should you lie and say you have an NDA to get out of explaining a gap on your resume?

A reader writes:

I have seen this TikTok going around that basically says when you are asked about a gap in your resume, you should say that you are under an NDA, no matter what the gap was for.

A coworker recently repeated this advice to me, and said that the interviewer can’t ask any follow-up questions.

I think this is terrible advice for a lot of reasons, and that any sane hiring manager would discard someone doing this. What do you think?

Yes, it’s terrible advice.

First, it’s not true that the interviewer couldn’t ask any follow-up questions. Even if there were a real NDA, the interviewer wouldn’t be bound by it since they’re not a party to it. They can ask whatever they want.

Second, if you really were under an NDA, you’d normally provide some sort of context — “I was at a job from February to June that’s governed by an NDA so I can’t discuss details, which is why it’s not on my resume, but very broadly speaking I was doing X type work.” And then your interviewer still might have questions: Is there an NDA because of the circumstances under which you left? Something else? In other words, there still might be a conversation because you’ve just thrown some surprising information into the conversation and they’ll need to make sense of it. You wouldn’t just say, “Oh, top secret NDA, can’t answer” and then move right on.

Third, an NDA that prevented you from acknowledging even the existence of the job (as opposed to, for example, specific trade secrets) is so unusual — not impossible, but highly unusual — that this is likely to strike the interviewer really oddly, unless you navigate the conversation about it pretty skillfully. And if you don’t — and I’m guessing anyone taking advice from this TikToker is unlikely to — then you’re going to seem shady, and your interviewer is going to view your whole candidacy with a lot more skepticism than they otherwise would have (or yes, just reject you).

Fourth, and most important, there’s no point to any of this! It’s not that hard to talk about a gap on your resume. Gaps aren’t some grievous sin that you must cover up at all costs. Gaps are normal. They’re usually not big deals. The fact that someone misunderstood this to the extent that they think you need a asinine lie to cover it up says they have no idea how interviewing works or how to interview effectively.

If anyone ever tries to convince you they have This One Weird Trick To Get Hired, it’s usually a sign to ignore them on job stuff entirely.

{ 384 comments… read them below }

  1. lunchtime caller*

    I know the Tiktok referenced and it was pretty clearly a joke, but I do appreciate the thorough debunking and advice on how to handle it for anyone who does have an NDA!

    1. Lana Kane*

      A coworker recently repeated this advice to me, and said that the interviewer can’t ask any follow-up questions.

      Unfortunately it seems like at least one person took it seriously!

      1. many bells down*

        I’ve had people repeat urban legends to me verbatim as if they happened to a friend of theirs. No matter how ridiculous, someone, somewhere will take it seriously.

        1. The Bimmer Guy*

          Me too. That’s right up there with, “If you ask an undercover police officer if they’re a cop, they have to answer truthfully and identify themselves.”

          How does that even make sense?

          1. H.Regalis*

            Ugh, that one. I’ve had people tell me that if you ever pass a cop on a road ever, they’ll pull you over for speeding, because it happened to their cousin’s friend’s sister one time so it totally happens 100% of the time and every cop is trained to do that. Nah.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              Trevor Noah has an interesting story about that happening to him. Apparently the cop he passed pulled him over even though he wasn’t speeding, then couldn’t really justify it. Trevor thought it was odd that American police had this expectation of deference.

              …Which is really something considering he grew up in South Africa at a time when his birth was considered evidence of a crime (since his parents were from different race castes).

              1. Mandolin*

                IIRC, it was more that he expected the cop to be baldly like “I didn’t pull you over for a reason *other* than being black–what are you doing here?” instead of being like “let’s both pretend your race is irrelevant.”

            2. serenity*

              Ugh, that one. If I can manage to get past the people who believe that (a shockingly high number of motorists based on my experience), I have no qualms about passing a cop. No tickets.

            3. Jsmile*

              this did happen to me. we were on the highway and I followed him for about 15 minutes until I noticed all of these other drivers passing him. we were close to a light and I turned left and he turned his lights on. he asked if I knew why he pulled me over and I said no bc I wasnt speeding. he said he clocked me going 50 in a 35 and I told him no, I was going 35 and I didn’t go over 40. he said you’re not supposed to pass a cop. I told him “I followed you for 15 minutes from the town before and I seen at least 20 cars pass you”. I didn’t get a ticket thankfully lol. I was a nervous wreck being pulled over tho

          2. Rose*

            I assume this is a weird misunderstanding of entrapment laws? It’s so hilarious… I’m baffled that this person did not realize that would mean that undercover officers would stop being a thing bc there’s no limit to the number of times you can say “hey, are you an undercover cop?”

            1. WheresMyPen*

              There seems to be a misconception that police officers aren’t allowed to lie ever. They are. It might be shitty, misleading behaviour, but they are allowed to lie to you.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          People never seem to ask of these stories: “Who says so?”, or if they do know the source: “Ok, but how would they know?” They only care that it’s attention grabbing. I will always remember a really racist FB post an acquaintance posted, which claimed that British Legion poppy sellers in a large town were obeying “political correctness” from “minorities” and being told not to mark remembrance day (for veterans). Your average poppy seller would tell the cops to fuck off, if they got in the way of fundraising, so to me it was clearly fake, but the whole thing came apart as soon as I asked her “what town is this even supposed to be?” She had no idea, had copied it from another person’s post and had even cleared up the original racist slurs which just made it slightly harder to spot as random nonsense.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            Paul Reiser did stand up way back when. I heard a bit about “The Guy.” The Guy is the nameless expert who people naturally defer to.
            Need to replace your tires at 4,500 miles.
            Who say?
            The guy.
            The guy?
            The guy. You know the guy says about the tires.

          2. Ex consultant*

            That reminds me of the infamous ‘rainbow poppy’ story that made the rounds in Canada a few years ago. At least the person who made it up got caught that time.

          3. Irish Teacher*

            I had a facebook friend post one of those “kids are identifying as cats and getting litter boxes at school” stories. I pointed out that the actual article she posted admitted at the end that there is no evidence of such a thing actually happening and other people commented that the same story was reported in Ireland, the US, Scotland, etc and in each case, it was unsupported and they replied with “oh, but I still think it’s true because children are easily influenced.”

            So I think often, they…don’t really care to ask. They just see a headline that supports their preconceptions and that is good enough.

            1. Beebis*

              I saw someone insist this was happening and they posted a pic for proof. Clearly some kid was joking about it and they didn’t realize it because their proof was… a single pic of a disposable baking pan not even big enough for a cat to use filled with kitty litter on the floor of a bathroom

              1. AJ*

                My aunt gave my cousin tide pods as a joke gift during the height of the Tide Pod craze… and accidentally got him sent to the principal’s office. No more joke gifts went to school with cousin.

              2. Quill*

                And most likely that’s for cleaning up the natural consequences of having a bathroom primarily used by children… i.e. fluids that did not go where they were supposed to.

            2. lunchtime caller*

              oh my gosh, the number of times I’ve heard “well it COULD have been true and that’s just as bad!” When no, the fact that you’re easily fooled is not actually as bad as this outrageous thing happening for real…

            3. goddessoftransitory*

              I really don’t think any kid over the age of five could be “influenced “to pee in a litter box at school.

              Ironically back when I was in first grade I did have a classmate who insisted that she was a cat and walked around on all fours. She wasn’t being influenced or woke; she had some pretty severe emotional problems. But trust me, my teachers were not setting out litter boxes for her.

              1. Ace in the Hole*

                A number of kids in my kindergarted class (myself included!) went through phases of insisting we were animals and crawling around on all fours.

                Playing make-believe games is pretty normal kid stuff… it’s totally normal for a young child to insist they’re a puppy/dinosaur/superhero/princess/alien/fairy/whatever. Most of the time they’ll get bored of it in a few days and move on to something else.

            4. Sleve*

              Children under 6 identifying as cats and dogs is extremely common. It has nothing to do with gender and/or sexual development and everything to do with the fact that roleplay is biologically hardwired, as it’s one of the many ways kids learn empathy and develop their theory of mind. Being able to roleplay animals is actually a sign of advancement, since it’s harder to pretend to be an animal than to be a manager just like Mummy. A further sign of developing social skills is when they stop because it’s not cool anymore. So as long as the kid is developing normally the behaviour will cease on its own, and it’s nothing to worry about. The litterbox thing is a myth lent credence by the prevalence of the animal-mimicking behaviour. (Source: I come from a teaching family with more than 120 years combined experience, over 70 with children under 10.)

              1. Jill Swinburne*

                That’s why I never really understood the moral panic (I mean, I know what they were getting at, but I disagree anyway). Kids pretend all sorts of strange things. This is completely normal behaviour. Mine likes to be a lion cub and have me pretend to groom her. Sometimes she’s a cat and she wants to lap milk from a saucer, though she’s mostly outgrown both of those. I knew a kid who galloped everywhere because she was riding a horse. Generally they’re not still doing it at 15…

                1. Irish Teacher*

                  I think the article they linked was deliberately vague about age, but was implying young teenagers. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the “child who claimed a classmate had done so” was talking about something that had happened when they were 5, but it was written so as to allow people to assume it was a 12 or 15 year old, especially as it was accompanied by a picture of a stereotypical furry.

                  I did point out to them that it probably was a five year old playing pretend, but was ignored.

              2. Lil Kitty*

                I went through a very long pretending-to-be-a-cat phase (like 3 years), and my parents were both extremely relieved when I grew out of it around age 6!

            5. Mangled Metaphor*

              what makes it worse is when such a story is picked up and reposted by, well, I was going to say a more reputable news source, but given that it’s seriously lazy journalism, I’ll go with “real” news source.
              i.e. one with a proven history of providing actual news when physical paper was involved, but has since fallen down the “can’t keep up with the 24 hour online demand for content” rabbit hole and substitutes actual news for clickbait harvested from Reddit and its ilk.
              this is how we get so much fake news. it isn’t Facebook (alone), it’s our demand for constant entertainment, and the media’s growing need for as revenue.

            6. But what to call me?*

              My mom (who used to be pretty politically neutral but fell down the Fox News and onwards rabbit hole sometime early-to-mid pandemic) repeated this story to me as if it was something she personally knew had happened, even implying that it was happening at at least one of our local schools. I didn’t have time or inclination to research it, as with many of these casual look-how-far-our-society-has-fallen comments, but *tried* to point out that if it did happen it was one weird incident and you can’t draw sweeping conclusions about society from that. No dice. Her preferred news sources had told her it was true and it fit with what she already expected about society, so therefore it was incontrovertible fact.

              1. RogueOne23456*

                My husbands aunt tried to convince us that it was true because someone at the high school her daughter attended, told her daughter that their cousin went to a school where that happened. All I could do was laugh. This was a woman that I legitimately saw as an intelligent, lovely, engaging woman with a get sense of humor… but she too began to fall down that rabbit hole during the pandemic and everything became a conspiracy to her. Now I can’t be in the room with her for more than a few minutes before my brain hurts.
                How can you believe a teenager would use a litter box in a school? I have a 14 year old that gets second hand embarrassment if I laugh too loud.

                1. Princess Sparklepony*

                  The perfect hallmark of an urban myth – My brother’s mechanic’s aunt’s hairdresser had a client’s daughter who saw it!

            7. Myth Buster*

              The podcast This American Life investigated this rumor and found the sad & surprising root. A school district writing an action plan for school shootings wrote about litter boxes for the classroom to address the issue of kids with bathroom emergencies in case of the an extended lockdown. It was totally taken out of context and by those trolling for clicks.
              Episode #783

          4. goddessoftransitory*

            Wait, what? Poppy sellers are–not selling Lest We Forget poppies? How does that even work?


            1. Irish Teacher*

              Given that Irish celebrities have been criticised for not wearing the poppy when appearing on British TV stations, I find it hard to imagine British people being banned from wearing the poppy for fear it would give offence.

        3. Kali*

          Recently there was a guy who is popular among the far-right crowd that told a story on a podcast about the origins of “rat kings”… except that he give the actual meaning of “rat king” but instead quoted the villain’s deranged speech from a recent James Bond movie as if it were historical fact. The mind boggles.

        4. Falling Diphthong*

          One of the most useful aspects of parent driver-ed teaching (required in Massachusetts) was to prepare you to debunk the ludicrous urban legends your teenager would soon be breathlessly relating to you.

          Teens who were normally smart, thoughtful, responsible, etc.

        5. Mongrel*

          I left a certain subreddit because they couldn’t accept, and kept repeating, the “It’s illegal to give a bad reference” advice, often appended with something like “So don’t forget to s*** on the bosses desk before you walk out”.

      2. Lilac*

        There’s so much misinformation on TikTok that it can sometimes be really hard to tell what “advice” is given in earnest and what’s meant as a joke. There was that video that went viral recently of the lady who claimed you could cure nearsightedness through attitude and mindfulness or something. (That was was unfortunately not a joke, as far as I can tell.)

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Anyone trying to cure their nearsightedness via attitude isn’t going to be able to find you to exact any revenge.

