A Recruiters Guide to Finding A Job with Chronic Illness

A Recruiters Guide to Finding A Job with Chronic Illness

I’ve written before about being a working mom. I went back to work 6 months after having my son, 2 weeks after completing radiation. Lucky for me, I know a lot about finding a job.

I am a Human Resource Manager and have been recruiting top talent for over 7 years.

I have had the pleasure of placing over 450 people in jobs with over 30 companies.

Finding a job can be hard for even the most capable, healthy person. For those of us battling cancer or other chronic illness, the hunt can be unbearably difficult.

Here are some of my tips and suggestions as someone who has been both the interviewer and the interviewee.

Finding a job:

Thinking about returning to the workforce after treatment or a long absense can be daunting. But it’s a candidate’s market right now and there is no better time to start thinking about getting back to work.

It’s important to have a discussion with yourself and your family before beginning the job search. Start by making a plan.

You should have a general sense of what you are and are not looking for when it comes to employment. And you need to arm yourself with the facts of what an employer can and cannot ask you.

Let’s dive in.

Think about your limitations as you begin your job search:

Are you able to work a full-time, 40-hour a week position? Are you able to work in an office all day, in a seated position? Do you prefer work-from-home positions? Are there other physical limitations that you may need to consider now?

Remember, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable accomodations for those of us with disabilities. Cancer IS a recognized disability in the United States.

If you have a sense of what you want to do and what you are ready to do, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and CareerBuilder are the largest job boards around and a good place to begin your search.

There are also industry-specific job boards, if you have a trade or industry that you excel in.

Image Source: LinkedIn

If you have been out of work for some time and aren’t quite sure what positions would be a fit for you, a temporary staffing agency is a good place to start.

Robert Half and Randstad are two of the highest-rated, longest-standing employment firms and operate internationally. They both offer positions on a temporary, temp-to-hire, and permanent basis, connecting job seekers with companies who need employees.

For someone who has been out of the workforce, seeking a temp-to-hire position is a great idea! It allows employers and employees to “try before you buy” and will give you an opportunity to show the company how valuable you are.

This will also give you an opportunity to test out different positions and companies before settling into a new role.

Plus, staffing agencies are paid by the companies when they hire you. In other words, you are their product and they will do their best to get you back to work!

Create a resume that highlights your experience:

Resumes are meant to be an aesthetically pleasing representation of your professional experience, education, and skill set.

Focus on what you have accomplished in each position, what skills you have acquired or mastered, and how you were able to add value to your team and your organization.

If you have taken time away from your professional career due to chronic illness, I would recommend adding something akin to “Personal Leave of Absence: 2018 – present. Will discuss in person.” The purpose of a resume is to answer questions about your experience. So leaving a big ol’ question at the top of your resume isn’t a good idea.

Instead, own it! Yes, I have not been working. Yes, I have a reason, it’s personal, but if you are interested in having me join your organization, I will discuss with you.

Decide how much you want to disclose in an interview:

Employers DO NOT have a right to ask you about your medical history. Period. They also DO NOT have a right to deny you a job based on a medically-related leave of absence.

Employers DO have the right to deny you employment if you are unable to perform the duties of the job. For example, if you have serious, sudden vertigo attacks, you may be denied employment that requires you to be on your feet most of the day, as a fall may result in a safety concern for you and your fellow coworkers.

However, if you’re hard of hearing, you are more than able to perform the duties needed to do data entry or accounting, for example.

Let’s assume you have been out of work due to chemotherapy, or some other medical treatment or chronic illness. Your prospective employer will surely ask you what you have been doing for the last few months.

I have had many candidates tell me personal information that relates to their candidacy and asked that I keep it between us. I usually let them know that I will need to notify HR (in the case of criminal charges, needing different hours due to a medical issue, etc.) but that I will not share with any other employees.

You may also ask to speak only with a member of Human Resources about your situation, as HR is required to keep information confidential. Oftentimes recruiters ARE HR, and vice versa.

If you do not feel comfortable disclosing the reason for your gap in employment, just say so!

Your experience, skill set, and education should speak for itself. If you haven’t worked in a year, so what? It’s not time to put this horse out to pasture!

If you can show them how valuable you are, what’s on paper will just float out the window!

Building Rapport with your interviewer:

Searching for a job is a lot like dating.

How many of us would be in relationships if on a first date, we put all the problems out on the table before we impressed our date?

Before I show you my sense of humor, let me talk about how loud I snore or how I literally have never done a load of laundry in my life. Yeah, that wouldn’t work out so well.

Looking for a job is similar in a lot of ways. You need to build a relationship with the person interviewing you.

Dazzle them with your personality, skills, experience, education. Be friendly! You are going to work with these people up to 40 hours a week. They may not come right out and say it, but recruiters and hiring managers often look for candidates they like on a personal level – people with whom they will enjoy working.

When you have nearly concluded the interview – that is the time to speak about any limitations or gaps in employment you may have. Wait until they WANT you. Your interviewer is more likely to make exceptions for the perfect candidate.

If these discussions come up somewhat early in the interview, sandwich your response. Start with something good, finish with something good.

“I’m glad you asked about the time between company A and company B. When I left company A, they gave me a glowing recommendation, and I have included them on my reference sheet. I left due to a medical concern which is now under control. Company B was such a great find, and I was so excited to get back to work! I also started with a 5% higher salary.”

As with any sale, and in this case you are selling yourself, find common ground. Comment on a picture of a family pet on the desk, a pen from a favorite sports team, talk about the weather, the traffic, compliment the location of the office, anything!

This will get you talking, and easing into the interview as two people, not ‘interviewer’ and ‘interviewee’.


If you feel that you’re ready to go back to work, go for it! With the right approach and a little bit of patience, you can find a job to suit your needs. It may take time, but there are jobs out there to be had.

Be persistent. When you have an idea of what you want to do, apply for as many jobs as you can. Have a plan going in, and practice! At the end of the day it’s a numbers game.

Remember: You’ve got this!

For those of you that are ready, if you have any additional questions or would like some help with your resume, I am happy to help!

I have experience revamping, rewriting, or just providing suggestions for resumes for a variety of skill levels. I would love to work with you on yours!

Feel free to reach out directly to me at meg@momsurvives.com.

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