an "insider" with this trusted new provider. Maybe they're ready for you to move on as well, and would welcome the change. You won't really know until you start digging a little bit.

Process Going Forward

Start with the Tech Lead of the new company. Have a verbal conversation with him / her to verify they really are interested in hiring you. If you can't trust them to keep this on the down-low, then you may want to reconsider the company.

At this point, you could submit your resume to the new company. But you should immediately have an informal chat with your boss or boss' boss. Explain exactly what you've told us and get a feel for what their sentiments will be. This is where you are at greatest risk because they could take retaliatory action against you. But at the same time, you have to take this risk at this point in time if you want to keep the transition ethical. You may also find out that you're a lot more valuable to your current employer than you thought and you may end up with a new dream role. Hard to say - you won't know until you start the conversation.

There are a lot more check-points than you might like, and there will definitely be a window where you carry more risk than you may want. In retrospect, you may find that the risks weren't quite as bad as you thought. It takes any company quite a while to be able to terminate someone when there isn't an obvious wrong that's taken place.

Good luck.

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  • I do not agree with telling his boss before he even gets the job. He should interview, and IF and ONLY IF he signs an offer, should he tell his boss. Do NOT accept a counter offer, you will always be the guy who "almost left", and you might find yourself training your "help...replacement" before to long. – Donald May 31 '12 at 17:19
  • @Ramhound - I generally agree with your sentiment. In this particular case, there was information within the original question that guided my answer. The OP hadn't hit the wall of no return with his current employer. The generalization edits for workplace pruned out those details. – user1209 Jun 1 '12 at 13:35
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I think the ethics come not from the outcome, but rather your motivations behind it. If your motivations are noble - you want to grow, they offer a career path that you can't get at your current workplace, and you are respectful of the vendor/customer relationship, then I'd personally think what you are doing is fine. If your motivation is to willingly take advantage of your current employer (for example, passing internal knowledge to the vendor in order for the vendor to take advantage) then obviously that would be unethical.

As far as your current employer goes, I think a good company should understand and encourage their employees to grow, even if that means going somewhere else. The fact that you're going to a supplier shouldn't be a big deal, and in fact is quite common (after all, you must work in the same industry).

As far as the potential new employer goes, you would need to be considerate in that you may actually be putting them in a pickle. It's likely that they value their relationship with your current employer, and they have worked hard to build it. If your employer does react badly (even if they don't have grounds for doing so) this could impact negatively on the vendor. So when you do approach them, understand that they may feel uncomfortable. Ensure they know that you would never risk their relationship with your employer.

I think GlenH's answer gets the steps right - talk to the vendor first to see if they are interested before you risk their relationship. It will be important to be open and honest about it with both parties. Things like legal contracts are important but they don't determine whether this is an ethical action (as what is ethical and what is legal are rarely the same).

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I think it is unreasonable for any employer to expect you to do something that is not in your best interests. So far I have enjoyed every job I have had, but you know why I go to work? It is for the money. Obviously there are other things I get from work (social interaction, a sense of accomplishment, etc), but the main drive is money, because I can get those other things from personal projects. Obviously the money is tempered by the quality of work (do I like it? Am I learning?). So if you find yourself in a position where there is another job that you think offers a better ratio of money to quality of work, which is to say, it is a "better" job in some real sense, then why on earth would you not look into it?

That being said, don't do anything unethical or illegal. Don't steal information/ideas from your current company. Be polite about everything, be honest and be forward. I think putting out feelers at the other company to gauge interest is fine, but you want to let you current employer know what you are looking into reasonably early in the process. You want to give them a chance to find someone new and perhaps make you a better offer. If you have a strong case for getting a new job, then I think any reasonable employer would understand where you are coming from. If you feel your work has gotten stale, not rewarding or you feel like your position is not advancing you, this is a perfect opportunity to talk about it. Who knows, this might be impetus that gets you paid more or a better position with in your current company.

In the end, I like to believe that people are reasonable and if you can present a well reasoned case, then everyone should feel informed and not get upset. I am not saying your current employer will be enthusiastic about you looking into other jobs, but at the very least they should see where you are coming from and they might realize that they need to do more to keep you.

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The answer to (1) is easy. Except in the unlikely event that you have an employment contract that binds you to your current employer, and likewise binds him to you, then it's not unethical for you to look for another position, just as it's not unethical for him to look for another person to replace you. This is called 'at will' employment.

The answer to (2) is very difficult unless there is a strong positive relationship between you, your current company, and the other company. It is the case that in the US there have been costly law suits over 'stolen' employees (Informix v. Oracle for example).

Short of a lawsuit, it is also possible that the first thing the other company's manager might do is call his counterpart at your current company and say 'Anonymous1 is asking about a job here, is it ok with you if we pursue this with him?'.

In practical terms if the other company looks to you like a great fit for you, and you have a positive relationship with the management of the new company, then you might just bring up the subject in a diplomatic way, perhaps over lunch or in some other neutral settings.

It'll be a gamble, but sometimes gambles pay off.

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  • I would simply request they DO NOT contact my employeer if they cannot agree to that I would withdraw my interest in moving. This is not to "hide" anything from my employeer but to keep the level of trust the same until such time, with an offer in hand, I inform them i am ready to leave. Certainly they are not going to call the unemployement office and ask if they can send me there after the next pay period :-) – Donald May 31 '12 at 17:24

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