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I am quite new to freelancing, and I'm wondering how freelance software developers handle confidential projects in their CVs? I recently spoke to a developer who told me that he is working on a project that is confidential and that he cannot put on his resume. I didn't have the chance to ask more, so I am asking here:

  • Why might a project be confidential? Why wouldn't I be able to put it on my CV?
  • How would a freelancer deal with projects like these? Esp. when he's just starting out in his/her career, not putting it on the CV seems like quite a bad option? How would he/she talk about these projects to future employers/recruiters?

marked as duplicate by gnat, 520, motosubatsu, JimmyB, sf02 Feb 5 at 15:54

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There are many reasons that a project could be confidential, from being a government job where you need a security clearance just to admit that the project exists, down to a basic business project where you don't want to signal to the competition that you are working in a certain field.

But regardless of what you are working on, the ability to place the project on your CV will be dependent on what paperwork you have signed with whoever you are doing the work for. If you signed something that says you have to keep your trap shut, then you keep your trap shut.

But that just because you can't talk about a particular project, doesn't mean that you can't talk about the technologies you used as long as you use broad, non-specific terminology.

EG If I worked on a project for Amazon that read peoples thoughts and then ordered stuff for them before they realized they wanted it, I could phrase that as:

Spent 5 years working with C++ to drive advanced bio-medical hardware interfaced to the internet with the aim of analyzing patient data. During that time I increased measurement accuracy by 400% and decreased response time from 10 seconds to 50ms

  • Maybe you can also add something in the lines of "[...] for an important retail company". – busman Feb 4 at 16:33
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Skunk projects are a huge annoyance for this reason.

Note though, that everyone is in the same boat, so it's clearly understood what you mean.

There are two pretty formulaic, popular solutions:

All you can do is say things like:

  1. Research group of a major telco, 2018

Working directly for the senior discovery scientists, I {made a web page, devolved convolutions, applied AI to rendering, whatever} during my 9 month contract as the most senior Fortran engineer in the global organization, leading a team of 3 elite combat programmers with the most advanced research team of this top-2 telco.

So, if you work for "AT&T" or "Ford", you use a wiggle phrase in those two examples

  • "An automotive major"
  • "Top three telco"

and so on.

Regarding the specific project: really, just describe it exactly as you normally would:

"working with the cutting edge of generative VR in Fortran and sparse arrays with heuristic AI"

but, simply leaving out the sentence fragment where you mention what it is:

"working with the cutting edge of generative VR in Fortran and sparse arrays with heuristic AI for a first person shooter"

Really, that's the only formula you can do.

on the CV? ... talk to employers ...

So, you follow the two points:

  1. Instead of saying "Citibank" or "Viper" you say "Top two global finance corporation" or "Global Telco Major".

  2. In describing the work, simply describe it exactly as you normally would, but, "leave out the sentence fragment" literally stating what it is.

This is pretty standard for skunk, stealth projects. Also, toss around the terms "skunk" and "stealth mode" as often as possible so you seem like an insider :)


You also ask

Why might a project be confidential? ...

It's simply completely commonplace that this happens today in the world of apps, startups, and research software. "Stealth mode!" is completely commonplace.

Over and over you'll do projects or contracts of this nature - it's no big deal.

Like, if you look on angel.co or whatever there's literally a selector for "stealth mode", I think!

It's no big deal, and commonplace.

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Why might a project be confidential? Why wouldn't I be able to put it on my CV?

It could be part of a government project that can not be discussed for security reasons. It could be related to some new commercial product that the company doesn't want discussed in public until the product isn't announced.

How would a freelancer deal with projects like these? Esp. when he's just starting out in his/her career, not putting it on the CV seems like quite a bad option? How would he/she talk about these projects to future employers/recruiters?

Typically in these scenarios it is specifically written into the contract when, if ever, you can talk about this work. You deal with it by deciding whether or not you are willing to take on the work given those conditions. It will be tough when you are starting out, but those are the decisions you'll have to make. If you decide to take the work, then you abide by the contract. This will demonstrate that you are a dependable freelancer and could actually generate good reputation for you within that circle.

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How do freelancers handle confidential projects

If it's confidential you leave out all the details or omit it altogether. With confidential freelance work you would normally charge a lot more, one of the reasons for this is because you're constrained by confidentiality. So you trade off that way.

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