        2. Casper Lives*

          I didn’t know my tech-struggling father found TikTok! Good for him

          (He once told an optometrist that I could cure my near-sightedness through “eye exercises.” He read it in the internet, guys, it’s totally true)

            1. Lana Kane*

              He was like, “I like to watch funny videos on Tik Tok as much as the next guy, but you gotta use your common sense.” Well said President Lincoln.

          1. Boof*

            If you squint and pull at your eyelids enough, the lens will distort and let you see better, but I personally find wearing corrective lenses much easier – hence why i only do it when i’m looking around for misplaced glasses

          2. AJ*

            I mean, my mother genuinely went from intense prescription contacts to lightweight readers with eye exercises, so there are at least some cases where some kinds of eye issues can be solved with exercise. Obviously this isn’t the case for every eye malady, but I’ve personally seen it done. (Not that you know me from Adam or have any reason to believe me.)

        3. Grandma*

          As a (long) lifelong asthmatic, I’ve run into any number of people over the years who think “attitude and mindfulness” (plus some random herbs) can clear things right up. Months long morning sickness too. Several such were lucky I didn’t dump a barf bag of vomit over their heads.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Yes, my lung tissue contracting to the size of Coke cans can just be overcome mentally! Hooray!

          2. Flames on the Side of My Face*

            Yes, and don’t forget essential oils! Nothing helps an attack like replacing oxygen with fragrances

        4. Filosofickle*

          I have a financial client that says their customer service line is buried in callers reacting to inaccurate TikTok info

        5. iglwif*

          Someone on the formerly bird site paid the $11 dollars to attend that person’s “master class” on how to spiritually heal your eyesight (or whatever) and wouldn’t you know, within like an hour it had turned into a pitch for that one essential oils MLM.

          1. SHEILA, the co-host*

            Oh, of course. All roads paved with shady advice eventually lead back to (or at least intersect) an MLM.

      3. Juicebox Hero*

        My boss believes with her entire soul that there really are people who will kidnap children inside a Walmart (or other big box store of choice), steal clothes to change them into, and dye their hair (with stolen hair dye!!!) in the bathrooms so they will look like a totally different child. And the only way to save the poor tyke is to look at the shoes, which are too hard to change. Because lord knows Walmart doesn’t have kids’ shoes there for the stealing along with the clothes and hair dye.

        She actually shouted at me when I tried to tell her it was a load of bull. I don’t have kids, therefore I can’t understand this stuff apparently.

        1. Lilac*

          There’s a really good episode of the You’re Wrong About podcast that talks about why people believe those kinds of things and how those ideas are spread.

          1. gbca*

            I was just going to bring up the You’re Wrong About episode! I thought they also did a great job explaining why there is basically no market for this specific type of scenario.

            1. Lilac*

              I don’t know if you’ve listened to it yet, but they just did a new episode on the movie The Sound of Freedom and combined it with a re-release of that episode from a few years ago. Worth checking out if you haven’t already!

          2. Lydia*

            I had never heard of this podcast before and my cousin just told me about it on Saturday. So weird you’re mentioning it now!

        2. sacados*

          That’s like all of those videos about how if you see a piece of paper under your windshield wiper (or something I don’t totally remember), you should run and get the police because it means traffickers are after you or something like that … There was a whole spate of those videos going around a few years ago “if you see XYZ don’t go to your car!!!!111!!”

          1. Juicebox Hero*

            What makes it even stranger is that we share a building with the police so she could actually go to the police chief and ask him if it’s true.

            The parking enforcement guy sticks hundreds of papers under windshield wipers a week. I had no idea he was so sinister.

            1. ferrina*

              Right?! The only paper I’ve ever had under my windshield wiper was from parking enforcement. I don’t think the police will save me from parking enforcement

                1. ThePear8*

                  I recently got a couple ads under mine. Every time it was when I was at a concert and they were just fliers for upcoming shows

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                In some places I’ve lived, people stick things like event fliers or takeout menus under wipers as a form of advertising in certain parking lots. When I’ve driven a beat-up car I’ve had fliers for body shops appear, too.

                None of which is sinister or a sign of traffickers.

              2. MigraineMonth*

                I left a note under someone’s windshield wiper after I backed into the bumper of their parked car while failing at parallel parking. The driver actually didn’t notice the note until the next day.

                (Turned out the bumper had already been damaged so he didn’t care, but he said I “restored his faith in humanity” by leaving the note. Is it really so unusual to leave your name & number when you damage a parked car?)

                1. Expelliarmus*

                  I guess this guy was so generally jaded that he was surprised you did the right thing in this scenario.

              3. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

                Lucky. I get tons of ads under my wipers. Mostly random churches or home repair contractors.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              A very optimistic illegal parker once stuck their parking ticket under my wiper, hoping I wouldn’t read the details.

              1. Meri*

                Okay, bad person, don’t do that… but I give them partial credit for their plan actually being elegantly simple.

                1. L.H. Puttgrass*

                  That’s right up there with, “If I stick an old parking ticket under my windshield wiper, the parking enforcement people will think I’ve already been cited and just pass on by.”

          2. aebhel*

            I read a post by someone who called this sort of thing ‘Thinks TV Is Real Brain’, and that really does seem to be the case. Most RL dangers are mundane, so lets invent something that sounds like an episode of CSI or something to spice things up instead of facing the reality that you’re much more likely to be run over by a distracted driver than kidnapped by human traffickers out of your local suburban grocery store parking lot.

            I feel like a lot of the ‘One!! Weird!! Tip!!’ style advice appeals to the same instinct, on some level.

            1. Tio*

              I also feel like things like this appeal to the people who believe they must be suited for *the thing* and because they are not getting it, it must be because of *external factor*. Or they want an easy way out of doing the hard work.

            2. MigraineMonth*

              The human brain seems to be wired to focus on very rare events over common ones. If five million people have died because of [common issue], it becomes “normal”. They don’t really grab the attention (or the 24-hour news cycle).

              Something that has only happened 5 times in history, though, grabs attention. You don’t have any strategies for avoiding it, so your brain thinks you need to think about it to come up with a plan.

              I think that’s why people vastly overestimate the chances they will be killed by a terrorist attack, serial killer, or freak accident of some kind, while underestimating their risk of dying to some of the most common causes of death (heart disease, cancer, car accident).

              1. HalJordan*

                To do the horrible “oversimplifying evolutionary pseudopsychology” thing: there are many fields around you, and many of them have holes/rocks/branches you could trip and break your leg from.

                One of the fields has a tiger.

                You probably cannot remember where all the holes/rocks/branches (and mosquitos, and lighting, and other random dangers) are, but you can remember the tiger.

                (again, oversimplifying, but gets at this mentality)

                1. Sleve*

                  Yep. You’ve interacted safely with a lot of rocks and branches in your life, and you’ve taken a lot of safe car trips, so your brain puts them in the ‘safe’ bucket for you. After all, your brain knows from experience that it will be correct most of the time and that’s good enough. When you haven’t ever interacted safely with a tiger or a terrorist they stand out. Our loyal brains are just doing their best for us with the data they’ve got.

            3. Irish Teacher*

              I think it’s also partly that people want to believe there is a way of avoiding dangers. The mundane ones are…a lot harder to combat. If you think all clowns are serial killers or something, well, that gives you a way to avoid the danger, whereas the thought that you are most likely to be killed by somebody close to you…well, that’s harder to avoid.

              Nobody wants to think their child could be kidnapped or abused by their partner or one of their parents or a teacher or their priest or doctor. It’s easier to believe there’s some clue that will allow you to evade the danger now that you know the secret.

            1. Bagpuss*

              I think the theory is that Trafficker A has identified as a suitable victim and is marking the car so Traffickers B-D can come grab you, although why Trafficker A couldn’t simply tell the heavies what the licence plate was, I don’t know.
              And obviously ignores the realities of the people and situations where trafficking is most likely to happen.

        3. Gemstones*

          Strange. Isn’t someone who’d know what shoes the child was wearing also going to know what…you know, their actual face looks like?

          1. Annie*

            I think the idea is it’s easier to rattle off what your child is wearing than try to describe your child’s face if you find yourself asking a stranger for help finding your child who went missing in a store or at an event.

            1. Annie*

              Oh, and clothes are generally easier to check from a distance than a person’s face if you don’t know that person very well.

        4. Lenora Rose*

          How many kids will stand still while a stranger does weird things to their hair anyhow? Especially, y’know, the keeping them still and quiet for at least 15 minutes, and nobody ever walking in when it’s supposedly happening…

          1. DryEraseAfficionado*

            seriously. I want to chat with this villain about about their parenting advice because it takes me forever to get my kid dressed. I can’t imagine if I also had to dye his hair.

        5. Rex Libris*

          … and because dying the hair of a struggling toddler in a public restroom without anyone noticing is far easier than changing their shoes? Skeptic is skeptical.

        6. A nonny mpuse*

          Oh man the internet is ALWAYS trying to convince me my kid is gonna be kidnapped in a target parking lot but pretty sure they are way more likely to be run over by a car (so I will buckle them in before I unload and return the cart to minimize the opportunity of them dashing into traffic) but if I would believe the internet videos I get shown, my kid would have been kidnapped like 5 times already.

          1. Lisa Simpson*

            I live in a city with an eye-watering carjacking rate. The main reason people get “carjacked” with pets or kids in the car is if they leave the key in the ignition with the car running and then proceed to exit the car.

            (I put carjacked in quotes because in my city, it’s legally considered Motor Vehicle Theft unless the driver is forced or pulled out of the vehicle. The forced removal of the driver is what changes it to a Carjacking from a legal perspective. But most people *feel* carjacked if someone takes their car while they’re standing right next to it, and honestly I think that is an entirely reasonable feeling.)

          2. Distracted Procrastinator*

            You will also notice it’s always, always, always someone who is a minority that is supposed to be the “trafficker.”

            I’ve noticed that I will pass the same person while shopping multiple times, because we are both grabbing common items in the store. Apparently I need to be more worried about the Hispanic guy who also needs tortillas, Diet Coke, and toilet paper. The guy who is the same genetic background as me is good for a smile and a joke, but gotta watch out for the “other.”

            Better make a Facebook post!

          3. Firebird*

            As a new first time mother, I quit a parenting group because the urban myths were so disturbing. I still feel freaked out even though I know they aren’t true and my kids are adults. I think these myths play on our worst fears for our children and then give us new fears.

        7. Betty*

          OMG, this was a thing about malls & amusement parks when I was a small child in the 1980s. I can’t believe this is still going around…

          1. MigraineMonth*


            Because no one would realize that the person who gave their kid a food with razor blades was the neighbor who gave them a candy apple the day before, making it the perfect crime, I guess.

            1. starsaphire*

              …which has now largely been replaced with PEOPLE WILL GIVE YOUR CHILDREN EDIBLES AAAAAA and I always say…

              …why would I give away $200 worth of edibles when I can get a bag of Hersheys minis for $2.99 at Safeway?

              Also, the line at Safeway won’t take nearly as long as the line at the Dispensary. Also, Safeway won’t scan my DL before letting me in the store. Also…

            2. Princess Sparklepony*

              One Halloween, a house ran of out candy and their teenage sons were in charge so they did give out dog treats. I still remember the house – never cheat a kid out of candy.

          2. Princess Sparklepony*

            Where I lived, the place your kid would get kidnapped was the flea market. I think it was a rumor started by the Big Shopping Mall Consortium….

        8. PhyllisB*

          I’ve heard this one about the kidnapping children. Has anyone happened to think through that if someone was dumb enough to try this. 1. Said child would probably not submit quietly to any of these things, and 2. Do you know how long it takes for hair dye to work, and the mess it would make, and 3. What is the likelihood of having the bathroom stay vacant long enough to do all this? And you don’t have a locking door to keep people out.
          I can’t believe people actually believe this stuff.

          1. Juicebox Hero*

            Seriously. It’s hard enough to get a squirmy toddler you’re related to or babysitting for into their clothes (I swear their heads grow larger the harder you try to pull a shirt over it) or to just give them a bath and wash their hair.

            Plus, most kidnappings are by people the child knows, not strangers. And any stranger hell-bent on kidnapping a child in a store would grab the kid and get out ASAP, before the adults responsible for the kid realize what’s happened, minimize the chances of witnesses who could describe the kidnapper, etc.

            But common sense can’t compete with the font of unadorned truthiness that is Facebook…

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              It’s kind of like how people think serial killers are genius billionaires who can both conjure up nightmare scenario murders and be internationally known leaders of society, instead of stunted guys with a horrible hobby.

              The reason serial killers are conjured up that way is because they make much better entertainment material as the former–Hannibal Lecter being the template, naturally. I remember watching the TV show and being both enthralled with the style and gorgeousness of the presentation and gleefully shredding the real world ridiculousness of it online.

              People don’t want to think how easily their kid could really be taken and for what revolting, grubby, life-shattering reasons. Far more soothing and aggrandizing to conjure up hair dye and Satanic cults.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            I knew a friend who was convinced that the town she lived in (which was a very rural part of a midwestern state) was a major human trafficking route, and that someone tried to kidnap her child in a Target. I tried to gently suggest checking on actual crime statistics rather than just Mommy Facebook groups.

          3. Tiny clay insects*

            As a teen, me and my friend dyed my hair in a Target bathroom. It was incredibly difficult! And neither of us were toddlers.

