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During the past year, I worked on a giant project ordered by a national government. This customer practiced what I would call a panic-driven-development - the project was ready and deployed months before the deadline, but the customer kept regularly calling us with panic that the government officials came, requested a completely new feature with a deadline of few days and if it wouldn't be ready on time, the funding would be pulled.

This resulted in me having to work on weekends, on my holidays, late into the early morning, often all three combined. Furthermore, I had to travel many times to meet the government officials on a short notice (This was in a different country than where my office was based in, which meant about 8 hours of travel one way). This resulted in me amassing more than 300 hours of overtime over a period of 4 months.

Now, I was updating my CV and since I had this experience, I wanted to present myself as an employee that didn't give up and managed to deliver the project despite these terrible working conditions - but how could I do that without portraying the government or the customer negatively? As much as I would love to, I'm scared it could be viewed as unprofessional if I complain about them.

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    Sounds more like an answer to an interview question than something you would specifically mention on your CV. For example, "how do you deal with pressure and tight deadlines?"
    – musefan
    Nov 2 '21 at 17:12
  • @musefan it's both Nov 2 '21 at 18:52
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    requested a completely new feature with a deadline of few days and if it wouldn't be ready on time, the funding would be pulled Why on earth would your company sign a contract allowing the customer to do this? Nov 4 '21 at 15:14
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    You could all the customer or project "demanding" or "exacting" instead.
    – TylerH
    Nov 4 '21 at 17:12
  • Does the prospective employer also do business with this country's government, or would they know of its characteristics by reputation? Nov 4 '21 at 17:27
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Work these events into bullet points in your CV without editorializing

  • Met tight deadlines with rapidly changing specs
  • Traveled to customer site to quickly address issues
  • Experienced in dealing with highly demanding customers

Et cetera, don't give away too much though, when you get to the interview, then you can go into some detail, but focus on the dedication, not the demanding customer.

Introduce the story, by saying something like. "We all have that one customer, right?" And then proceed to tell the interviewer how you MANAGED that customer, and brag about the skillful way you handled it. Downplay the unreasonableness of the customer and emphasize how you saved the account

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    This is great advice. I would also prepare and rehearse a bit of a case study on this customer in case you have a question about a "challenging situation or customer) in an interview. This will allow you to contain the story and only share the contribution you are proud of without spending a long time talking about the customer. Also, if this was a COVID related project, I would say that in a CV. Everyone is aware of the pressures companies and government organizations were placed under delivering workable solutions, visible to the public, under tight timeframes.
    – DWGKNZ
    Nov 2 '21 at 18:22
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    I'd add a bullet point mentioning experience with both working on Foreign based projects as well as Government based entities. And somehow work in the "giant project" aspect. It's one thing to work on a $1,000 project, but a totally different level when you are dealing with $10,000,000
    – Peter M
    Nov 2 '21 at 19:28
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    I agree, in particular replacing negative words like difficult/needy (i.e. ones likely to cause offence) with demanding. You could even use words like important. Nov 3 '21 at 0:42
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    I feel like the phrase "high need" could do some work here. Nov 3 '21 at 14:10
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    There are plenty of words that can you can use to signal this indirectly. "Regulatory pressure", "rapid requirements changes".
    – MSalters
    Nov 4 '21 at 16:16
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First, advertise for the job you want.

Do you like working under high-stress, extreme-overtime conditions with ridiculously thin turnaround times? Putting it on the resume is going to signal that you're capable of it, that you're willing to be pushed into it, and that you're willing to advertise the fact. The people who see that and get interested are likely to want you to do it again.

Second, "I was called on to X, and I did it" does not need to imply "the customer was difficult and needy."

If that sort of high-pressure environment is what you actually want (at least some of the time), you can absolutely include it without being insulting or unprofessional. Just reframe it so that they were entirely reasonable and justified in their needs - that the urgency and criticality were real. There are legitimately hard problems out there. There are situations where high-intensity coding with limited turnaround time in response to a rapidly changing situation really is the correct answer. Leave out specifics of who the client was, and take out any judgement on the necessity (and any details that might enable the reader to infer the level of necessity for themselves), and you can present it as "this is what I had to do to get the job done, so I stepped up and did it." If it comes up in the interview, studiously refuse to comment on it there, too. You were called upon by your boss and your client to produce under intense conditions and you did just that and are proud of the results. If "wrangle customer, and manage expectations" was not part of your job description, then you don't need to have an opinion on it. (If it was part of your job description, then this experience does not reflect as well on you as you might like.)

If it's not what you want your life to look like, then you should go back through the experience and figure out how much of it you want to replicate (or are willing to offer to replicate for the purposes of getting a job). Tune the description back to that level (still writing as if the customer was 100% justified) and proceed.

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    The first part alone already deserves a +1. Solid advice Nov 3 '21 at 12:25
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    Concentrating on the first and last paragraphs (which would have got my +1 even without the rest that's also good): There are aspects of this that you can sell even if the massive overtime and unplanned travel are actually why you're moving jobs. The biggest one is dealing with the pressure from the demanding customer, without jeopardising the project; how you dealt with the difficulties at your end could also be significant, as translating panicked last-minute demands into solid workable plans is a skill in its own right.
    – Chris H
    Nov 3 '21 at 13:36
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This is where the passive voice comes in. Focus on the challenges, rather than who's to "blame" for those challenges, or how "reasonable" they were. You didn't have a difficult customer, you had a difficult project.

During the past year, I worked on a large project ordered by a national government. This project had frequent, high urgency needs arise with little notice, largely driven by quickly evolving project requirements.
I responded to these challenges by frequently traveling long distances on short notice for meetings with government officials, and putting in time on weekends, holidays, and extended workdays, amounting to more than 300 hours of overtime over a period of 4 months.

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The buzzwords you want are 'demanding' and challenging'. 'Flexible requirements' is good too. Avoid 'difficult' and 'can't make their b***** minds up'.

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