In today's highly competitive employment market, a lot of displaced workers are finding that the only jobs they can get are short term contracts through consulting or temporary agencies. Having been on all sides of this particularly complex industry, and being asked to answer questions about these forms all the time, I have decided to help the general public understand some of the common terminology. I'm going to preface this with a caveat that this information is mostly applicable to the technology industry, because that is where most people I deal with are getting confused. However, the terms are applicable across the board.
NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement
This is a document full of what seems to be a bunch of legalese jargon about Proprietary Information, Intellectual Property, etc. Basically, an NDA is an agreement that covers both the agency and their client from having information about business practices, products, services (etc.) leaked to competitors or the press. The gist of this sort of form says that you agree not to share any information you learn about either the employer (agency) or it's client/s with anyone outside the process established to learn about the job. I do not know why anyone would have a problem signing an NDA, unless they are confusing it with a Non-compete. I have had candidates refuse to sign an NDA, and I cannot work with them.
Right To Represent
It's not uncommon for several agencies or consulting firms to have access to submitting candidates for the same position. A few companies will have "exclusive" contracts with an agency for one or more positions, but it is much more likely that they will be competing against other agencies. A Right To Represent (RTR) is permission you give an agency to represent *you* exclusively for any job. What this means is that you need to keep track of which agency is submitting you for what job/s.
Non-Compete (clause or document)
The Non-Compete clause or document in any offer letter is a point of contention for a lot candidates. Basically, this states that you will not go to a competitor (or sometimes the client) in specific circumstances. This sort of terminology is especially stringent in sales jobs, where a company is trying to make sure that you don't take clients with you when you go. But in markets such as Seattle, where competing organizations are trying to place candidates in the same types of jobs, it's an effort to keep them from just switching agencies for contracts.
(The Non-Compete issue is hotly contested, has so much complexity and wild variance to it and since I am not an attorney, I am not going to answer any questions about specific examples; if you have an issue or question, consult an employment attorney.)
A lot of candidates get upset when they sign a Right To Represent for one or two specific positions, then they find out a recruiter has submitted them to many without ever contacting the candidate with a job description or to ask permission to be submitted. This is a bad business practice, but unfortunately in this tough market, agencies are trying to get candidates in front of hiring managers to close business.
What can you do to avoid this? Make sure you get *in writing* an agreement from a particular recruiter/agency that they will not submit you to a job without your explicit permission. It is also is perfectly acceptable and advisable to tell them what other jobs you are currently being considered for. To be the most efficient in this process, you will need the name of the client company; the job title; the job number if you have it. You don't need to give them more information than that, but it will help you to keep confusion down to a minimum. If you have applied to a job yourself, also provide that information. The agencies aren't being intrusive, they just don't want to make the effort to represent you to a client when it's already been done.
Finally, if you have questions about terminology on a specific form you are asked to sign, make sure to discuss them with the recruiter. They should be intimately familiar with any forms you are asked to sign, and if they don't they will know who to ask.
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