            1. Worldwalker*

              I’ve dyed my hair in my own bathroom and it took about 15 minutes, and took longer than that to dry. Keep the hair, swap the shoes.

              1. amoeba*

                You could also just put a hat or cap on them? Or even cut off long hair? Like, dyeing must be about the least efficient way here…

        9. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          Some years ago – there was a story about a blue van, with a guy dressed as a clown, and the van said “CIRCUS” on the sides. And the clown stole little boys off the street.

          A funny thing though – in spite of around 40 “sightings”, no one managed to get a plate number, NOR the make of the van.

          Here in the Boston area, the stories circulated every October for a few years. Of course, the Ringling Bros/Barnum and Bailey Circus came to town in October, so… well… kids’ and their parents’ imaginations were expanded and ran wild.

            1. Lisa Simpson*

              Do you remember the clown panic of 2016, where someone spotting a clown in the woods would get the school district to shut down the next day?

        10. 1-800-BrownCow*

          *Sigh* this one is such a touchy subject in the various social media mom’s groups I below to. At least once a week someone shares that in their local FB mom’s group, someone said they were shopping at Walmart/Target/chain grocery store etc. and were being followed by strangers that tried to kidnap their kid. Store personnel are never able to catch the person(s), so they want to share to forewarn others to be vigilant. These postings have dozens of comments of this same thing happening to the commenter or it happened to a friend. And IF anyone tries to dispel the rumor or point out the unlikelihood, you’re practically hanged for even suggesting it’s not true.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            One of my friends who is in a bunch of those groups tried to convince me that the town she lived in, which is out in the middle of nowhere with no airport/port/border crossing, was a major human trafficking hub.

            Of white American toddlers, I guess, because she was convinced a man was following her and her daughter in–you guessed it–Target.

          2. kiki*

            It’s hard because I don’t want to invalidate somebody’s experience in the off-chance the interaction was an attempt at something nefarious, if it even happened at all. But I’m genuinely worried about the level of constant fear a lot of parents (but especially mothers) have about their children being kidnapped in normal, non-threatening places. It’s making people interpret really normal things in nefarious ways. It would be so anxiety-inducing to live like that!

            Once I was in a restaurant and started walking from my table to the bathroom. By chance, a mom with child at a nearby table also got up to head to the bathroom. Their table was closer to the bathroom than mine, so I was walking behind them while keeping a polite distance. The mom kept looking back at me so I gave them a normal soft “hey, we’re strangers in the same place and we’ve made eye contact” smile each time. We were almost at the bathroom when they stopped suddenly and asked me why I was following them! I was really confused for a minute because I wasn’t following them at all! I explained that I was just heading to the bathroom, but she was so suspicious and wouldn’t use the bathroom while I was in there! I felt bad, wondering if I had done something out of the ordinary to make her uncomfortable, but my friends I was with had watched me walk over there and said everything was super normal! I wasn’t getting too close, I wasn’t doing something strange, I wasn’t presenting myself in some way that would make me seem dangerous. It was just really odd! At a restaurant, customers really only get up to their table to go to the bathroom or leave– two people heading to the bathroom at the same time isn’t particularly unusual. I still think about it

            1. bamcheeks*

              I got a instagram reel debunking this the other week too, and the comments were WILD. Literally hundreds of people absolutely furious about the idea that their kids might be more likely to be hurt by a car in a carpark than kidnapped. I don’t think this is an obsession in the UK– I’m sure there are some people who are paranoid about it, but that’s kind of recognised as a personal anxiety rather than something that’s cultivated and stoked and shared. And it definitely felt like, “baddies are out to steal your kids” was a way of diverting people from the much, MUCH bigger threats of cars and guns.

          3. londonedit*

            For some reason Instagram went through a phase of suggesting posts from this sort of account to me, and I was utterly, utterly confused. What on earth are these people talking about? Do they really live their lives convinced their children are going to be stolen from a supermarket car park?? And all the ‘as a woman driving alone, here’s how to tell if someone’s following you and what to do’ – I have quite literally never considered whether someone might be following me. Why the hell would someone follow me? I’m just going to Tesco. It’s so weird. Do they genuinely live like this? Or are they just trying to scare people? The idea of someone being kidnapped or trafficked in broad daylight is so vanishingly improbable, what’s the point?

            1. perstreperous*

              Unfortunately yes, people live like this, and it is not new. My parents believed everything the Daily Mail said to the extent that, in my opinion, it blighted their lives.

              They lived in what was, and still is, a very low-crime area and the defensive measures they took against non-existent criminals were ridiculous as well as deleterious to their mental health.

              All that was over 40 years ago, so the Internet was not involved.

          4. Bagpuss*

            A facebook group for my local (small rural) town had a bunch of posts warning people to be wary for the suspicious guys in a van driving slowly along the street in a suspicious manner. Another member pointed out that they were delivery guys (in a van marked with the name of the company they work for) driving slowly because they were looking for a specific house, and that they were actually delivering her new washing machine…

            also used to see posts for a while of people ‘warning’ about dodgy characters driving slowly past the primary school in a suspicious way, until it was pointed out to them that there is a 20 mph speed limit outside the school so they really ought to be more concerned about the people who were ignoring that and *not* going slowly.

          5. Princess Sparklepony*

            There was a woman who went to jail for targeting a couple and saying they were trying to kidnap her kids – she wanted to be an influencer. And her video went viral. Anyways, she lied to the police about it and went to jail (after a trial, of course). The store security cameras proved she was lying. It was at a Michaels in Northern California. Her name is Kathleen Sorensen if you want to look her up.

            It’s always nice when people doing mean stupid things get caught and there are consequences.

        11. Irish Teacher*

          They dye the child’s hair but it’s too hard to change their shoes? That is…interesting logic.

        12. goddessoftransitory*

          So they can spirit a strange struggling/or drugged kid into a public bathroom, cut their hair, DYE it (which takes five minutes, apparently) strip and redress them–but they can’t get ahold of Lion King knockoff sneakers?

        13. Sleve*

          I was in my local Walmart equivalent once on a quiet afternoon when an announcement came over the intercom that a little girl was missing. A few women started looking for her, then a few more, then as the minutes went by more and more people joined the search until it seemed as though almost every adult in the store was looking for her. I’ve never seen such determined cooperation between a large group of total strangers before, and with almost no communication either. A trio of ladies stationed themselves at the door to make sure she couldn’t leave or be taken. Two more were supporting the mother. Everyone else was looking under racks and displays, sweeping the change rooms, checking with random strangers to find which locations hadn’t been searched yet. After 20 minutes, the little girl was found by a staff member. She’d snuck through a door into a store room and got lost. An announcement went over the intercom and the tension melted out of the air like magic. Everyone quietly drifted away and it was as if nothing had happened. It was incredibly surreal, but a really nice ‘Faith in humanity restored’ moment. I live in hope that any actual kidnapping within a Walmart would result in a similar outcome. Most people want to do good. Although, I don’t have kids, so I guess I don’t understand this stuff either.

      4. Em*

        I find it really strange that this advice assumes job interviews should be approached like a deposition interview with the opposing attorneys…

    2. SchuylerSeestra*

      Oh there are TikTok Career Gurus who give this advice with total seriousness.

      I hate them with a passion. I’m a recruiter and I can admit interviewing is difficult. But hiring is complex, and it’s always people who have no experience whatsoever giving terrible advice to vulnerable job seekers.

  2. Lumos*

    Someone just tried to do this at my husband’s job a few weeks ago. He was not prepared for follow up questions about the type of work he’d been doing and gave himself away.

    1. Felicia*

      Even a job whose very existence was covered by NDA (or something more serious, like being a classified secret) would provide some sort of cover story. For example, CIA workers abroad tell people that they are diplomats, and they would use that story after the fact too.

      1. Tinkerbell*

        I live in a city with a lot of defense contractors, and there are some classes of jobs where it’s VERY common to not be able to detail what you do. Even in those cases, job candidates can still say “I worked for MegaContractorCo from X date to Y date on missile defense projects” and the interviewer can still call HR to verify. “I’d tell you but then I’d have to kill you” is pure Hollywood.

        1. DD26*

          my first job was with a defense subcontractor. it’s on my resume that I worked there and when. I can say I was in engineering, but that’s about the extent of what I can say … but it’s still on my resume.

          1. JanetM*

            Not really having to do with resumes or interviews, but some years ago I met (at a networking dinner) a chemical process engineer who worked at the national lab.

            I naively asked, “What does a chemical process engineer do?”

            The engineer replied, “Well, there are chemicals. And they go through processes.”

            I decided that was all the information I needed.

            1. amoeba*

              Hah. To be honest, mostly that kind of explanation is the most detailed that non-chemists/chemical engineers would actually understand! I’m in a similar field and “explain in simple words” just… doesn’t work, most of the time. It’s incredibly weird and specialised and as most people don’t even remember high school chemistry…

          2. Worldwalker*

            There’s a lot I can’t talk about (mostly involving upcoming products or development projects) due to an NDA, but that doesn’t prohibit my saying where I work, or my job title. I’ve never met anyone who does, and never heard of any aside from spies with cover stories. And they have cover stories, not huge gaps in their history that would be a giveaway that they’re spies.

        2. Kevin Sours*

          I had a friend in college who did a summer internship at the NSA (So Andrew, what did you do for your summer vacation). *He* was able to give a generic description of what he did. People with industrial grade NDAs aren’t going to have a problem.

        3. nm*

          Yeah I have some friends who work on department of defense contracts and even when they really can’t say ANYTHING they’re allowed to say “i can’t talk about work bc it’s a DoD contract”

        4. Spero*

          I date in a city with a lot of defense contractors so I’ve matched with at least a hundred of these, and there are SO many easy answers to these questions. The guys who say ‘I’m a civilian contractor for a government agency’ make it plenty clear what they do, they have sometimes clarified ‘I work with technology’ or ‘I work with drones’ and that’s plenty to figure it out. The guys who try to say ‘I can’t tell you what I do’ or ‘If I told you I’d have to kill you’ immediately earn an eye roll and often an unmatch because they clearly like the drama in a way that will be exhausting to date.

          1. Spero*

            More options: ‘I used to be in the military, I work in a similar way but I’m a civilian now.’ ‘I’ve worked in x industry throughout my career, some of my publicly known jobs are with a and c companies but other jobs are covered by an NDA.’ ‘Most of what I do is classified, but basically I sit in front of a computer most of the day and get annoyed by pointless zoom meetings.’

            1. Sedna*

              LMAO at the last one. From what little I’ve heard from people who work in those jobs, a lot of it is just like any other job! Even big secret government agencies need to hold meetings and send memos and fix the coffee maker.

        5. Industry Behemoth*

          Readers Digest published a story in its Humor in Uniform feature, about a mom visiting her recently joined servicemember son at his base.

          As he gave her the tour, she asked him where a particular road went. He wouldn’t answer, and she started to give him one of her maternal lectures. Then he answered, “Mom, please. If I tell you, I’ll have to shoot you.”

        6. BasketcaseNZ*

          Yep. Around here they just say they work in the Public Service, or that they’re in Defense.
          For their CV’s, they’ll often list it as Ministry of Defense, or Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
          So long as their reference knows which they are using, there’s a lot you can say without saying anything.

        7. Lizzianna*

          I had a acquaintance who worked for the Army’s intelligence division. I have no idea what he did for them, but he was able to tell us what agency he worked for and I did visit his apartment on base (it was one of the best places to watch the fireworks over the National Mall and we could wait in the air conditioning for them to start, so he threw a big 4th of July party every year). My impression is that the only people who can’t reveal where they work are given cover stories so they can tell their family and friends *something*.

          It would be really weird to me if I interviewed someone who treated an NDA as a reason to not disclose anything at all, especially if I was interviewing for a job that was not known for its use of NDAs.

        8. Blue police box*

          Third, an NDA that prevented you from acknowledging even the existence of the job (as opposed to, for example, specific trade secrets) is so unusual — not impossible, but highly unusual

          Yeah, I’d like to see this one:
          August 2007-MAy 2014, AREA 51, Contractor. Performed medical procedures. Under NDA, can’t say more.

          The above is a parody. NOBODY PANIC.

      2. Chinookwind*

        HD had a friend who ended up doing something like that. We only had a general idea of what it was because we saw him go through some type of hiring with their employer and then suddenly moved somewhere where it was an open secret that “spook-adjacent” stuff happened (that and his social media went silent). If we asked him what it was, he told us that he was the office clerk to the kitchen staff at said location. It was good cover because a) that could be what he was actually doing or b) it is such a boring sounding job that no one would ask for better details.

        Keep in mind that there are a number of men & women who worked at Bletchley whose families all thought they were being office secretaries or found a way to shirk “real war duties.” Those whose jobs it is to keep things secret are really good at not even hinting at it.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Apparently the key to figuring out where all the local scientists from your university were going during the Manhattan project was to go to your local library and check out the travel guide to New Mexico.

          In those days all the people who checked it out before were neatly written on a slip inside the cover.

