Absolutely, you can! But make sure you get all the facts so you can decide if it is acceptable to you before you accept an offer!
When I accepted a job as a scientific recruiter, I had no idea that I would have to sign a non-compete form. This was not mentioned in any of my interviews or conversations and I never thought to ask since I had no clue that there would be one.
The non-compete was casually handed to me on my first day of work. It is not mandatory to sign it, but realistically you don’t have much of a choice if you want to continue working there. So I signed my non-compete.
I wasn’t terribly worried – I liked the company and the people – and figured that if I didn’t like the career path, then that wouldn’t be subject to the non-compete since it would be outside of the “competition.” Well, things changed and a few years down the road I found that I actually enjoyed recruiting but no longer felt the same about the company I worked for, and most of my colleagues.
Now the problem was, I couldn’t just switch companies – at least for 9 months! And the non-compete stated that I couldn’t work in “the same or similar” areas – which is very broad.
In my case, I was very lucky that I was able to go back to science and I am very glad I did. The mentality and the work environment is so much different – something I didn’t realize I had missed until I went back. However, many people may not be as fortunate if they sign a non-compete.
What if that career or something similar is all you want to do? That makes it almost impossible to leave unless you have the funds to not work for 9 months or whatever the non-compete says.
So, make sure that you ask! Ask different people during your interview, and see what they say. Often a company will have a non-disclosure, which is completely different from a non-compete.
A non-disclosure just prevents you from disclosing any company information to a competitor when you leave, but a non-compete can actually keep you from taking any job in a company in the same or similar industry in a certain radius, which can severely limit your ability to find another job. And generally, the longer you have worked in a company, the longer your non-compete – and the harder it is to venture into a different career path.
So if there is a non-compete, find out what it entails. Negotiate the details before you accept the job. At least that way you have a choice, and it gives you a lot more room for negotiation.
In essence, non-competes are written to protect the company you work for so you don’t come in, steal their ideas and take those ideas to their competitor. But there is nothing in there to protect you! While most of them will not hold up in court, you really don’t want to take the chance and you don’t want to have your former company dictate where you can or cannot work.
So, get the information up front and you can start your new position feeling good, rather than feeling like you just got tricked into signing something you aren’t sure you want to sign.