Guest Post: Tips for re-entering the job market after a major illness

everything_changes_cover_fixedcolor_greener.jpgI’m pleased to share an important guest post from Kairol Rosenthal, the author of Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide To Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.  Kairol was diagnosed with cancer at age 27. Today she is a healthcare blogger and patient advocate working with national cancer organizations including Gilda’s Club, Planet Cancer, and I’m Too Young For This. Visit her blog here.

From the Big Apple to the Bible Belt, I interviewed dozens of young adult cancer patients  for my new book, Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide To Cancer in Your 20s and 30s.  I heard repeatedly that the most challenging time for young adults facing this disease was post-treatment, when the predictable regimen of their chemo schedules peeled away and they were catapulted back into the reality of the work world.

The following tips are useful not just for cancer patients, but for anyone who is young and job searching after facing major health issues.

Create Two Timelines.  Differentiate between your short-term and long-term job goals.  Having a short-term career goal at a second-choice job may help you to pay off medical debts or build your resume.  Brainstorm a list of short-term jobs that have transferable skills relating to your long-term dream job.

Volunteer.  Diving into the work world can be taxing on your body after a long break from the daily grind.  Consider seeking a part-time volunteer job.  Volunteering is a great way to help readjust to the mental and physical routine of work while also boosting your resume.

Build Confidence.  Feelings of inadequacy can be a barrier to success in an interview and in the workplace. Believe in your capabilities; if you don’t you cannot expect an employer to.  It is normal to have trepidation about re-entering the workforce after facing a major illness.  Talk about your feelings with a therapist or social worker so they don’t interfere with how you present yourself to future employers.

Engage An Expert.  There is no one-size fits all remedy to resume writing and interviewing after you have been absent from school or work due to illness.  Whether to disclose your illness to an employer and how to hide gaps on your resume depends on your personality, your communication style, your field of work, the size of the company, and the perceived atmosphere of the workplace in question.  Seek the help of a social worker with extensive experience in career counseling for people with disabilities. Work together to create an individualized approach that reflects your specific career goals and work history.

Dress Rehearsal.  Should you and a counselor decide it is appropriate to disclose your illness to a prospective employer, practice your answer out loud, make your explanation brief, and end on a positive note by enforcing your skills and what you bring to the job.

Have you ever faced an illness that hindered your confidence in the work world?  How did you readjust to the transition?  What worked and what didn’t? Please share!

9 Responses to “Guest Post: Tips for re-entering the job market after a major illness”

  1. Lindsay

    I really like the two timelines idea. It is important to acknowledge that small steps are necessary to reach larger goals. They’re how to fine-tune your skills before you find the job you’re looking for, allowing you to make whatever mistakes you may make on a smaller stage.

    I have suffered from chronic migraines since the fifth grade (I am now 22). Their intensity grew with age and I was soon missing weeks of school at a time. I was forced to quit extra-curricular activities in order to compensate for the time I needed to recover from each migraine attack. The biggest issue that I have faced has been that lack of understanding. Since people can’t physically see migraines, it can be difficult for non-sufferers to understand the impact they have on your body and general ability to function. I needed support from my teachers and school disability staff, however, the misconception that a migraine is just a headache made it nearly impossible for the general public understand the severity of what I was dealing with.

    After going through high school and college with professors and staff who didn’t believe my inability to do work while in the midst of a migraine (even with years of medical documentation), the idea of looking for an employer who would be willing to hire a girl with an invisible illness was daunting.

    My confidence definitely took a hit, but I have come to terms with the fact that not everyone will acknowledge migraines as a chronic condition. I know what I am capable of, and I know that if I believe in my abilities, that will come across to potential employers. That’s not to say that I don’t get discouraged, but I do recognize that an illness or ailment doesn’t define you.

  2. Lindsey Pollak


    Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m sure it will help and educate a lot of people. Good luck with your career and keep us posted on your progress.


  3. Faryal Humayun

    Social networking also plays a vital role in regaining the strength to re-enter the job market. Websites like Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIn offer great help in getting connected with professionals related to your industry.

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  7. Twin XL

    Wow, what a great article for a topic that not a lot of people think about. I think anyone could take some advice here and apply it to something work related.

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  9. rebk4jc

    I’m a graphic designer. I graduated from college with honors in 2009 and was well on my way in a paid internship in the same school I went to. Suddenly my health started declining and I came down with several ailments, most importantly chronic pain, dizziness and nausea. I only go t worse until I could not work anymore, not even from home, because the nausea/vertigo would make it impossible. After countless doctors, physical therapy, failed treatments, and so on, a rheumatologist concluded I should have fibromyalgia, because it did not appear to be anything else on any of my tests. Needless to say my career went down the drain. I feel frustrated and failed. I can’t draw or work on any project that requires much concentration without getting nauseous. Some days I feel better and I desperately want to go back to work, but when I think that I’ve done a single project in almost 3 years, it really brings down my confidence. And If at least my illness were something more concrete, like and injury or an real disease. But fibromyalgia is even not considered a real condition by most people. I resonate with Lindsay because her migraines were keeping her from doing her job and people did not understanding that what she was going through was very real.


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