          1. Nina*

            Allegedly (fun story, unsure if true) one of the earlier ‘outside people’ to figure out what was going on was the editor of Astounding (sci-fi magazine) because all his subscribers who were physicists changed their mailing address to the same place.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          One of my siblings had a government job, years ago, that involved at least a few things they weren’t supposed to talk about. They’d say, “oh, you know—lots of paperwork.” I don’t think anyone ever persisted after that.

        3. goddessoftransitory*

          And the Bletchley codebreakers only recently–like, in the last few years–were released from the Secrecy Act and can talk about even being there, let alone their work.

          1. Bagpuss*

            Well, it started to be declassified in the 1970s under the 30 year rule with further declassifications in the mid 90s, (although I know the mid 90s can feel like ‘a few years ago’)
            It wasn’t only the codebreakers.
            There were people who were recruited to form a resistance movement in the event that Britain was invaded. Most were men in reserved occupations, such as farmers, and they were specifically prohibited from joining the Home Guard or any other civil defence.
            Thy were expected to effectively be suicide squads, and because they were prohibited from joining the Home Guard many faced accusations of cowardice .

            When the information was declassified under the 50 year rules we learned that two of our local farming friends had been involved as young men – in one case, he had family members who had disowned him for failing to sign up either to fight or for the home guard. He never said a word.
            (Perhaps more worrying, they also told us, when the information was declassified, that they had been supplied with various weapons etc and had had secret caches and bases from which to operate in the event of invasion, and that because of the very secret nature of the set up, presumably records were limited, and when the war ended, no-one from the war office made any arrangements to recover any of the weapons or explosives, so they remained stashed in the local woods.

      3. Sloanicota*

        Just for fun, I was challenging myself if I’d ever encountered a job that required an NDA precluding even mentioning the job … the most serious NDAs I’m connected with are for ghostwriters – in some cases, kind of salacious ones, mentioning or hinting that you were involved with the project at all would be a huuge deal (there are books on your shelf right now that you think you know the author of!). However, you could still say “I was a ghostwriter during that period.” You just couldn’t say much about the project itself. As you say, military ones would be more likely to provide you a cover story. Maybe private escort type work, if you were a professional sugarbaby for a year between that accounting degree and the job in Des Moines … ? Not sure that’s better for landing a job than being temporarily unemployed.

        1. Yes Anastasia*

          I don’t think an NDA would be enforceable for escort work in most places; my understanding is that contracts aren’t enforceable if the activity is technically illegal.

          1. yvve*

            and even so, if a former sugar baby did actually want to keep her job secret, she wouldn’t go with “NDA, cant talk about it”! Whether its embarrasing, illegal or government secret, anyone who actually wants to conceal their former job will come up with a bland cover story. NDA just draws a ton of attention to it

        2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

          There really can’t be a situation where the existence of a job is completely secret from everyone. You at least have to tell the tax authorities where you get your money from, right? And it would be very impractical in many cases not to tell your partner. Family members also need to know things like work hours so they can plan their life too.

          For me personally the most difficult “I can’t talk about work” situation was a temp project where the client had veeeeery strict confidentiality requirements. We were told we can say, “I work in X company and I do ABC”. Not much more. The problem was that, for the people at X company, ABC was a normal everyday word that doesn’t really need explanations. In real life, it was usually met with “what does ABC mean, I’ve never heard of it?”. It was really difficult to answer this question, because I as a temp worker didn’t really know what things were parts of how ABC in general is done, and what things were super secret project/client specific practices…

        3. Itsa Me, Mario*

          One thing I’ve always been curious about with ghostwriting is who your “employer” is. I suppose some authors hire ghostwriters directly, on a freelance basis, and they just pay that person out of their own pocket. But I would guess that for most situations where ghostwriting is a factor, it’s a known and planned thing contracted by some entity. Like the publisher who gives Lauren Boebert or whoever a book deal knows there’s going to be a ghostwriter involved. In which case, you could probably just put that company down on your resume.

      4. Wendy Darling*

        I worked for A Large Company You Have Heard Of on a then-unreleased device that ended up pioneering an entire new category, and it was wildly secret when it was in development. Like, this project was so secret that when we got prototypes we had to have the packing material they came in shredded so no one would know we were working on a device of that particular shape. I couldn’t tell my partner what I did.

        I could still tell people who I worked for and that I was working on an unannounced project and the general responsibilities of my job, if not the specifics.

        1. Calpurrnia*

          My husband is a game developer/engineer, and “unannounced project” is the terminology that the video game industry as well for NDA projects in early-stage development when leaks are a serious concern. It’s such a normal thing to put on their resume and everything. If asked about it in an interview they talk about the work they’re doing technically (gameplay, engine, frontend/backend, security, networking…) and they can often go into a fair bit of detail relevant for interviews without revealing anything about the actual project.

          As the spouse who is not technically NDA-ed but who unavoidably knew about the latest project (because we were working in the same physical room during the early pandemic days, and it wasn’t possible to avoid seeing one another’s screens…), it was a huge relief when the project was finally announced as in development and its existence could be acknowledged.

          Meanwhile I’m in consulting, so my NDAs are boring, stuff like not disclosing clients’ financials, login creds, or other sensitive info. I can still talk about what I do for days (though for most non-interview audiences I condense it to “database things”) without telling anyone that Company made 35 million net sales last year, y’know? I would guess that most NDAs are along those lines rather than the super secret, “I can’t actually tell you what I work on” types.

      5. Blue police box*

        For example, CIA workers abroad tell people that they are diplomats

        Because some of them genuinely are posted as diplomats (and are credentialled as such by the host country’s government). Others are not and do not claim diplomatic status. Please stop spreading incorrect information like this, because it puts our bona fide diplomats at risk.

      6. Princess Sparklepony*

        And here I thought they were all in the Import/Export business!

        (Too many spy movies in my misspent youth!)

      7. J*

        I have a friend/former coworker who works for the geospatial agency. I was interviewed first for her job by the Feds as part of her background check and was given one story about her job, then she was hired and had a very bland descriptor of her job. Which, knowing her background, would be such a step down if you believed it. It’s plausible and her cover story is that she wanted to step back and have more time for her kids, but in reality I know she’s doing something really cool and just can’t tell me everything since she actually had to hire a nanny for her longer hours and travel. She can share stories about the campus amenities, like ball fields (which I can see from the road outside) and gyms, so that’s pretty much all I hear.

      8. Itsa Me, Mario*

        I work in a field where there are a lot of NDAs, and some may even cover details that might be relevant on a resume. In those cases, there is usually something you can put down. For example even highly confidential movies or TV shows that are still in production/not yet announced to the public will usually have a working title that the project is known as internally. Or you could just write down “Confidential HBO Drama” and then get to the real meat of things for your resume, which would be your job title and name of your manager. And then once that show comes out, you update your resume to list the actual title, because the terms of your NDA are probably over by then, at least where sharing broad info is concerned.

    2. ferrina*

      I had someone try to do this several years ago. We work in consulting, so it’s common to not be able to say what you said to which client (proprietary data/trade secrets), but they wouldn’t even talk about the benign things or things that weren’t covered by normal NDAs. It just made them look ameteurish-
      1) They didn’t know how an NDA worked and assumed they weren’t allowed to talk about anything. This would be an astounding lack of understanding or communication skills- both of which were necessary skills in this job.
      2) They were under the weirdest NDA I’d ever seen in our industry, and they didn’t have enough knowledge to realize how weird the NDA was. Even if that had somehow happened, they should have picked up on from the interview how weird that was (because I specifically said that) and adapted or contextualized rather than digging their heels in
      3) They exaggerated or completely made up the NDA.

      None of these boded well for the job, which required strong communication skills and ability to adapt. By claiming they couldn’t talk about the job, they shared a lot of information about themself

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      “So if I were to recast my time in the CIA solely through the metaphor of llama grooming, speaking hypothetically…”

      This is a much higher degree of difficulty than almost any actual true answer.

      1. Nina*

        I can actually do that (not CIA, different annoyingly-private job) because when I get stuck on work questions I draft questions to AAM. Surprisingly often writing it out is all it takes to unstick it (if you can imagine Alison saying ‘that. is bananapants’ about your scenario, you should probably find a way of removing yourself from the scenario).

    4. Roland*

      Haha. People really do think life if like a video game with cheat codes, huh. Anyone who really had an NDA so strong that they couldn’t say any details about the job or acknowledge its existence (like real life spies idk) would have a better cover than “sorry, NDA”.

      1. Reality.Bites*

        I also figure that someone who’d had an NDA kind of job would be applying to jobs where it would be common to have applicants with NDAs.

  3. Czhorat*

    I’m picturing someone in a bad spy movie saying “I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you”.

    Unless you’re a literal spy or in the witness protection program there are few if any situations in which you couldn’t say *something* about where you worked, and an NDA wouldn’t stop an employer from verifying employment (unless you were part of the Impossible Mission Force and they disavowed your existence after a job went sideways).

    1. Heidi*

      But if you were a spy or in witness protection, your handlers would be careful to leave no questionable gaps in your fake resume. I suspect that it’s supposed to create the impression that the applicant is mysterious and important in kind of a glamorous way. I think it might do the opposite, though. NDAs can be used to hide wrongdoing and corruption, so it won’t necessarily make someone want to hire you.

      1. SleeplessKJ*

        And actually in either case, your handlers would grease the wheels for you to just get the job (people in witness protection usually end up in pretty low level jobs) and there’d be no interview necessary. They wouldn’t allow you to put yourself in that position and possibly blow your cover.

    2. hbc*

      And even people like spies and protected witnesses get cover stories that they can speak about.

      I’m remembering how my parents (who weren’t even undercover) weren’t supposed to disclose they worked for the CIA when traveling on family vacations. Instead of saying “NDA, I can’t tell you” which is suspicious as all get out, they’d just say a more generic job or something related to their hobbies.

      1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

        Whoa please tell us more about what it’s like to live with two CIA parents! Did you know all along?

      2. Sharpie*

        There are some really interesting videos on YouTube of Jonna Mendes talking about working for the CIA during the Cold War. One of the things about working undercover is the cover’s designed so the operative can talk about things without blowing their cover and giving the game away.

        1. Sedna*

          Right? I grew up in Washington DC and I had a lot of friend’s parents who “worked for the World Bank” or similar. Or they were accountants, or lawyers, or consultants of some sort.

          1. Blue police box*

            I mean, not to put a fine point on it, but lots of people in DC really do work for the World Bank and other multilateral financial institutions.

    3. MK*

      Seriously, I think this could possibly work for a few professions in the “security” field, broadly speaking; I don’t think it would raise any eyebrows to say “I worked as a bodugueard for a famous/wealthy/powerful individual, but I am not allowed to name them because NDA”. Otherwise, it’s unusual that you are unable to say at least who you worked for, even if you can’t share information about what you did.

    4. Daisy-dog*

      I was picturing like a personal assistant to someone very famous and private. So in that role, they’d learn all their dirty secrets. But even that you could just give your job title and probably get a reference from the celebrity’s manager. Also, this likely wouldn’t be believable unless you live in a place with multiple celebrities.

      1. Monkey Princess*

        I used to PA for a famous person. I was employed by the company that owned their property. It was on my resume just as being a pa at this benign sounding small business. I the NDA didn’t even need to come up unless I wanted it to.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        A member of my current team was a personal assistant for a celebrity (I still have no idea which one), and they had it on their resume listing the job title and responsibilities. They were very diligent about not sharing the person’s name or giving clues that might give it away – I don’t even know if it’s an actor, musician, novelist, etc. – but they also were able to speak very easily about skills they developed in that capacity and how it translated to our job.

    5. Pretty as a Princess*

      I swear on all that is real and true, my mother once used this line in JURY SELECTION to explain that she did not know the extent of my day to day job because I held a security clearance.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          Can confirm that I was recently asked if anyone in my immediately family was in three separate industries during jury selection. Only one was law enforcement, which I suspect is standard.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          In jury selection (at least in my state) it is standard to ask for the occupation of the candidate’s spouse/partner and any adult children.

          It’s part of the process to make sure there’s no conflict of interest or undue bias. For example if the trial involves Company X and your son is the CFO for Company X, that might be considered cause for dismissal. It’s also very likely to come up when the lawyers get to make peremptory challenges, so asking right off the bat streamlines the process.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      And if you are in something adjacent to top secret then you will have a perfectly reasonable job title and company reference. It will just differ a bit in that the person they call for a reference will be 1) part of the security system and 2) the company will seem legit but in fact be either owned by the security system or have an agreement with them.

      Patching holes in CVs is easy for these guys.

    7. goddessoftransitory*

      It’s like the scenario just about every divorce attorney has encountered, where their client says that their ex is CIA/NSA/Navy Seal or whatever and can track them down wherever they go and control all their accounts and on and on–if every schlub cheating on their spouse were actually A) in that kind of organization and B) that sloppy and blabbermouthed, there would be a lot more suspicious single-car accidents.

  4. Potato Potato*

    Next step- say that all your jobs are under an NDA so you don’t have to answer any questions about them. (This is a joke.)

