I'm currently employed, and have been with the same company A since grad school (6 years). After applying for a job at company B, I've been invited to an on-site interview in 19 days. It is a software developer position in the field of science. They said it will include a 1 hour presentation, and they want me to send them the title, abstract, and presentation itself as soon as possible. A and B have explored B acquiring A, but that hasn't happened (yet?). A does not know that I'm seeking employment elsewhere, but people at A and B know each other well.

I'm not sure what I should do a presentation on. The only presentations I've done since grad school have been product demos or tutorials for A. Here are my options:

  • Pick an old presentation from graduate school. The material is old, not fresh in my memory, and not necessarily interesting to company B and not to the position I'm applying for.
  • Pull up one of the product demo presentations I've done. The material is not sensitive, but it's perfect. This material would be interesting to B, partly since A and B are at least partially competitive.
  • Prepare some other random material for a presentation. This would take a lot of time that I don't have because I'm currently employed full time.
  • Ask B for their opinion on the matter.

I think many of B's hires are coming from academia, where it's obviously entirely appropriate to talk about what you've been working on. But A is not academic. My concern is that I don't know if it's acceptable/ethical to use A's materials to assist me in leaving A's employment. It wouldn't cost them anything (other than me), and I'm not going to reveal any trade secrets (or at least I don't think so).

  1. Is it ok for me to use a powerpoint that I made (with other A employees) regarding the software?
  2. Is it ok for me to show B a software demo?
  3. Is it ok for me to show B the software running on a laptop or server owned by A?

Thanks for any advice!

  • 1
    Asking the internet for absolution for your sins? – Philipp May 2 '15 at 19:10
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    @Philipp "Sins" is a bit strong of a word for this unless the previous employer was God. – teego1967 May 2 '15 at 19:46
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    If you present data / information from company A what impression do you think that will give company B about how you would protect their intellectual property? – paparazzo May 2 '15 at 19:48
  • I don't think I've done anything wrong so far... I want to do the right thing without doubts, and not just because of the impression it makes. – scientific_developer May 2 '15 at 21:34
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    Can you ask the people from B if they have a preference in terms of choice of topics? Be careful about picking any stuff from A. If you do it without telling A, B will figure out that you can do the same thing to them somewhere down the line. – Vietnhi Phuvan May 2 '15 at 23:35

No, it is not ethical to use Company A's resources or intellectual property to help you find a job, or for any other purpose not related to their business.

Now, having said that, your knowledge and skills are your own. You would be fine producing original work based on knowledge and skills you have gained while working for your current employer.

Edit: If the work you have done is available publicly, in that it can be viewed by anyone (e.g., website design, submitted/published research papers and white papers, etc.), you would be fine showing that. Anything proprietary and not readily available to an outsider, should be considered off limits. It's a protection for you and your potential employer.

  • I've been carefully reading the contract I signed with my employer, and some ways of reading it would prohibit me from just about anything! I don't know what is enforceable and what is not. However, while not necessarily being able to prove it since I'm not a lawyer, I'm suspecting that I may use anything that is publicly available/known. e.g. I can use the screen shots of the program that are posted on our website. – scientific_developer May 2 '15 at 21:27
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    @scientific_developer So you use a screen shot of the program posted on the web site. You can't disclose how that was created or even who created it. If it is on the web site company B has seen it. I don't think that presentation is gong to land you a job. – paparazzo May 2 '15 at 22:31
  • Hi @Blam... can you clarify what you think won't land me a job? you don't think it's a good idea to use screenshots even from a publicly facing website? – scientific_developer May 2 '15 at 23:59
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    I just don't see how a screen shot can be a compelling presentation. You should not disclose IP from company A so how are you even going to discuss the screen shot. – paparazzo May 3 '15 at 13:14
  • I should mention that I don't have time to produce original work on my own, and part of my employment contract is a non-compete clause, so I may not be able to... – scientific_developer May 6 '15 at 3:15

What you can reasonably get away with is going to vary widely across different types of companies.

At least some of the answers to this are going to take the most conservative angle and say that you should not present anything created at "A" nor use their equipment (like the laptop they issued to you). That might very well be appropriate advice if you're a prime contributor working in mission-critical strategic projects and company B is a competitor. In most situations however, there is a pretty large "grey area" in terms of what you can get away with.

I have given "portfolio presentations" outlining my work many times. These presentations were powerpoints that contained screenshots and high-level design info of projects done for other employers. These were NOT presentations created at previous employers but they contained content that came from my work at previous employers.

Does making such presentations violate "the letter" of typical employment contracts? Yes.

Is there some risk in doing that? Yes, if you present TRULY sensitive information or if the people interviewing you are insanely persnickety. In reality, if you're being careful and reasonable about what you present this is good stuff to have in your portfolio for interviews.

The key things here are to NOT show anything that could be sensitive and NOT to leave any kind of copy with the people you interview with (you don't want this to be circulated!).

To answer your itemized questions...

Is it ok for me to use a powerpoint that I made (with other A employees) regarding the software?

I would not do that. Much better to create a new presentation directed specifically for the interview using content which you were responsible for. Moreover if you show some else's work you have to give credit.

Is it ok for me to show B a software demo?

I've done it, with positive results. Probably OK if it doesn't show sensitive or strategic information/capabilities.

Is it ok for me to show B the software running on a laptop or server owned by A?

If it is a public-facing website, yes. I would be wary of anything else.

  • Really OK to demo software you don't own. If it is software in the public domain it would not be company A. – paparazzo May 2 '15 at 22:02
  • @Blam, the software is not public domain, although it has been distributed to a few academic labs. There is a well known academic package in the field which is fairly similar to ours too, so there aren't many "secrets" to be spilled in terms of source code. The only "secrets" might be specific parameterizations, which wouldn't add anything to a presentation anyway. – scientific_developer May 3 '15 at 0:03
  • @scientific_developer It is not up to you to decide which parts are secretes. Don't demo or discuss what you don't own. – paparazzo May 3 '15 at 18:33

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