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I'm currently at Company ABC working in a technical role on a short-term contract position. It's a nice job, I like the kind of stuff I get to do, and there's a good chance I can go full-time soon. Still, there aren't guarantees, so I'm starting to apply to other firms. Company XYZ is in the same market and is generally thought to be one of ABC's direct competitors. I applied to them through a recruiter and if I get an interview, I'm wondering how much I'm allowed to or should say about the stuff I did/am doing at ABC. I'm sure I'll get technical questions and have to provide some details about the analysis and algorithms I wrote. Just wondering what the preferred strategy is.

I signed a non-disclosure, but not a non-compete, FYI. What exactly does an NDA cover?

  • And the enforceability of NDA's varies by country and in the USA by state. – Pepone Jul 22 '15 at 21:15
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One can't answer what exactly an NDA covers in your specific situation without knowing what the NDA says. As a general rule, and NDA covers anything deemed proprietary trade secrets, systems, processes and potential products. Anything proprietary to your current employer which you have the potential to take with you in the form of insider knowledge and duplicate elsewhere can be covered in an NDA. You're best off giving generalized explanations to your skills and experience without delving too deep into the fine details native to your current employer. Company XYZ should be able to understand that. If they don't, then you should keep looking because any company who would attempt to get you to break an NDA is likely wrought with many other ethical conflicts.

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Answer enough to demonstrate domain knowledge, but do not outline anything that's going to disparage your current company or potentially cost them trade secrets. This extends into future employment with XYZ, should that happen.

Although an NDA is only enforceable if the company that you're currently working for can prove a loss why would XYZ ever wish to hire you if you were so willing to give away intellectual property you were meant to guard with your current employer?

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Reading the NDA at your current company in full should be your first step. Beyond that a good rule of thumb is not to discuss in detail anything that your company hasn't already publicly and officially disclosed. Key here is what the company has officially disclosed - not what Gawker, Kotaku or some other site is speculating the company is up to.

I can tell you from experience on multiple occasions that discussing confidential information will not look good in the eyes of a potential employer. In one situation I was working at a game studio and we interviewed someone from a competing studio. The candidate discussed in detail some of the game play mechanics behind their upcoming title. While everything they told had already been published in the various game rumor sites (Kotaku, Games Radar, etc.) our team was still very put off that this person would disclose information that hadn't been publicly announced by his studio. As far as we were concerned if they would discussed info on their current title at that studio they would probably do the same to us, even if it was unintentional.

It is an easy trap to accidentally fall into. Most talented people are very proud of their work and it's human nature to want to discuss your accomplishments when asked. If asked during an interview it's 100% acceptable to politely say "I'm sorry, but the details on that haven't been publicly released and out of respect for my current employer I probably shouldn't go into detail on that." Any company worth working for will respect you more for saying this than answering the question and potentially violating your NDA.

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