    1. Czhorat*

      If Allison ever signs an NDA we won’t be allowed to read her advice anymore. I’m picturing it now:

      “Allison, my new employee has a rare disease requiring him to eat freshly microwaved fish three times a day. How can I balance his request for an ADA accommodation with the emotional health impact on the rest of the team, one of whom was disfigured in a commercial fishing accident and another who lost his life savings in a phishing attack?”


  5. Rona Necessity*

    Even if you were literally a top secret agent undercover with the CIA, undertaking extralegal missions, and there’s a sniper following you everywhere you go in case you say the words “secret intelligence”, they’d provide you with a cover employment history. Basic spy stuff.

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      plus you could still talk about what kind of management’s style you prefer and a time someone on your project team disagreed with you and how you resolved it, and your communication and Excel skills.

  6. Cat Tree*

    In jobs where someone truly can’t even mention their job, such as certain positions in the CIA or FBI, they provide a cover story of a different job. The best way to keep a secret is for nobody to even suspect that there is a secret.

  7. Lana Kane*

    How this would likely go:

    Interviewer: So I see a 1 year gap on your resume – can you tell me more about that?

    Candidate: I’m sorry, I can’t go into it because I signed an NDA.

    I: I see – I don’t need to know any specifics about the work, but I’d like to know where that was and in what capacity.

    C: Sorry, NDA – I can’t say anything.

    I: I see. Well, best of luck in your future endeavors.

    1. Frickityfrack*

      Or, if the interviewer has heard that advice going around (which is definitely not out of the realm of possibility – my boss and coworkers in their late 40s/early 50s LOVE tiktok), they might actually call you a candidate out on it. It’s giving me shades of Michael “declaring” bankruptcy on the office. You can’t just say NDA!

    2. Antilles*

      As someone who’s done plenty of interviews myself, that’s 100% accurate. And in my mind, I’m definitely thinking this:

      An NDA? Really? I’ve been in the Teapot Design industry for X years/decades and that’s not a thing in our industry.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        This. I’m in science research, and in very infrequent cases a senior person may have signed an NDA. However, it would be narrowly tailored to have them not disclosing proprietary information about their previous companies drug molecules/pipeline. Even they could still say “I can’t divulge details due to an NDA, but we worked on a drug to address X” and speak broadly about it, and how they managed the process.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          Mine have basically been this: I can’t divulge details, heck, I can’t even tell you the code name of the project (and they have nothing to do with the real project typically) I’m working on or who the client is.

          But I can still tell you that my title is Herder of Interns at Big Corp, and the general list of my job duties. And that’s even with almost every single project that I work on being under an NDA (no, intern herding is not my main job, its more of a happenstance thing). There would never be a reason to not mention my job at Big Corp, or OldJob, or PreviousToOldJob, even though all have various projects (and in some cases clearances) under NDA.

      2. Bee*

        I know multiple people in my field/related fields who had to sign NDAs as a condition of severance payments (illegal now!), but then it’s a combination of protecting proprietary information & non-disparagement. It would be incredibly weird (and in fact likely impossible) to have to pretend you never worked there!

      3. ferrina*

        Yeah, an interviewer who is at all familiar with industry norms will know what’s up. Plenty of industries have NDAs (mine is one of them), and the NDAs are all pretty similar to each other. “Don’t share our trade secrets with other companies”.
        I know what’s generally covered and what’s not. The folks that are mid to high level will know what is generally covered and what is not, and we’ll be able to have a very full conversation about things we can talk about. The folks that aren’t able to understand the general terms of an NDA are pretty junior, because if you can’t understand the basics of contracts and client needs, you aren’t going far in this industry.

      4. Turquoisecow*

        My husband is in tech and they’ve definitely had NDAs relating to specific projects they were working on that they didn’t want the general public/competitors/ or even vendors knowing about until they’d worked out the kinks on it. But an entire job? No. They were usually working on multiple projects at a time, so during an interview they just wouldn’t mention the top secret project or whatever, they’d talk about other aspects of the job.

        1. amoeba*

          I’m in Europe and now wondering whether it actually works differently here – I definitely work with that kind of confidential data but NDAs are not a thing at all for employees, just for outside consultants and collaborators. I’m guessing the difference is the employment contracts we have which probably cover all that already?

          1. Antilles*

            I can’t say what it’s like over there, but if you already have an employment contract covering it, then that’s probably the difference. In the US, most employees aren’t on formal contracts, so the additional paperwork of an NDA or a confidentiality agreement is used to fill that gap if there’s specifics that you can’t talk about (but the idea of being unable to even discuss the generalities of the job isn’t a thing).

          2. Electric Pangolin*

            Not sure to what extent this has been harmonized, but in the bit of Europe that I’m located in, it doesn’t even have to be part of the contract as it’s straight up a federal crime for an employee to disclose any trade secret.

  8. Throwaway Account*

    I’ve seen that TikTok too. Stuff like that makes me long for Alison to be on TikTok. But there are SO. MANY. TROLLS!

  9. Rose*

    Even if you had worked such a top-secret job that you couldn’t tell anyone about it… there would be a cover job for you. You know, to not raise suspicions.

    1. zuzu*

      If you *have* been in prison, it’s probably better to say that than claim you were working somewhere else.

      Ages ago, when I was in law school and looked like a fetus, I did a litigation clinic where a partner and I handled an administrative hearing for a Mexican-American man who’d been fired from a paint factory before the end of his probationary period, allegedly because he’d threatened a supervisor with a knife. His white BIL, who had also worked there and who no one had known was his BIL, said he’d heard the white supervisors calling our client all kinds of racial and ethnic slurs.

      He was pretty much our star witness, and we tried very hard to get him to tell us all the bad stuff he’d been up to, since he’d started at the same time as our client and passed probation plus lasted long enough to go into the negatives on their point-based disciplinary system where you were supposed to get fired if you hit zero. They still kept him.

      But during the hearing, counsel for the company pulled out his application and asked him about his work history. It was really fun finding out he’d been in prison for attempted rape at knifepoint during his cross-examination. Especially since my partner, another very young woman, and I had been alone with him in the evening in our clinic office.

      In the end, the ALJ found in favor of our client. He didn’t believe our witness, but the fact the company kept his scummy white ass on board weighed heavily in our client’s favor in a finding that he’d been fired for discriminatory reasons.

  10. COBOL*

    I think some companies still treat resume gaps as a big deal. Not companies that have a good handle on how to hire the best people kind you, but nonetheless having a gap can be a significant hindrance.

    However those companies make it an automatic disqualifier anyway. All these “clever” solutions are based on addressing gaps in an interview.

    1. Prunella*

      I had one boss who felt they had “saved me from never getting a job in this industry again..!” because I had been unemployed for one year.
      But you know, things moved so quickly, and if you didn’t know about new regulations as they came out you would never be able to get back up to speed.
      I didn’t stay long.

    2. Hannah Lee*

      Those companies are not very savvy.

      Right now, of any time in the last 10-20 years, a LOT of people are going to have gaps due to upheaval caused by the pandemic. So having it be an auto-reject will lose some good candidates

    3. Wilbur*

      Well, if you take job postings that are either so standardized they don’t pertain the actual job role or contain 5 jobs responsibilities of job roles, combine it with resumes that do the same and you have the perfect storm.

    4. Beth*

      A gap can definitely be a hindrance–it shouldn’t be, but reality is what it is. But I don’t think it generally makes a difference to be honest. If someone is going to hold a gap against you, they probably won’t care why the gap happened.

      If you’re going to lie about it, though, trying to explain it with BS like this is hilariously off-target. It’s so much sketchier and less convincing than just saying “I was caregiving for a family member who no longer needs care” or “I was dealing with a medical issue that is now resolved” or whatever!

      1. ferrina*

        Best I ever heard-
        “I was living in [Country] training as a semi-professional [Hobby that’s very hard to turn into a career].”

        There were three of interviewers, and we were all instantly impressed and a little jealous.

        1. Lana Kane*

          Ok I’m taking a stab at it:
          “I was living in Estonia training as a semi-professional Lularoe consultant.”

          1. Tiny clay insects*

            “I was living in the Falkland Islands training as a semi-professional musical canine freestyler with my bernadoodle.”

    5. Pizza Rat*

      I think some companies still treat resume gaps as a big deal.

      Lots of them do. I find that especially annoying because companies might not call you until a couple of months after you apply, the the modern interview process takes forever these days.

      1. Econobiker*

        Companies like that typically “suck” if they don’t understand a resume gap and take months to hire. They aren’t going to get the best candidates because people don’t wait around anymore to accept offers. And resume gaps hahaha – I read about one clueless interviewer asking about why the candidate had a resume gap from April 2020 to October 2020 and not acknowledging that there was a global pandemic situation that resulted in many people losing their jobs.

        Run away from those nimrods!

  11. Juicebox Hero*

    Ugh, shades of “they have to say they’re a cop if you ask them, otherwise it’s entrapment” hooey. (It’s only entrapment if the LEO causes a person to commit a crime they weren’t otherwise planning to commit.)

    1. JustaTech*

      It’s amazing how many people believe that one! People of all ages and educational backgrounds too.
      Some people even think that a cop has to pre-emptively declare themselves a cop in a conversation. Nope.

    2. H.Regalis*

      Came to say this.

      Another one I’ve seen is, “If the cops pull you over and you have drugs in your car, put them in an envelope and write an address on it. They can’t search it because it’s illegal to open other people’s mail.”

      There’s a lot of stupid advice out there. The worst is when it comes to legal stuff, because getting that wrong can really, really wreak havoc on your life.

      1. Juicebox Hero*

        Because everyone has envelopes hanging around their car and the cop will never notice you trying to stuff something into one and write on it as they’re standing RIGHT THERE by your window.

        My town’s police department shares our building, and they’ve got some interesting stories about people who assumed they were clear because “everyone knows” this or that about law enforcement.

      2. Elsewise*

        I’ve never heard that envelope idea before, and honestly I’m straight-up tickled at the idea of someone getting pulled over and frantically stuffing weed into an envelope and addressing it. Is it mail if they haven’t put a postage stamp on it yet? Do you keep stamps in your glove box? Bubble mailers in the console for your glassware? This is frankly a delightful image.

      3. nnn*

        The weirdest thing about that is, even if it were true that the cops couldn’t open an addressed envelope, why would you frantically stuff your drugs in an envelope as you’re getting pulled over, rather than just carrying them around in an addressed envelope as a precaution in the first place?

    3. Johanna Cabal*

      I think the HR version of this type of urban legend is “it’s illegal for your previous job to give you a bad reference,” which Alison has debunked many times in the past.

      1. Jen (they/she pronouns please)*

        It’s not illegal in the USA, however as far as I know it’s true that you can’t say directly negative stuff in recommendation letters in germany. Though that just results in everyone knowing that “tried their best to do the work” also means “but unfortunately without success”, obviously saying someone tried their best is not a negative thing though so it’s okay to say. So, part of this might be caused by being in different countries actually. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot also was just not knowing it.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          This is sort of true about Germany. Recommendation letters (we don’t really do phone references) have to be “benevolent”, which is intended to mean as positive as possible while staying thruthful. You cannot just trash someone, though in theory you can write something negative if it’s the best possible spin on the truth. A court can order you to write a new letter, which is where the idea of illegality comes in.

          This system has devolved into an obscure code where “he tried” = he sucked.

  12. Lilac*

    I can’t imagine why anyone would think that “I did have a job, but I can’t tell you where it was or even give a general idea of the kind of work I did, and no you can’t contact them to verify that I even worked there” would look better to a hiring manager than just saying you were unemployed. Presumably your interviewer doesn’t just want to know if you had *a* job, but specifically what type of work it was and whether or not you were good at it.

  13. LawLady*

    I’m a lawyer working at a company, and if someone earnestly tried to tell me he had an NDA that stopped him from saying anything about a prior job, I’d assume something Really Bad happened. And like… I’d probably assume that the person did the really bad thing? Why else would a company want such a broad restriction?

    1. JustaTech*

      See, I would think that the person would be the victim/ discoverer of the Really Bad Thing, and the NDA was part of a payout or something for their silence.
      Like, if the person did the Bad Thing, why would they want to talk about it? Wouldn’t it get in the way of them getting a new job?

      1. ferrina*

        But why wouldn’t HR agree to just confirming that the person worked their and giving the dates of their employment? That’s a pretty normal protocol anyways. Why would they refuse to let the person put their company as an employer at all?

      2. LawLady*

        Well but if a person was a victim of a bad thing, the company would presumably want a release of claims and a restriction on talking about the bad thing, but would be perfectly happy for the victim to include the company on their resume.

        The only situation I could imagine a company wanting a total gag order NDA would be if someone did something horrible and the company didn’t want to ever be associated with the person.

      3. That NDA*

        JustaTech – that is the position I’m in with my NDA. I was there for 8 months before I had the brains to leave & then recount all of the illegal & unethical things the owners were doing during multiple court proceedings over numerous lawsuits against said company. I *can* list that I worked there, but since part of the business is still intact, they would be calling on one of the owners I testified against… so we have a blanket NDA that I leave it off my resume & they don’t say squat if they happen to be asked about my time there. With that job conveniently left off of my resume I have a 14 month gap, but unfortunately am leaving off a lot of things I learned & did during my time there.

