Be the Boss Over Cancer

Just want to comment on how a young cancer survivor like myself envy someone in his/her 60sn with a solid work history and network. I got cancer at 30, 4 months out of graduate school. The treatment was a few more months, but it totally messed up my professional training. I had gotten a very competitive post-graduate training opportunity, but they would not take me back after treatment - and a manager had confirmed that health was the issue. I wished I had the savvy and courage to challenge them at that time - if only to record the time at the hospital as medical leave, instead of backdating my employment date. My school career counsellor said that I was giving her a headache when I approached her for help. Then I went for 50 to 60 interviews for all kinds of career-track positions. From a high-flying business school graduate, I was reduced to part-time/ short contract assistant positions in the university and boutique startups, some of which would not even have medical benefits, but would instead disqualify me from medicaid because of the tiny stipend which is not even sufficient for private insurance premiums. I lost the contract position a few months into the recession - again a pity because I was months from having a viable professional track record for a career. Worked on commission on the business development side for the rest of the crisis. 4+ years after the initial diagnosis, even the doctors agree that I don't need quarterly CT Scans. In the last few months, I have gone to a few interviews - not getting through though. Is it still because of the medical? Or the patchy job history post cancer? Or the insufficient training as an analyst? Either way, I am not sure what else I can do - re-apply to entry level graduate training programs, work in startups that are less picky, work for friends who may be more forgiving, work on contracts so that the employer does not feel the burden ... Tried them all ...

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  • P C.

    P C. on Feb 9, 2010

    Hi Julie

    I just want to add that I worked in one of the most competitive areas (private equity/hedge fund analyst) in what was already an extreme industry - Wall Street. I am also a woman, a minority and a foreigner, and never worked as an investment banker - which is a basic requirement for most private equity jobs anyway - though there have been people who were willing to overlook all that for a smart, resourceful and happy teammate. Hope that provides context on my situation.

    My academics and pre-cancer stints with leaders in the field coupled with a lot of help from friends and well-wishers enabled me to land the interviews. But I must admit that I did well in some interviews (and got kicked out at the final rounds for health reasons) and poorly in others (because I am only human, and it was emotionally draining).

    As for whether I mentioned the cancer, sometimes I did, sometimes I did not - depending on whose advice I was following and my emotional state. Most US-based HR practitioners advised me not to mention it, but then it is difficult to explain to interviewers why a fresh business school graduate would walk away from a top offer 4 months into the job and disappear for the next 8 months (in the hospital). For investment managers and bankers, that seems incredibly flakey. Some of them were happy to consider me for a 2nd chance, but were then blocked by their HR/legal people. Not to mention difficulties sorting through the visa and insurance issues. Some rejected me on grounds that I had not put in a full year as an analyst in my first job out of business school, and given that I was never an investment banker before b-school, that makes it even more difficult for them.

    I eventually moved out of the US to work on a contract position.

    Some people now mentioned that the short stints, long absences plus lack of employer-sponsored training programs (implying less proficiency as an analyst) are the new stumbling blocks. The cancer has receded into the background in most discussions. But the after-effects of 4 years of limbo puts me at a disadvantage.

    I am still getting interview calls from headhunters, but I am not sure how to overcome the objections so that I can restart my career.

    As for whether I have tried applying for less aggressive industries. I tried applying to graduate trainee programs in non-financial companies, but was not particularly successful. I've been asked to start my own business to provide consultancy to cancer patients on how to monetize their assets to finance treatment. It is an interesting idea for volunteer work, but if I turn it into a fulltime career, it feels like a cop-out, and I am not sure whether it would be emotionally healthy to spend ALL my time and efforts on cancer-related work. I feel that I need a separate identity beyond the ex-cancer patient.

  • Julie Jansen

    Julie Jansen on Feb 9, 2010

    Career Coach Comment:

    Hi,

    I am so sorry you have experienced such a rough time with so many unsympathetic, perhaps even cruel people. There is so much that I don't know about your experience and the fact that you had so many interviews without getting any interest makes me scratch my head. I must assume that you told everyone that you had cancer although perhaps you didn't? Getting a job offer involves so many variables including attitude, image, communication and focus as well as past history.

    It really sounds as if it would behoove you to work with an unbiased career coach who can help you wipe your slate clean and invent the new you - career-wise so that you can start over in your career change or job search.

    I do think that finding a work environment that is less demanding, more open and flexible is the way to go for you as it sounds as if you have been pursuing opportunities in highly aggressive company cultures.

    I would like to help you more however would need additional and specific information to do so. If you are willing, please write again. Thanks and the best is that you are completely cancer free!

    Take care,

    Julie

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