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Clients and Contacts — Yours or Your Boss's?

Terrell Waller, Workforce Development Specialist | 12/16/2013, 2:26 p.m.
Terrell Waller

Should the contacts you develop for your job ultimately belong to you?

Several years ago, while working for an IT recruitment firm, I began cultivating some great contacts that could obviously be used for my future professional development. However, at that time they were being developed by me on behalf my employer. Knowing that I would probably put these contacts to work in the future begged the question: are they proprietary?

In other words, after leaving that employer, could I ever solicit these people — contacts that I worked so hard to develop — in the future for new opportunities?

Some employers require you to sign a non-compete agreement, stipulating that you are not able to do the same sort of business with their clients upon leaving the company. If the new clients are that particular business's stock-in-trade, then continued contact after leaving could be considered tantamount to theft.

Nevertheless, you still need to make a living. If this is indeed the field in which you intend to make a career, how else are you to earn income if you have been ordered to stay away from those who help you produce?

After speaking with several colleagues in business development and marketing, I have a few suggestions to help you navigate this very tricky situation.

First, make sure when you're hired that you read the non-compete form thoroughly. Make sure that there is still a way for you to keep in touch with clients you've developed if/when you and the company part ways.

Second, although I recommend never actually discussing the topic of retaining clients with your present company, contact people in similar industries and see what their practice has been.

Third, and most importantly, sell clients on you! The most important aspect of any new relationship is whether clients/contacts appreciate your approach and personality. If so, you've likely made a life-long contact that will follow you wherever you go.