Q. How do I answer interview questions when the information is confidential? I signed an NDA when I started my job, and I know they expect me to honor that. How much can I say? This feels very awkward, and I want to do the right thing. What do I have to avoid? And is this the same as a confidentiality agreement?
A. Doing the right thing is a good place to start, and to do that you need to be informed. An NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement, is a confidentiality agreement (CA) where two parties agree not to share nonpublic business information. The document allows individuals to share information with each other, but restricts sharing specific information with any third party. Employees at all levels of an organization can be asked to sign NDA’s; college interns, senior executives, or any levels in between. Anyone who has exposure to proprietary information which, if revealed, could harm the success of the company. This is the information NDA’s are geared to protect.
These agreements can also be between businesses interested in doing business together, or looking at an acquisition or merger. NDA’s are not to be confused with Non-Competition Agreements. Non-Competes are an entirely different legal document preventing an employee from working for a competing organization for some period of time. The enforcement of these agreements is being questioned across the U.S., but that is not the case for NDA’s.
- Honor the agreement. Explain that you have signed a confidentiality agreement. Recognizing the responsibilities of an NDA is essential to maintaining a positive reputation as a professional. This conduct shows the hiring manager that you have integrity. Hiring manages understand that confidentiality agreements are a normal business practice, and they are prepared to work around the restrictions during the interview process. Breaking an NDA may seem like a shortcut to impress a hiring manager with your knowledge, but it lets them know anything you sign with them will have no value.
- Paint in broad strokes. While you may not be able to elaborate on the finer details of your experience, or the entire business strategy, you are certainly allowed to explain your general responsibilities and the scope of contributions you have made and are capable of making in the future. Hiring managers are not looking for you to disclose state secrets, but rather they are interested in your ability to communicate your skill set and breadth of responsibility, impact, ability to enhance the impact of others, and quantitative impacts you can provide.
- Prepare your presentation. Know what you want to say, what you want to demonstrate and the areas you need to avoid. As you develop your accomplishment statements, ensure they are powerful even without detail. Avoid the specifics prohibited by the NDA, but that should not stop you from articulating the valuable talents you earned.
- Know the agreement front to back. Before you interview anywhere, you should read the NDA thoroughly. Understand exactly what you can and cannot disclose; you do not want to restrict your answers more than necessary. Have a firm understanding of the agreement.
Being able to discuss what you bring to any employer without compromising the intellectual property of your current employer is a skill needed by all – with or without signed NDA’s. It’s a great display of integrity that will be rewarded by the type of organization you would want to join.