Be the Boss Over Cancer

There has been a big buzz lately in the media about the fact that many American companies are blatantly discriminating against unemployed Americans. New York Times economics reporter Catherine Rampell recently wrote an article about the trend of help-wanted ads specifically asking for only the employed to apply. 

I have been a career coach for nearly 12 years and in some of my former careers, I worked as a Recruiting Director for a consulting firm and as a contingency recruiter for an agency. I will tell you that this negative bias toward interviewing and hiring unemployed people has always existed. It was an often unspoken guideline that the unemployed were to be avoided when sourcing candidates. What has brought this to the attention of the media now is the large numbers of unemployed people along with the extended period of time it takes to find a job, especially one that is similar in level and compensation to the position that someone held prior to being laid-off. 

It is currently not illegal to avoid interviewing unemployed people, although the state of New Jersey did recently pass a law barring employment ads that rule out applications from those who are unemployed. However, this doesn’t prevent potential employers or recruiters from denying an unemployed person an interview. 

So, what should your strategy be if you are among the ranks of the almost 14 million Americans who have been out of work, in your case because you have had or still have cancer?

  • Get your story down pat. Cancer survivors often struggle with the reason for the gap in their work experience and my advice is always to create a brief, credible reason for being out of work, write it down, practice it and internalize it. Most of the time, it isn’t advisable to say that you have had cancer. But that’s a personal choice only you can make. If you do choose to share your cancer story think about how to make it part of your narrative in a way that helps sell you to the prospective employer. Also, if you can fill in part of your time gap on your resume with part-time work, doing something entrepreneurial or meaningful volunteer work, by all means do this.
  • I gave a speech recently to job seekers and someone in the audience asked me how to handle networking with employed people as he doesn’t feel that he has anything of value to offer them. Really? I agree that in America we are work obsessed, particularly on the coasts. However you are so much more than your job or profession. You are a human being with interests and unique abilities and a family and friends. So the moral of this story is to get in touch with who you are, the ways that you can fulfill your values and remain true to yourself.
  • Always keep in mind that networking into a company is still the number one method for connecting with potential employers. This helps there to be more of a personal connection and prevents you from being just a piece of paper.
  • Hone in on your past and current achievements, not just at work but in life. Tell stories and give behavioral examples of how you have and can make a difference, solve problems, innovate and add value. While this is always expected in an interview, it’s a competitive world out there and a prospective employer will only hire you if you can do these things for him/her. 
  • If you find yourself in a situation where the person you are talking with seems to be prejudiced against unemployed people, do not react defensively. Do not get angry or get flustered. Stay professional, stick to talking about your strengths and achievements, smile and move on. As I am prone to say to my clients, “You can’t have chemistry with everyone you meet.”

Finally, to conclude this blog post with good news…of the last eight people I have heard from who got new jobs, two were employed prior, and six were unemployed beforehand. 

Julie Jansen is an executive and career coach and author, and most importantly to Cancer and Careers, one of our fantastic professional career coaches.  Julie volunteers her time to help people working during or after treatment get the most out of their jobs/careers. Check out the CAC Career Coaching page here to ask your questions, or visit her website to learn more about what she does:


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