The last few years of my life have been challenging. I've had a parent with substance abuse issues, and my attempt at a game designer career didn't pan out as I hoped. I've since pivoted to focus on software engineering, and I think I've landed on the right choice. That said, my career transition has not gone as smoothly as I'd hoped, thanks to various family drama and anxiety issues I've had in it's wake.

I am wondering about how best to describe my work experience in a way that balances accuracy with a compelling testament to my skills. To that end I have a few questions regarding areas of my employment record I feel unsure about.

  • I worked on a mobile game project for the U.S. Department of Energy, but as a volunteer. I was the Lead Designer, Project Manager, and later Lead Programmer. It remains the largest project I have been involved in and it spanned two and half years. What would be the most accurate/impactful way to present this on my resume, that neither downplays it as a valuable experience, nor mischaracterizes it as a full-time, professional engagement?
  • My last full-time tech job was a 3 month internship. I performed very well, and would have stayed on as the team's test engineer had the company not decided to centralize testing to their India branch. I have read advice that it is sometimes better to list a descriptive title in your resume, rather than strictly your official title. As such, does it make more sense for me to list this experience as "Software Engineer Intern" (official title) or "Software Test Engineer" (my de facto role)?
  • Since my internship ended, and I have been dealing with family drama and anxiety/depression treatment, I have been working a retail job since I felt back in May of 2017. I have started to incorporate some of my programming experience into my day job, creating small tools to optimize some of my work responsibilities, but mainly as a side-project alongside my core responsibilities. Is it worth it to me to put this on my resume? If so, would listing titles like "Developer, Signage Captain, Social Media Captain" be valuable and not misleading? Or is it better to leave it off and just have that tech employment gap?
  • (1) What country are you in? (2) Department of Energy of what? US Fed? State government? County government? Or somewhere else in the world? (3) If it were US Fed, Lead Designer of a big project for DoE and 3 months intern as your last full time job together is not believable. – scaaahu Apr 14 '18 at 6:28
  • Ah, I realize the way I worded it was misleading. It was the U.S. Department of Energy, and the project was a mobile game project. It was a big project for me but quite small in the scope of the DOE's responsibilities. – Glen Cooney Apr 14 '18 at 18:03
  1. Ask your boss at the Dept of Energy for references. How to do that depends on the country you reside in. I know in the US contact data of the references are given, so you should make sure you can let possible employers contact your previous employer at Dept of ENergy. In many parts of Europe it's more frequent to have written references, so if you weren't given a certificate ask for it NOW.

Be sure to include that experience in your CV but stating clearly that it was a voluntary position.

E.g. Lead Programmer (voluntary)

If you can (i.e. if privacy legislation, non-disclosure agreements, etc. allow you to), you can also include screenshots or other materials in your application to show what you did.

  1. I'm not sure what I would do here, so I will skip this one.

  2. You should mention this experience unless it's very short. When describing your duties add info about IT duties you had or IT projects you proposed.

You should include the information about a sick parent you took care of in your cover later to explain the retail job. Don't mention anxiety. It's not fair, but some employers would hold it against you. Of course when invited to a job interview you should stick to the version that you took care of your sick parent and prepare an answer to the question whether you are still taking care of them.

And don't worry! There are plenty of IT specialists with anxiety. IT is one of the better fields for somebody with anxiety.

  • Thanks for the advice! I clarified the wording in my original post (it was a mobile game project for the U.S. Department of Energy). It was a large project for me (the largest I have been involved in). I also do have my supervisor from the DOE as one of my references. Just to clarify (since you have a typo there): you are saying it would be better to omit my most recent retail experience entirely, or just to keep it as short/brief as possible? If it is the latter, do you recommend I only include the titles/roles pertinent to IT and software roles. – Glen Cooney Apr 14 '18 at 18:16

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