That’s Classified

Dear Career-Resumes®,

I need to update my resume with the details about my last position. Unfortunately, I am stuck on how to go about this. My current job (the one I’m leaving) is for a government contractor and I hold a Top Secret security clearance. I have been informed that I can’t reveal certain details of the project I’ve been working on such as dollar figures, specifications, or other information. I am pretty limited in what I can say about the project in total so how do I go about writing a resume? I can’t figure out how to get my accomplishments in there without revealing details.

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place in Texas

Dear Stuck,

This is a difficult situation that many people who either work for the government, the military, or a government contractor face when seeking to change positions. Holding a security clearance, regardless of type or level, commits you to the withholding of details about your work. That can make it difficult when trying to sell your experience to a new employer.

If you are seeking a position with a different company or agency that will also require a clearance, your problem is less of a hurdle. Contractors who are seeking you because of your clearance understand you cannot talk about the details of your work. They will be looking at the generalities of the type of work, where you worked, and the skill sets you used in making their first-round determination about you as a candidate. In fact, revealing too much on a resume when seeking work that involves a security clearance can be deadly to getting the job. Employers need to be able to trust your discretion in the future and will shy away if you have revealed too much in your resume.

On the other hand, if you are seeking a job with a more traditional employer where the work does not involve national security, you may have a harder sell. The key to crafting a discrete but effective resume is to paint a word picture of your skills and abilities without revealing specifics such as numbers, project size, emerging technology details, or timelines.

Let me take an example from our files. Joe Jobseeker was a military communications specialist with a very high security clearance. He was separating from the military but the entire previous seven years of his work was under highly classified circumstances. He had worked at NORAD, a spy base, and in a combat command and control center. Some of the parameters within which he worked were mission-critical so we said that without revealing the details of such. For example, concerning some of the communications duties he shouldered at NORAD, we wrote:

“Managed mission-critical communications circuits connecting top defense officials, Houston Mission Control Center, and space personnel in near-Earth orbits.”

No particulars about operations were mentioned; no names were given; and no numbers were provided. However, the importance of the job is reflected in the situation. A poor performer would not have been given the level of responsibility that is reflected in this situation. A great deal is communicated while saying little.

When conducting a job search where you will have to sell your experience while not revealing details, you need to be very careful. A slip-up in what you say or reveal can result in prosecution. When in doubt, you may always simply say “I’m sorry. That is classified and I am unable to answer your question or discuss the matter.” On a resume you can preface your job description with a phrase along the lines of “Details of projects and performance is limited due to the sensitive nature of the work in regard to national security.”

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