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When you are being interviewed by potential future employers, it is of course of benefit to both parties to discuss what your previous job entailed (ie, what you have been doing for the last few years). What if the technology (and the ideas behind the technology) that you have been working on is sensitive and confidential?

I'm working on some really cool stuff at the moment, things that would impress an interviewer, that could demonstrate my passion and understanding, but at the same time I can't just come out and explain the nature of it without disclosing too much about my current employer. On the other hand, if I keep it vague without explaining the subtleties, it just seems as though I am working on fairly basic applications. The key is in the middle ground- the way the applications are constructed- which makes what I currently do both special and difficult. But even acknowledging this middle ground gives away vital information about how my employer competes.

Hope that made some sense. What should I do in an interview? Is there like a 2-way NDA for interviews so I can just launch into an in-depth explanation of my past experience, or do I need to be deliberately vague and apologise for not being able to go into detail?

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closed as off topic by Tom Squires, Yannis Rizos, Karl Bielefeldt, Josh K Dec 5 '11 at 20:10

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Isn't there already a clause in your current employment contract which prevents you from accepting a job at a direct competitor for a specific length of time after you left your current employer? OTOH if the prospective new employer is not a competitor, the details of your current job may not be of much direct use to them (other than letting them know that you are a good innovator and problem solver). –  Péter Török Dec 5 '11 at 15:16
    
This might be generic enough for area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/30887 –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Dec 5 '11 at 16:50

6 Answers 6

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I don't think you need be vague:- you can be very specific up-front about what you are -and are not- prepared to discuss. A good (prospective) employer will appreciate your honesty.

Remember that if you're applying for a job with a direct competitor you have a more compelling moral and legal problem if you get the job: You can't 'unlearn' your past experience, and your new employer may well be recruiting you partly for the inside knowledge you can bring. Check you contract of employment carefully, and consult a lawyer if needs be.

I've always wanted to say:-

I can tell you, but then I'll have to kill you

...in an interview...

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I can tell you, but then I'll have to kill you I have used that phrase before. It lightens the mood a little bit and is a good icebreaker. Also if the people interviewing me don't find it even slightly amusing then I probably would pass the job up as my personality would probably clash with those around me. –  maple_shaft Dec 5 '11 at 15:34

Just tell your new employer just what you wrote in your question.

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I've frequently had to use phases such as "I can't go into any more detail due to {security/confidentiality/NDA}" at an interview. For every project that I'm working on, I know exactly what is classified, what is competition sensitive, what is covered by an NDA, and what can be shared and who it can be shared with. If a piece of information comes across my desk, and it's not clear what category it is, I always ask the sender or a project manager to confirm, even if I'm not interviewing. It keeps everyone on the same page, and lets me know exactly what I can share with colleagues in a given situation.

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There are two things you should consider. One is legal, the other is ethical.

Legally speaking, you need to be careful you don't break any confidentiality agreement signed when you took on the first job.

Ethically speaking, you shouldn't say anything that might reveal sensitive data that could potentially hurt the company you work for, regardless of whether you signed or not a confidentiality agreement with them.

Keep in mind that a recruiting company is not going to be looking at your skills alone. They look for much more than that. If you come out talking too much about sensitive data, they'll most likely feel that in the future, you might do the same to them, and regard you as not trustworthy.

Only you can know how much to say, without saying too much. Unless you don't mind telling us everything so we can then tell you what you should say :P

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While you can't say what a particular feature, product, book, or whatnot is, you can say why it excites you. Does it make the software faster than ever before? Does it delight the end users? Does it combine two things that could never be combined before?

As an interviewer, the WHY is always more important than the what. "What are you most excited about on your current project and why?" "I'm adding a feature to our flagship product and while I can't describe the feature, I can tell you why I fought to have it added to the design. ". Or ", I can tell you why I was thrilled to be the one chosen to implement it." When you talk about the benefits of the feature, or the product or whatever, about its place in the overall ecosystem of users and developers, or even about the flat out fun of working in a new language or pushing the machine to new things, you tell me about yourself and tell me why I want to hire you. And that's the whole point of the interview.

It will probably take a little practice to do this without revealing what you shouldn't reveal. Go ahead and practice out loud.

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As an interviewer, I probably wouldn't want to hire someone who freely gives away his previous employers intellectual property, so it's good to think about this and be open about it during an interview. On the other hand, you should have some work experience that you can talk about: Maybe a debugging war story (like that one time when you found the dangling pointer in Bill's code that caused the system to slow down on Wednesdays) or a piece of OO architecture that's very elegant, but not very sensitive, IP-wise. In the end, most interviewers aren't interested in stealing from your former employers but in your ability to solve problems.

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