Column, July 1st 2011

Q: My last job didn’t end well for me. I found my boss impossible to work with and eventually I left. It has meant I have been out of work for the last four months. How should I portray this on my CV? (John, email, Tuam, Galway)

A: First off, leave no hostages to fortune – for the last four months, I would put down something like ‘Unemployed – actively seeking work.’ If you’ve done some extra training in that time, or upskilled yourself in any way, I would show that too.

When you get to interview stage, show how you used the four months to prepare yourself for the next phase of your career.

If you’re asked why you left your last job, be very straight too: say that you differed from your boss as to how the company should progress, and that you left because you couldn’t see it working out well.

Don’t start to replay the drama of the scenario. Don’t try to get them to agree with you, or to see your side of the story exclusively. The whole thing is a tricky situation for you to handle, but the best thing to do is to give enough information so that you can’t be accused of covering something up.

However, you should balance it by saying that you have always had a good employment record, or a good relationship with employers, if these are true. Everyone has a bad experience every now and then.

Show that you’ve put it behind you, and that you are now ready for the next challenge. Illustrate that you carry no baggage.

Q: What should I say if the interviewer asks me to talk about my greatest weakness? (Mary, email, Castlebar, Co. Mayo)

A: Our experience is that fewer and fewer interviewers are asking this question.

Virtually everyone has learned how to deal with this question in an almost clichéd way. The trick here is to reveal a ‘weakness’ that is actually a ‘strength.’

So you might say that “sometimes I am obsessive about getting things absolutely right, but I’m working to correct this.” This conjures up images of you working late into the evening. With weaknesses like that, who needs strengths?

Or you might say that “I can be a poor delegator”. Again, this builds the impression of you being someone who takes a hands-on role in the business – again, what might be termed a ‘strong’ weakness.

Overall, I wouldn’t worry too much about this question, as it is becoming rarer and rarer. No harm to be prepared, though.

Q: What do you recommend when I’m asked ‘have you any questions for us’ at the end of an interview? (Teresa, email)

A: We’ve covered this before, where we talked about showing enthusiasm for the role. To elaborate, we would recommend not asking questions that are already covered on the organisation’s website – this will only reveal your lack of homework.

Ask questions that show you’ve been thinking about the role. If the company website shows they have recently expanded into the German market, for example, ask them how that is going for them. They will be impressed by your level of engagement with the company.

Preface questions with lines that show you have been doing research. “On your website, you say…” or “I read the article on you in the Sunday Business Post where you said…”

Interviews, like CVs, should be tailored to the company in question. We recommend that you don’t ask about salary or holidays. There will be time enough for sorting that out if they offer you the position.

Sli Nua Careers (tel 094 95 42965, carry out CV Preparation, Mock Interviews, Interview Training, and Career Direction. For your free e-book on interview & CV tips, email They provide online CV makeovers at