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I currently work for a small technology company (<100 employees) and I am leading the development of a new product with a team of 2-3 coworkers. It's a niche product, and I am aware of 2-4 direct competitors in this market.

In my free time, I found a job I liked with the market leader (and much larger company). Is it ethical to apply for this job? I feel that everyone would assume I'm breaking an NDA.

I do not have a non-compete agreement. I obviously plan to stand by any NDAs I've signed.

This has been my only job and I have a close relationship with team members and owners. Is there any way to avoid burning bridges other than just saying money was the difference, as in this question

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    even without a NDA, you cannot disclose confidential product info to a competitor.
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 13:07
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    It's natural that this being your first job you feel like there's a close relationship with the team and owners. This naturally happens as you spend a lot of time working together in one workplace. But beware of the loyalty trap. It makes employees make bad decisions in their careers. Keep in mind that company owners will not hesitate to fire you if they deem this an optimal business decision. It's in your best interest to act in a similar manner, as the CEO of your own career. Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 8:08
  • If it's really that small an industry, this is probably not the first time people have moved between these two companies. Your doing so is unlikely to shock anyone. If they're disappointed to lose you, take that as a compliment....
    – keshlam
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 12:37

3 Answers 3

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Is it ethical to apply for this job?

How can taking a job be unethical? Ethics is defined by our society. Until we live in a non-monetary society, one does a job, and they get reimbursed for the work. However, it’s human nature to form bonds, during that process. At the end of the day, if you feel like you need a change, make the change.

I feel that everyone would assume I'm breaking an NDA.

Everyone will have to get over that feeling unless they can prove you did break your NDA.

Is there any way to avoid burning bridges other than just saying money was the difference like in this question

Is there a way to avoid burnt bridges, probably not, best you can do is be as professional as you can be. Professionals move on to different companies all the time, some markets are bigger than others, just look at say (Intel, AMD, Apple, ARM, and Nvidia) which likely will always see individuals start at one company at the beginning of their careers and end it leading another at the end of their careers.

If it was just money you probably would have ask your company to make a counter offer. It’s almost never just money when people leave. So you must feel there is something missing, if you feel confident that the new company can fill whatever you are missing, exit stage left and be as professional as you can be.

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I have never burnt any bridges with my previous employers. I have always been upfront and non-confrontational.

Ask for a private meeting with your manager/boss/CEO and let them know that You have an offer that you can't refuse. You feel that you should take it to advance your career. Is there anything they would like you to finish first.

It also gives them a chance to make a counter offer.

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It is absolutely ethical to apply for and interview for this position. Keep it to yourself of course, until you decide to accept an offer.

What you need to figure out is if the new employer will expect you to bring/reveal/steal confidential information from your current employer. If they do, withdraw from consideration - no harm done. If they don't, and they make you a good offer, then it is ethical to accept it. I would then follow Rohit's answer as a way to resign gratefully and hopefully not destroy the existing relationships.

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