One of the coolest things about working as a tech pro is the opportunity to participate in top-secret projects. A hush-hush effort to build a next-generation smartphone or cloud platform carries a very special sort of cachet, once the company whips back the curtain from the product in question; for the rest of your career, you can tell everyone that you worked on, say, the first iteration of the iPhone or AWS, and they’ll probably be impressed.
When it comes to using your participation in a top-secret project to land a new job, caution is advisable. It’s one thing to list a project on your resume once it’s gone public; potential employers will probably want to know that you worked on a piece of cutting-edge, potentially game-changing hardware or software. But listing a top-secret project that hasn’t yet exited stealth mode is a good way to wreck your chances of landing a job—and that’s even before you consider the legal repercussions.
For starters, no employer wants an employee happily willing to mention a top-secret project on a document that any stranger could potentially see. Even if the candidate fuzzes out many details (“Worked on a watch project for a social networking firm”), it’d prove easy enough for the most amateur sleuth to piece together the narrative via social media. And no company that deals in secretive initiatives wants an employee with loose lips.
The aforementioned legal considerations also come into play. You might think you’re safe by leaving off details of an unrevealed project. The truth is, the recruiter or hiring manager—perhaps out of a sense of ethics, or maybe because they know someone at your old company—may feel compelled to pick up the phone and tell your former employer that you’re leaking confidential information. Your week probably won’t improve from there, especially if you signed a confidentiality agreement in the past.
When in doubt, focus your resume (and your interview answers) on your public accomplishments. If you’re leaving a tech company after spending years on a top-secret project, ask your boss and HR for very specific guidelines on what you can and can’t say. Doing so will make your life less complicated.