  14. Kyle*

    This kind of advice reminds me of when you’re being formally documented and someone says “just don’t sign it, they can’t hold you accountable to it if you don’t sign it, as if this is some kind of fool proof way to get away with anything at work and suffer no consequences.

    1. Corelle*

      Haha yes. Our formal write-up form has a line that says signing it only signifies that it’s been shared with you, not that you agree to it. The only time I had to write someone up, and they refused to sign, I just had the other person in the room sign a statement that they were present and could confirm I’d discussed the writeup with the person being documented. Refusing accomplished nothing except making things more adversarial.

      1. Emily*

        Yeah, there is a ton of bad legal advice/beliefs floating around out there, and things like TikTok just make it easier for it to spread.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Corelle, I can cite exceptions. One infamous one – where I refused to sign – forced management to go back to HR, who questioned why I was getting a horrible review based on “attitude” after three years of generally very-good to exceptional ones.

        It gave management a chance to back away and think twice about what they were doing. AND, I would have had to have given a response, detailing an extremely vile action management had taken at me (which they didn’t want detailed).

        But that doesn’t happen often. Only once in my 50-year career. And if I detailed what happened, the review would have stood (to my detriment, and unfairly) – but in the medium term it would have gone against management.

        I won’t describe the details other than it was a threat at a personal moment when it was radically the wrong thing for my manager to do. I chalked it up to their stupidity.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Any particular reason?

      While there are bad interviewers who are judgy about what you did during the gap, that’s more an issue with the interviewer than with the question itself.

      My general experience has been that interviewers don’t make a big deal about it if you just give a straightforward answer.

      1. Pizza Rat*

        I have a few reasons I’d like to see the question go away:

        1) Some people take time off for medical issues. What those issues were are none of a prospective employer’s business
        2) Some people just need a break
        3) The modern job search process is a horrid, dehumanizing, hot mess. Some companies are asking candidates to interview five times or more to ensure “culture fit.” Fake job listings abound. Fake recruiters who only want to capture your data and sell it about. All this increases that gap
        4) Some people might have had family issues that are painful to talk about–the death of a loved one, moving an elderly person into a care home, caregiving. All these things are emotionally fraught, which is not a state you want to show in an interview. It’s also none of the interviewer’s business.

        1. Despachito*

          IDK. I think it is reasonable to expect that an adult would be able to explain the gap in a very general way (I was dealing with some health issues in my family which have now been resolved) during an interview without breaking down. It seems absurd that employers should be afraid to ask about the gap for fear of disturbing the candidate.

          No specifics or private information has to be revealed, just the fact that the candidate was not sitting on their couch playing games and twiddling their thumbs.

          1. Gerry Keay*

            Agreed. I think if anything, making resume gaps taboo would make them… well… more taboo! Getting folks to accept that there are many common reasons for taking a break from work feels like it gets at the root issue more than just disallowing the question, no?

          2. CommanderBanana*

            I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking a break from work to sit on your couch and play games or thumb twiddle. That actually sounds like a pretty healthy way to avoid burnout.

            1. Pizza Rat*

              I don’t either and I don’t think anyone should be judged for it, and interviews are all about judging someone’s experience.

              I think a lot of people need to get away from the mindset of, “If you don’t have some kind of way to make money, then you don’t deserve to live in society as an equal to me.”

              Ultimately for me though, it comes down to Nunya Bizness.

            2. Despachito*

              Yes, I think you are right. It takes me some time to change this mindset (that not working is sort of a bad sign, and doing nothing is a shame).

              After all, they are asking about your experience, not about your non-experience, and if you were indeed just twiddling your thumbs it will change nothing about the experience you DO have.

              But this is one more reason why a gap in your resume should be something nobody is afraid to ask about, and you are not afraid to answer.

      2. Zee*

        Two reasons:
        1. It forces you to disclose potentially prejudicial information, like if you have kids or are disabled.
        2. It’s none of their business! You’re there to talk about why you’re qualified for the job and your work history. What you were doing outside of work isn’t relevant. (And if it was – then that’s on you to bring up, or include on your resume, if it was volunteer work or something like that.)

        1. 1-800-BrownCow*

          I agree. I once interviewed a person who felt they needed to explain a gap in their resume. I hadn’t asked and their explanation was reasonable (caring for a close family member going through cancer treatment). The interviewee shared this with everyone else on my team that they interviewed with and ultimately did not get the job because others on the team were “concerned they’d easily quit” if other life situations arose. The manager for this team had an attitude that the best employees are those who will stay working at the company for their entire career and refused to hire anyone they deemed a flight risk. It was frustrating because we turned down a large number of great candidates just because it seemed like they might not stay long-term. What’s funny now is most of the team no longer works at that company, including the manager.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            ^^ THANK you. This.

            Oh, you left the workforce to have kids? Well, you’ll just get pregnant and leave again. Oh, you left because you were taking care of a sick relative? You’ll probably do it again. You decided to take time off because of burnout? You’re not reliable. You had enough money to not work for a while? What’s wrong with you that you chose not to work? You were living overseas because your spouse is military or their job moved them? Well, you’ll just leave again.

      3. pally*

        Agree. With one exception. My old boss had an uncanny ability to read through a resume, and instantly pick up on gaps.
        We were hiring for an entry level lab tech position. The resumes are going to be from folks who were students. And most likely held down a number of part time jobs. There’s going to be a lot of overlap with jobs and school.
        My boss would zero in on, say, a 3-month time where the candidate had one part-time job. So he would ask what they were doing for the rest of the time. And he would continue in this fashion, picking apart the resume timeline. For what purpose, I can’t say.

        I remember thinking, hey, let’s look at their educational background. We’re gonna train for everything we want them to know.

        I also thought he was a real jerk to do this.

        1. Champagne Cocktail*

          I agree. I knew plenty of kids in college whose parents would not permit them to take even a part-time job because the focus was to be on studying.

          If you’e interviewing new grads, of course you look at their education, and that overlap you mention should be a given. Also part-time jobs can be loaded wtih transferable skills.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          Yup. I had a security clearance and the level required a work history of 10 years AND you had to explain any periods of unemployment. I was less than a year out of grad school, so it meant that my background investigator had to call all of these piddly retail jobs I had, plus I had to have my parents verify that I was indeed unemployed when I was 14-16 because I was in school. I was in my early 20s. The form didn’t allow for “I was unemployed because I was a literal child.”

          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            In the 1980s, my father was a principal in an elementary, K-8 public school.

            Massachusetts law said that schools had to retain school records for (I think at the time) 66 years. A man – who had been a student in the school in the late 1920s. And he was probably in his mid-60s at the time but he needed his school records for a security clearance.

            With no-cost electronic archiving, the requirements now, in many states, are as long as 100 years, or even in perpetuity.

            1. Pat*

              Well, it’s not cost because electronic storage is paid for by somebody. But it’s a lot less hassle than storing paper files!

      4. Alex*

        Because it would normalize “Work is not the center of my entire being” instead of the “If you aren’t working for pay, you better have a good reason, buster!” culture we live in now.

        If you aren’t working for pay–who cares? What difference does it make if you were caring for a sick person, undergoing a medical procedure, traveling the world, or taking a break from the rat race while watching cat videos on your couch?

        1. Katara's side braids*

          This x100000. I’m not in a place where I can afford to have a months-long “unproductive” gap, but I hope to get there someday. It drives me nuts when the “reassurance” regarding resume gaps boils down to either “of course they’ll understand that you had an ailing relative/new baby/relocated spouse!” or “don’t worry, here are ways that you can make your planned work gap about work, instead of taking an actual break!”

          If I were ever fortunate enough to take several (or more!) months off of work, would I end up using a huge chunk of that time to gain new knowledge and skills? Almost certainly. But if what I really needed was a long break to recover and do mostly “unproductive” things, AND I had the means to do it, what exactly would be the problem? It just feels like a classic example of “live to work” rather than “work to live,” and I hate it.

          1. Sleve*

            If I were ever fortunate enough to take several (or more!) months off of work, would I end up using a huge chunk of that time to gain new knowledge and skills? Almost certainly.

            Same, but in my dream the skills would be totally non-work related things like how to plant and properly care for a vegetable garden, or portrait drawing. It would be great if that was considered just as valid a choice as using the time to learn Python. I’m not saying it should be considered equally useful to my work skill set, but equally valid from a moral standpoint would be nice.

      5. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        I’m with CommanderBanana. Why does an interviewer need to know? HAVING a gap on a resume might or might not be important in some industries — IDK maybe tech — but most of the time the answer about WHY isn’t really informative to the job, and is mostly used to discriminate against candidates. Asking about gaps perpetuates the attitude that family care, injury and illness (including mental illness or addiction), an inability or lack of desire to take any job regardless of pay or job duties, moving to follow a spouse, homelessness, getting out of a domestic violence situation, military service, taking a gap year to travel/garden/surf/meditate/missionary work … are all shameful and should never happen.

    2. A Person*

      I agree! As an interviewer I rarely find information about the gap is useful to me. Generally answers to this fall into 2 categories:
      * Family thing / medical thing / immigration / etc – frankly if anything I probably didn’t want to know about this and I don’t want more details
      * Job search took a long time – maaaaaybe this is a sign that the candidate isn’t strong, but maybe they want to find the right position / the job market was bad / etcetera. My interview process should catch this

      Especially in my industry (tech) where people move around a lot, there are a lot of layoffs that aren’t the fault of the person, etc gaps and “why did you leave your last job” generally doesn’t give me signal and sometimes tells me protected class things I’d rather *not* know about.

      1. Lana Kane*

        I stopped asking that question when I was interviewing people. I asked it at first as a newbie supervisor, thinking it was something I should ask, and quickly learned that it didn’t ultimately matter. Were they going to tell me me,”I did awful things at a job I didn’t disclose and got fired”?

      2. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, tech has had some nasty low spots in the last 25 years (2000 – 2002, 2008 – 2010, 2020 – 2022.) Low enough that I have several one or two years gaps on my resume. Yes, I have a harder time getting work when doing in-person interviews because I’m disabled. The bias is there, just impossible to prove. My average contract duration is one year, my average perm is about three years.

      3. Gumby*

        My longest gap was mostly a ‘I still had savings and hate job hunting so didn’t bother for a while’ thing. I like actually working way more than looking for work. So I am absolutely a lazy job *hunter* but a conscientious and productive job *doer*.

    3. lost academic*

      This is nice in theory in that I’d like to see it not being immediately assumed to be a problem, but many fields need to understand the nature of a gap as it relates to the work you’re being asked to do. In my field, we have a lot of constantly changing regulation and technology – depending on the length of the gap in your resume, and where it occurred relative to now, I need to understand how up to speed you are and conversant in the existing changes – and yes, it’s important in what we do to be immediately familiar depending on your role, not the kind of thing where we have the time for you to look everything up. I need to know what I might be getting and how quickly you’ll be up to speed and that’s why I’d need to know more about a gap – but anyone I’d be interviewing really should understand how to address it because they’d understand the nature of the job in the first place.

      1. Zee*

        Then you ask them questions to determine how up to speed they are with recent changes. Whether or not they were on maternity leave or taking a year off to live the van life doesn’t matter, and the response “I was on maternity leave” doesn’t actually tell you anything about whether they were keeping up on their skills during that time or not.

      2. Lisa*

        Even then as the interviewer you don’t need to know or ask why the gap happened or what they were doing in general. If the gap is prior to their current job, it’s probably not relevant at all. If it’s a current gap instead what you might ask is something like “what have you done during that time to stay current in this industry”.

      3. ferrina*

        I’m torn on this. I do like to know why 6+ month gaps exist. I generally don’t care about a few months here and there- it’s super normal for employment gaps to last a few months. I also wouldn’t ask if the gap was 2020-2022; the economy explains that pretty clearly.

        Pre-2020, I would ask about longer gaps because I wanted to know the context they were coming from. To me, a career tells a story about what experiences you’ve had and where your strengths are. Caretaking tells a different story than someone who has traveled the world, and each of those bring different strengths with them. I’ve done both, and hearing how the candidate describes it will tell me a lot about their world view and values. It may also tell me about their strengths. I get a ton of information about candidates from casual conversation. My profession benefits from someone who can hold a lot of viewpoints simultaneously, and casual or non-work conversation is often a better way to evaluate this than work experience. People don’t stop being perceptive or empathetic when they’re off the clock. Sure, they might pause for a few hours, but it tends to come out in other ways.

        That said, do I actually need to know? No, I don’t. And I don’t think I’ve ever learned anything from this conversation that I didn’t also get from other parts of the conversation. But certain things have come through clearer in this part of the convo. The biggest thing I tend to learn is how strong their entitlement is- the few cases I can think of where it was useful was with newer grads to understand if they thought of a job as something they were entitled to, something that they were lucky to have, or something that was (theoretically) an equal exchange. If it’s the first one, they generally aren’t someone who is great to work with.

  15. NaoNao*

    I’ve seen this terrible advice being extended to salary as well.

    Any savvy and functional employer/interviewer is going to be aware that an NDA is highly unlikely to have covered a) the very existence of the job and b) the salary. An NDA is (like “hostile workplace”) a functionally narrow item but people love to throw that term around when advising others. It’s the “you should sue them!” of the 2020s.

