3 Tips for Finding a New Job After Cancer

December 8, 2016
Nicole Van Hoey, PharmD

For cancer survivors, going back to work after treatment ends can offer social and financial benefits. share on twitter For some survivors, having a job is a way to tell people that you are not defined by your cancer. In fact, their cancer experience inspires many survivors to consider new career paths or find a different work-life balance. No matter which direction you choose, starting any job after cancer is easier if you know your goals and prepare for new interactions. Here are 3 tips to get you off on the right foot. 

1. Find Your Direction

As you re-enter the workforce, you might return to a familiar field with a renewed sense of purpose. Or, you might need a change. For instance, you may want to go from a corporate workplace to a nonprofit or move away from a physically demanding job. If your diagnosis drives you to enter a new field or to start a new business, you might worry about how to make the change.

Start by answering these questions about what is important to you and what is still missing:

  • What are my new goals in working? For example, do you want to help others with cancer? Am I interested in going back to my previous job? Am I able to physically do the work?

  • What financial needs do I have?

  • What skills do I have for my new job interest?

  • What skills do I need to learn?

  • What other things are preventing me from finding a new job?

2. Prepare for Challenges and Transition

When you look for a new job after cancer, you may find personal and professional challenges during the interview and hiring process. Many cancer survivors are concerned about:

  • Getting job interviews and callbacks

  • Explaining a work history gap on the resume because of cancer treatment

  • The need for accommodations because of treatment side effects

Face these concerns by setting daily goals for updating your resume, practicing interviews, and networking with people. Role playing is a great way to practice answering job-related questions, like “When did you work with that company?” You can rely on social workers, too, for guidance on answering questions about cancer. Reconnect with old coworkers or meet new mentors; now is not the time to be shy!

To address employment gaps, try a work-based resume that:

  • Focuses on experience and achievement

  • Lists projects completed with employers, not time spent there

  • Is organized by skills you learned in different jobs

Potential employers cannot discriminate against you because of cancer. You don’t have to tell potential employers about your medical history right away. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees your right to health privacy. For example, an interviewer cannot ask about your cancer prognosis, even after you tell them about your history, and a medical exam cannot be required for a job offer.

You may need or want to disclose your cancer experience, if it:

  • Helped renew your dedication to your job

  • Is the reason you are entering a new field

  • Has caused treatment side effects that affect your ability to work

It is OK to ask for part-time work or ADA accommodations, like flexible schedules for doctor visits. A letter from your doctor about your specific needs can help with the process of discussing your needs with an employer.

3. Address Emotional and Insurance Concerns

Emotions that arise with a new job can range from hope to worry, relief to fear. Coping with a new schedule can be hard at first, but routines and support groups can help you transition away from the role of “patient” to the role of “employee.” You may also worry about health insurance. Insurance coverage varies and employment laws differ by state, but you should be eligible for coverage through your employer or the Affordable Care Act. Talk with a Human Resources professional or insurance representative to ensure you understand the health insurance plan.

Surviving cancer can change your career goals or take you away from a job unexpectedly. The transition to a new job or even a new field can be made smoother if you plan ahead. And, don’t forget that searching for and starting a new job can provide a new sense of pride.


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