Landed a new gig? Here’s what you need to know before signing any noncompete agreement.

Congratulations, you?’ve been offered the jobs of your dreams ?” now just sign away any future career prospects for the next several years and it?’s all yours. Noncompete agreements were once limited to executive-level hires, but as The #Washington Post reported last year, more employers are asking their workers to sign noncompete agreements for a variety of low- and moderate-paying jobs.

According to Paul Barada, salary and negotiation expert at, as the economy becomes more tech-oriented, ?oeemployers are more concerned about preventing the technical and intellectual property they?’ve developed from being copied by others.”

?oeEmployers are more concerned about preventing the technical and intellectual property they?’ve developed from being copied by others.”

When my husband and I sold our first company to Intuit, we signed a noncompete agreement that lasted three years. During that noncompete period, I dabbled in other things but found myself itching to get back into the industry I knew so well. After those three long years we started another business as soon as we legally could.

I may have been impatient waiting for the agreement to come to an end, but I think it was fair for Intuit to have made that request. We didn?’t have to sell our business, and Intuit was giving us more than enough cash in the acquisition that work wasn?’t mandatory.

While noncompete agreements have an important role in safeguarding acquisitions and high-level hires, I don?’t believe that employees ?” particularly young people who are just starting their career ?” should blindly sign the form because they?’re grateful for a job offer.

A noncompete agreement can have serious implications for your career’s future. As reported in The Atlantic, Mark Garmaise of UCLA Anderson School of Management found that managers earn less and receive incentive compensation less often in states where noncompete agreements are binding.

Read the fine print: The more specific the contract, the better

If you?’ve been asked to sign a noncompete agreement in order to get a new job, promotion or severance, don?’t just sign without fully understanding the details inside. As templates of legal documents are widely available on the web these days, it?’s possible that your employer downloaded a generic form without tailoring any of the content to your specific hiring.

You don?’t have to reject the noncompete outright, but start a conversation to negotiate the specifics. This will give you an opportunity to truly understand your future employer?’s concerns.

Some of the details to look at include:

  • Duration: Check how long the noncompete agreement lasts, as this parameter has a major impact on your future job mobility. In my situation, three years was fair, but if you?’re signing a noncompete for a new job (and not selling a business), six months, possibly a year, is reasonable. The specific length will depend on your level of hire, salary and bonus If there is one), but three years is typically the longest term that will be enforced in court.

  • Location: In some cases, the agreement will specify regions where you can?’t work. This parameter is more applicable to sales people and other professionals where territory matters.

  • Specific competitors: If possible, request that your employer spell out the specific companies where you?’d be prohibited from working, or ask if you would be barred from starting your own company.

  • Conditions of departure: It?’s better to negotiate a clause that puts an end to the agreement should you lose your job through no fault of your own (e.g. company layoffs).

The bottom line is to make sure you fully read and understand any agreement before signing; and try to narrow down the scope as much as possible. Also, employers should take note: A noncompete that is too broad in nature will likely be thrown out in court. Don?’t ask your employees to sign away their rights to work in an entire industry, in any state, for 10 years. That won?’t fly.

?oeWait, I live in California. Does any of this even matter?”

If you?’re working in California, there?’s good news: State law says that noncompete agreements are illegal for employees and independent contractors. Researchers found that the lack of noncompetes in California explains the high level of job mobility in Silicon Valley compared with other tech hubs in states where noncompete agreements are valid for employees.

If you sell a business in California, expect to be asked to sign a noncompete.

Keep in mind that noncompete agreements are enforceable for owners of a business, corporation, LLC or partnership. If you sell a business in California, expect to be asked to sign a noncompete and it will most likely be binding.

While employers can?’t tell California employees where they can and can?’t work, they are allowed to craft agreements to prevent their employees from taking and sharing any company trade secrets ?” this may include anything from customer lists, operational details and manufacturing processes. If you?’re asked to sign a nondisclosure or other trade secret agreement, be sure to read it carefully and keep a copy for future reference. Little things you?’d never consider proprietary may be deemed a “trade secret” by your employer, and the courts could agree.

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