    1. Blue police box*

      This one I disagree with. For example, in private equity/venture capital, a lot of your compensation beyond entry level is a share of carried interest. The method for allocating that carried interest can indeed by highly proprietary to individual firms.

      1. NaoNao*

        That’s a pretty extreme corner case. And you aren’t revealing the method by giving a range, giving a “ballpark” or even explaining “My base salary was X and I had a generous bonus”. I also doubt the interviewer is going to spend any amount of time doing the math “well, let’s see, my candidate said they were making $200k so according to these public documents, that must mean their carried interest is…”

        I would also assume that in the case of PE/VC, that’s a known issue and concern, and saying “As you know, the exact numbers and how our company got there is under an NDA but I can say I was in the X range”

        Finally, the advice is talking about average-Joe jobs and comp, like an admin assistant who wants to go from 50k to 75k and doesn’t want her previous salary to be a sticking point so she blurts out “I signed an NDA!” when they ask her “what was your previous salary” or similar.

  16. BellyButton*

    This is the answer I have given when asked about the one large gap I have “I am (was) in a very privileged place to be able to make sure that my next position is exactly the right fit for myself, team, and company. Which is what led me to applying for this position…. {reasons}”

    It has always been met with enthusiasm.

    1. ferrina*

      Beautiful! I love how you cover that 1) you understand that this is a privileged position (we love self-awareness and perceptiveness); 2) you used the time to understand your values and think critically (both skills I love in a candidate); and 3) you actively want this position for reasons.

  17. Skippy*

    I think it doesn’t help that there are a fair number of career advisors who act as if having a gap on your resume means you’ll never work again, which leads people to think they need to go to extreme measures to cover up the gap. Yes, there are some hiring managers who still think any gaps in your resume mean you’re automatically a bad worker, but in my experience, most of them are more concerned about whether you can do the job.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Seriously. I feel like it shouldn’t be anyone else’s business why I wasn’t employed for X amount of time. Especially because the answer is often having children or being sick / taking care of sick people, and I feel like that’s forcing you to disclose information that could be used to discriminate against you.

      I wouldn’t have a problem with someone asking how I was keeping current with X technology, or if I was doing other relevant projects during that time, but just asking why I wasn’t employed? It’s not your business if I took a year off to have kids or travel or take care of a dying parent or join the circus and be a contortionist.

    2. Student*

      This varies by employment rates. Right now, unemployment is very low, so employers are not going to nitpick every little thing on a resume, AND employment gaps are generally shorter. Plus, the pandemic knocked everything out of norms, so you could hand-waive any gap from March 2020 through probably all of 2022 as pandemic-related shenanigans out of your control, and it’d be hard to argue about it.

      When unemployment was high, and we didn’t have experience with a pandemic to soften everyone up about employment gaps, then you’d find that employers did put a high premium on people who currently had jobs, and would nitpick any type of resume gap at all. That wasn’t necessarily good practice, but because unemployment was much higher, most hiring managers could afford to just not to take a risk on employment gaps at all because they often had plenty of qualified applicants with no gaps.

    3. Lorgar*

      This is relieving to hear, honestly, as someone who grew up being told any kind of gap or firing meant you were unhireable until the end of time. Not that it’s easy to get hired with a gap – I have a three year gap in my employment six years ago and I expect it to stay hard to get hired if I ever decide to leave my current company – but the knowledge that it can be a non-issue is good to hear anyway.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        So was I. My parents were both career military and truly didn’t understand that people get laid off and/or fired all. the. time. They’d literally never worked in any civilian jobs. Now, I know SO many people who were laid off or fired. I’ve even had coworkers who were justly fired for cause, like inappropriate behavior in the workplace, and waltzed right into new jobs.

  18. Millennial.Manager92*

    The TikTok in question is from a podcast that labels themselves a “comedy storytelling podcast”

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      That disclaimers reminds of something I saw once. A comedian talking about a disclaimer on novelty sunglasses for children. They had battery operated windshield wipers on them. And they were for entertainment purposes only, not for wearing in the sun or rain. Do not walk or run while wearing.
      Because yeah, that will happen.

  19. kiki*

    Saying there was some big top-secret NDA also wouldn’t make sense for a lot of positions or career paths. So if somebody were applying at my job to be a pastry chef and then they said “my last job was so top-secret that I can’t even tell you it existed or for how long due to my NDA,” I’d be really confused. What ultra top-secret baking was being done?

    1. AnonORama*

      Maybe baking for a celebrity or high-ranking politician, or a member of a royal family? I know this isn’t really the point, but thinking about secret baking jobs was amusing!

      1. kiki*

        Even for a celebrity or high-ranking politician, the baker would genuinely be able to put on their resume “Private Chef/Baker” with some dates associated even if they never mention the famous person they baked for.

    2. Electric Pangolin*

      I’d be wondering if they were off doing some ‘baking’ for the now-infamous catering company Wagner Group…

  20. Student*

    I have actually worked on classified projects, material, and on various NDAs. The TicTok advice is not how you do it! At all!

    So, if you do try to implement this advice, know that you will stick out like the sorest of thumbs to anybody who has any experience at all in such things. You will only fool your fellow fools.

    With classified work, you can often give a broad outline of what kind of work you’re doing. There’s usually plenty of unclassified parts of a classified project, or at least general tasks you can talk about. The more classified the work is, and the more interested the interviewer is, then you might need to take a pause and let them know you’re thinking about how to answer that due to some sensitivities before you just say something. Generally, it’s good practice to think this through ahead of time and make sure you have unclassified talking points you can go over for each job and project. The majority of such projects will already have unclassified talking points that they use to advertise their work in unclassified spaces, or brag about internal achievements, or whatnot.

    There are some projects so sensitive that you would avoid talking about them at all. But usually, you do not spend an entire career (or even a full work year) doing just that. If you do only this level of work, then you know you need to develop connections and references that will help pave over the lack of details that you can give when you interview. You probably will have a career where you don’t bother ever doing traditional interviews – you move by reputation, networking, and direct insider familiarity with your work products. That is very much the realm of the Good Ol’ Boys club.

    Sometimes, it’s reasonable (depending on a LOT of details) to even take part of the interview into a classified space to talk more about your work, as long as your interviewer has a reasonable need-to-know. That is unlikely in industry jobs, but can happen in government or some government-contractor jobs.

    NDAs should be taken seriously, but they’re always about protecting specific details, and so there are always things that you can talk about more generally. For an example, one of my projects assessed a bunch of equipment against some government standards to see if it worked correctly. We have an NDA that protects mainly the identity of the vendors that participate in tests and their individual system results from the general public. So, I can’t say something like “Teapots Incorporated had tea spouts that failed to meet common industry standards.” I can say that we tested teapots, and that we tested against the industry standard for spout compliance. I can go into detail about how those tests were conducted and what I did – analysis, project management, etc. I can even say we ran into examples of devices that failed. I just can’t say which teapots failed, who made them, etc.

  21. Sic Transit Vir*

    Even my partner, who once worked a job where you needed literal “top secret” security clearance just to get in the building, can still list it on his resume. The wording he used had to be vetted before he left, but it still has his job title and broad strokes about the kind of work he was doing. So all that to say, not even being able to talk about the existence of a job sounds completely ridiculous (and I’m glad to see in the comments that it was a joke… though I’m sure some folks might still take it as advice!)

    1. Goose*

      Yep. I work in DC, and am around folks with a variety of security clearance levels. No one has ever said NDA to me.

  22. Pizza Rat*

    The suggestion to lie about having an NDA is all over work-related forums. I agree it’s a terrible idea.

    While I love that Allison says, “Gaps aren’t some grievous sin that you must cover up at all costs”, my experience doesn’t bear that out. I spent most of a year doing some intense job hunting and interviewing. The bigger that gap got, the more side-eyes I got, the more demands I got to account for my time not working (never mind that the job market slows to a crawl from Thanksgiving to the end of Janauary and again while people are on their summer vacations).

    I usually told them a) I’m looking for the right job, not just any job b) I’ve been taking courses via LinkedIn learning (free from my public library) and c) I wrote a novel.

    Some employers think that if you have any kind of gap, that means you’re unemployable. It’s a big wall to knock over.

    1. Lisa Simpson*

      A number of applicant tracking systems will automatically punt people with gaps into the trashbin.

      I found this out when I applied to a few jobs where someone I knew referred me to the opening and followed up with the hiring manager. They never received it and had to call HR to fish it out of the digital trashbin.

      1. I Have RBF*

        That’s a poorly configured ATS, then, or it was configured by people who have the out of date idea that any gap is bad.

      2. Pizza Rat*


        It is so hard to get your resume in front of a human these days.

        I wonder how big the gap the decision-maker decided was too big to be worth considering.

  23. CheesePlease*

    I can see this being tempting advice for a multi-year gap, but it makes no sense for a shorter gap (4-6 months).

    “I see you left your job at The Llama Depot in June and that you started at Llamas Llama Everywhere the following January. Can you talk to me about that gap? Were you just looking for a job?”

    “No, actually. I was under an NDA so I can’t talk about it”

    “An NDA related to leaving Llama Depot or for a different company where you only worked a few months?”

    “I can’t say. Because of the NDA”

  24. Salsa Your Face*

    This is hilarious to me because I literally have an employment gap on my resume that I was literally filling with freelance work covered by an NDA (actually, several NDAs). And I handle it exactly the way Alison suggests, by stating that I was self employed and sharing the kind of work I did.

    I’m happy to tell any interviewer that I was consulting with big companies in the Llamasphere, helping them develop new Llama-related products and services. I will gladly go into extensive detail on all of the skills and tools that type of work required. I just won’t tell anyone WHICH Llamasphere companies I worked with or what Llama products they might expect to see on the market. And absolutely no one I interviewed with ever had a problem with it.

    1. Zee*

      That shouldn’t be a gap on your resume though. You can put something like “freelance consultant” on there.

      1. Salsa Your Face*

        Exactly! Which is why it’s a bad idea to explain a real employment gap by making up a fake story about an NDA. Because even if the NDA story were true, there would still be something they could put on their resume about it. I probably should have put quotation marks around my first use of “employment gap” in my original post, so I’m sorry if that made my point unclear.

  25. KayDee*

    I have been seeing more and more panic over gaps in resumes lately. I don’t know where the idea that any gap at all will prevent you from ever being hired again comes from. I saw a reddit post the other day, I wish I had taken a screenshot, but including details here to the best of my memory. The person had been let go, with 2 week notice from the company. The person had not even worked out their last 2 weeks yet, and was in a panic over the fact they would never find a job in 2 weeks. From what they posted, the concern was not that they were living paycheck to paycheck, but that they were believed that any gap that ended up happing because of this would make it hard to be hired going forward. I read their message to be “they should allow us to work long enough to find something without a gap” when in actuality, often times you don’t get to work at all once you find out. I felt so bad for the person, because in a situation where they have plenty to worry about, they were adding to it with worry that a perfectly normal career occurrence would prevent them from ever being hired again.

    1. Bee*

      I wonder if this is because a lot more people suddenly have gaps for pandemic-related reasons? And if they’re struggling to find a job now, they might be looking for reasons other than “the job market has gotten bad for a lot of people lately,” because that’s not something you can fix. And with more people landing on this as the problem because it’s the first time they’re seeing it, you’re going to start getting a lot of ambient panic around resume gaps.

    2. Lorgar*

      Mine came from my family and extended relatives. I touched on it later, but I and my younger relatives had it drilled into our heads that firings, gaps, and other “not acceptable” behavior made it impossible to be hired, ever, for anything ever again. I had cousins who got fired from service jobs when young who then went on to lie about it because they fully believed they would never, ever be able to get jobs for the rest of their lives. Very much a “managers don’t forgive or forget, so you better be perfect or you’re worthless.”

      For the record, pandemic-related gaps have started causing family members to panic about how they’re “never going to find work again” and occasionally not looking for work because “I’m not eligible to be hired again, why bother.” I fully expect to see someone mention this Tiktok next time we all gather together…

      1. CommanderBanana*

        ^^ This. My parents were very much of the “your only worth is your productivity and if you ever stop for even a second, the world will implode because you are worthless.” They were also extreme workaholics who had only ever been in the military. It took me a while to realize that a) their mindset is toxic and is literally killing them and b) their career advice is completely worthless because I’m not in the military.

        1. Lorgar*

          Yep, same here! Older family members all had been in the military and most had government or military-related jobs and no experience outside it, as well as some general toxic beliefs about work. It has had a really terrible effect on the younger generation within the family.

  26. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    Now I’m imagining an applicant who is genuinely covered by an NDA… which prohibits disclosing the existence of the NDA.

  27. Ellis Bell*

    So, in my field of education you do have to exhaustively list everything you’ve ever done since leaving high school and you really do have to explain even tiny career breaks. You don’t have to do this on your main resume, which you can save for the highlights and relevant experience, but you do need a separate everything-included timeline list which most schools insist on for safeguarding reasons. This is usually part of an application form and it’s used to spot people who’ve spent time in prison, or who’ve been fired for concerns relating to safeguarding. I have a gap of a few months on mine, purely because I felt like some time off, and it’s never been an issue. It would certainly become an issue if I got all squirrelly and tried to blag that it was because of an NDA.

  28. Cj*

    I had an NDA from a former job that I was let go from. they had violated my FMLA. I sued and won. I had the job on my resume, but I wasn’t even allowed to acknowledge the existence of the NDA. that was real fun for the next couple of jobs when they asked why I left.

  29. RCB*

    I left a job recently and they tried to get me to sign an NDA that had a provision saying that I couldn’t even acknowledge that the NDA existed. I didn’t sign the NDA, but I did say “you realize that provision makes no sense right, the whole point of an NDA is to say it exists so I can’t talk about anything else surrounding this.” So, even companies are stupid sometimes when it comes to what NDAs can and can’t (or should and shouldn’t) do.

  30. RedinSC*

    I’d tell you about it all, but then I’d have to kill you – I’m sure that would go over really well in an interview!

  31. Michelle Smith*

    I’m really glad someone wrote in about this because I’ve been seeing people on social media taking this joke post seriously. Now I have something to refer my connections to when I see this crop up again.

  32. BellyButton*

    We have to make a pact– if someone uses this is in interview you have to call them out on it “you know this is from a joke podcast on TikTok.” and then you have to come here to tell us about it!

  33. GenXForever*

    My son was telling me about this and we decided that a better “all purpose” answer to questions about gaps in a resume would be “late stage capitalism.” Covers a wide range of reasons for gaps: being laid off, not being able to find a job, caring for a new baby or sick/disabled/ elderly family member, addressing one’s own mental health… the list goes on!

    1. CommanderBanana*

      Love this. My answer to pretty much everything now is “well, maybe because we’re all dying under late-stage capitalism?”

    2. Peanut Hamper*


      I mean, if we’re all depressed and anxious (and whatever) it’s much less likely that there is something wrong will all of us and much more likely that there is something wrong with the system that we are living under. When I am viewed only as the monetary value I can bring to (completely anonymous and invisible) shareholders, that is utterly demoralizing and dehumanizing.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Yeah, like, I live in America where we’re having global warming weather impacts, our government is melting down, our wealth inequality is reaching Gilded Age levels, mass gun violence is rampant, state governments are shredded the pathetic remnants of worker protections we had, women’s healthcare is being decimated, schools are unsafe, medical debt is the #1 cause of bankruptcy, the housing market is insane, I likely won’t get any Social Security by the time I retire, and I’m someone with a pretty significant amount of privilege and I still feel like I’m barely making it even though I work two jobs, have no children, and own a home (that I can barely afford at this point because my property taxes have skyrocketed, everything is more expensive, and my salary hasn’t kept up with inflation).

    3. Blue police box*

      My son was telling me about this and we decided that a better “all purpose” answer to questions about gaps in a resume would be “late stage capitalism.”

      I’m unsure whether this advice is serious or meant as a parody, but in the event it’s the former: if I heard that in an interview, your candidacy would be over, then and there. It tells me you’re an ideologue.

      There is no such thing as “late stage capitalism”; there is just capitalism. Complaining about “late stage capitalism” like complaining about “late stage gravity.”

      Late stage? We’re just getting started.

      1. amoeba*

        Huh? So that argument would tell me that you think the current extremes are… normal for capitalism itself? Valid viewpoint, sure, but definitely not a *pro-capitalism* argument!

        (That said, I wouldn’t actually use the answer in an interview, except maybe in a joking way for a position where I’d expect people to agree with my general views – like social work or something, maybe.)

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        There is an entire subreddit devoted to Late Stage Capitalism.

        Given that capitalism is actively destroying the environment, and the entire planet may be unlivable in a hundred years or so, yes I would definitely call this late stage capitalism.

        1. Blue police box*

          There is also an entire subreddit devoted to Star Trek Lower Decks, but that doesn’t mean the show is any good, although it definitely is late stage Star Trek.

    4. metadata minion*

      About halfway through pandemic lockdown, my partner and I started using “supply chain issues” as an reason for everything. Store out of eggs? Supply chain issues. Late for work? Supply chain issues. Haven’t cleaned the toilet? Supply chain issues.

      Gap in the resume? Supply chain issues.

      (joke, obvs)

  34. Unkempt Flatware*

    I thought you were supposed to say you worked at Circuit City. Now we can say Bed, Bath and Beyond.

  35. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    I’ve been reading all the comments and they are awesome across the board.
    But I think my ultimate take away from this question is: “If the answer is, LIE you are asking the wrong person the question.”

  36. Joseph*

    I once interviewed someone who had been in the armed forces for a few years and although they could say what they’d done – logistics like getting things in the places that they should be when the needed to be – they couldn’t officially say where they were posted.

  37. AreYouBeingServed?*

    In many fields, a better response (to explain awkward gaps – as Allison said, not all require this kind of gymnastics) is to say you were doing consulting. I (and others I know) have our own little LLCs in case we ever actually do want to do some solo-practitioner consulting, and if you are in fields where this makes sense (IT, privacy, specialized management) it’s easy enough to say “Yes, I was doing consulting through my own small consulting firm. Obviously, I can’t tell you who my clients were, but I’d be happy to explain the kind of work I was doing.”

    I’ve done this before, and it worked well.

  38. HailRobonia*

    In high school I had a friend whose dad had a Job That Could Not Be Named. None of us know what he did, we mostly speculated government intelligence. In his home office there was a landline phone under a plastic case that was always locked – my friend said it never rang and we always speculated it connected to the Batphone.

    I later decided that the phone will ring if anyone removes the “do not remove under penalty of law” from the underside of a mattress.

  39. Colorado*

    Anything that starts with “I’ve seen this on TikTok” is a big no for me. I’m old and TikTok is the devil ;-)

  40. Lorgar*

    Maybe this is sad to say, but I can see my teen self believing this.

    Growing up, I was told that if you were ever fired, for any reason, you would never, ever be able to get a job again. Your resume would be automatically rejected by job application programs or email filters. No one would look at your resume, no one would call you to interview you, no one would be your reference because you’d been fired. So some of my cousins who had service industry jobs and got fired did buy into stuff about lying about their jobs because they genuinely believed that they were forever damaged by that firing.

    It was part of a whole list of things that my family said were unforgiveable sins that would make you un-hireable ever again:
    – resume gap of a month or more
    – ever having a job that was not in line with the field you were in
    – being laid off for any reason

    It was such an easy thing to find wasn’t true – I had a mental health issue and was unemployed for three years. It wasn’t easy to get back into the workforce, but I did it and I’m happier now that I no longer believe a single correction on my work by my boss meant I couldn’t use them as a reference for the rest of eternity.

    I wonder if the people using this Tiktok advice had been taught like I was – that you couldn’t make a single mistake on your work life or you’d be un-hireable, ever again.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      *fist-bump of solidarity*

      It took my parents seeing me go through two work-related-mental breakdowns to finally STFU with their career “advice” that is pretty much “immolate yourself, your relationships and your mental health on the altar of overwork or you are a bad, lazy, worthless person.”

      Which is hilarious because I work 2 jobs, I have worked multiple jobs most of my working life, plus a lot of volunteering, but somehow being unwilling to stay at an office for 24 hours straight to work – yes, that happened to me – means I’m a no-good, terrible, lazy person who doesn’t know how easy they have it.

  41. LCH*

    having actually had two jobs with NDAs, side eye. maybe there are some out there that are so restrictive you can’t say anything at all, but mine I can at least reference my employer, my position, my dates, and generally discuss my job. I just can’t specifically reference any client or project names or go into specifics that would give away whatever is being kept confidential.

  42. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I had an NDA from my previous job.

    I could still confirm my dates of employment. I could discuss the technologies we disclosed to the public (it’s not privileged information to know what generated a PDF when that PDF has a “creator” tag in its plaintext bytecode). I could disclose my supervisor’s name and the generalities of my role.

    What I couldn’t disclose was specific: pricing structure, clientele names/lists, suppliers & supply-side costs. Anything that would provide a competitor with an advantage in competing for customers.

    The simplest debunk of the premise is that the hiring manager can ask you to detail the NDA that doesn’t exist.

  43. NDANotCredible*

    I had an NDA that prevented me from disclosing the type of medical device I worked on or any of the specifics of how it worked but I was able to tell folks the company name, that it was a medical device, and the specifics of the type of work I was responsible for performing during the device development process.

    Even when I interviewed at or worked at places where clearances were required they were able to tell me a lot of specifics about what they were doing. I just couldn’t access the real data without a clearance at the job (I got laid off before the clearance came through) and, in the case of interviews, every so often got a “sorry, we can’t say” answer to a question and, in one case, was told it wasn’t allowed when I asked for a tour of the office (which I do at every first in person interview) but I was given more than enough information to understand the type of work I’d be doing and assess whether it interested me.

    If someone tried to claim they couldn’t tell me anything at all about a job to the point of not including it on a resume because of an NDA I don’t think I’d believe them.

  44. Peanut Hamper*

    “I’m under an NDA. I can’t discuss it. But I was in charge of physical document security at an exclusive Florida resort. By the way, where is the bathroom?”

  45. Garblesnark*

    Honestly the wild thing about the NDA advice is that if you’re committed to telling a fake story about the gap on your resume, you can just say you worked somewhere that went out of business & get a buddy to pretend to be your former supervisor. And as long as you can talk coherently about the work you’re pretending to have done and you have your story straight with your buddy, you’ll be fine.

    Like. There are easy ways out of this.

  46. Nothing Happening Here*

    At my last job, I actually had to sign an NDA and part of the wording was that I can NEVER say anything about the company within certain parameters. So 20 years from today if anyone asks me about XYZ company I am still constrained by that NDA.

  47. ina*

    You already got an interview. They think you’re qualified. They likely want to hire you more than they don’t. WHY LIE AND TANK IT? Just be honest! Or as close to a professional honest as possible (meaning you don’t have to say you were burnt out and your spouse supported you – you can say you were working on skills development…honestly, working out your burnout is a skill in effective approaches to work!)

    If someone is willing to lie about an NDA rather than just tell me something more plausible, I would be concerned about their honesty.

  48. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

    I used to be very worried about job gaps, but then I wondered, where are all these people who got fired once or took time off and are now “unhireable?”

    1. Lorgar*

      Maybe that’s the true origin of Bigfoot. Got fired, couldn’t get hired, bought a cool fluffy coat and walked into the woods.

  49. RagingADHD*

    The books I’ve ghostwritten were actually under a real-life NDA, and I can still say what type of work I did, what subjects I wrote about, what agencies I contracted with, some of the results that my clients accomplished with my work product, answer questions about working with the team, and “tell-me-about-a-time-when” behavioral questions. I can even give samples as long as I redact the title and the client’s name.

    It’s surprising that the coworker — or anyone, really — would take such blatantly silly / satirical advice seriously or pass it along as an interview tip.

  50. Tottenham*

    I’ve met a couple folks who work directly for Silicon Valley execs and have set ups like this. No acknowledgment of who they work for or what they do.

  51. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    Avoiding an interviewer’s question by saying you’re under NDA? Rookie move.

    Avoiding an interviewer’s question by saying, “Under advice from my attorney, I cannot answer that question.” = next level

    (As I hope is obvious, this is a satirical remark.)

  52. TwentyNiner*

    Lawyer here. I’ve got an NDA in place for three previous roles. One NDA was due to dealing with very sensitive IP in my work, and another covers a government role where I handled very sensitive matters relating to my security clearance.

    But my first NDA is the one I believe is most representative of how and why NDAs are most commonly used, and that’s to cover up serious errors made by employers or managers that caused the worker detriment or harm. This includes, but isn’t limited to, bullying, harassment, wage theft, unlawful dismissal, discrimination, and so on.

  53. Testerbert*

    I’ve only heard about claiming an NDA blocked you from sharing details with regards to previous pay levels as a way of shutting down an interviewer trying to underpay you. “I’m sorry, but I’ve signed an NDA covering my previous compensation package, but I’m looking for X going forwards” etc. Claiming an NDA stops you mentioning anything to do with a whole role seems too vast to be believable, but given the corporate omerta about pay (“Oh, pay is private, we don’t talk about it here….” etc) an NDA surrounding it is far more plausible especially in a world where a lot of businesses keep discovering that they’ve been discriminating against people via unequal pay even if you weren’t negatively impacted by it.

    Still, even this is a gamble / last ditch tool to try and move the conversation on from previous pay if the interviewer is insistent. It likely won’t help, as if they are so insistent they’ll be the sort of employer who’ll bin your application for not supplying the info.

  54. Alix*

    Is it possible they meant non-compete and not NDA to explain a gap? For example, my doctor left for a new clinic but had to take an 8-month hiatus due to a non-compete clause.

  55. Tiger Snake*

    I mean, its like if you have a service dog. No, the company can’t refuse you service, and while they can ask what its for you can refuse – but they can ask that you explain what specific services the dog provides for you. That’s not going to breach your right to medical privacy – so if you don’t want to answer, that can be the excuse you give.

  56. Widget Executive*

    In this situation you could just say you were caring for a terminally ill relative and handling their estate rather than go the NDA route.

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