Be the Boss Over Cancer

For many job-seeking survivors, a big question is whether and how to address your cancer in an interview. You are not legally obligated to disclose a cancer diagnosis at any point in the hiring process (or once you are employed for that matter), so the decision is more about what is important to you.

Some survivors can’t imagine a set of circumstances where they wouldn’t share their story because it is part of who they are or an example of their unique skills that would make them a great candidate. Surviving cancer can show tenacity, attention to detail, great negotiation skills, etc. For others, it is something they went through and survived but not something that defines them and so they don’t want it to be part of their identity, work or otherwise. And, one of the pluses of seeking a new job is not having to worry about being seen as the person with cancer at work.

If you are someone who feels strongly about disclosing or will need a reasonable accommodation, the real consideration isn’t whether to tell, but when. We often get asked if someone should tell in the first interview if they know they are going to disclose. This is where it’s important to remember that the interview phase is a part of a strategy to get hired, so the first interview is the very beginning of a relationship. The goal is to impress a prospective employer and advance to the next phase of the hiring process, so it is probably not the place to share your cancer history. As you move through the interview rounds towards being hired you’ll want to pick your moment when you think they are invested in you and likely to hire. Or even wait until the offer comes through and then share as part of your discussion around salary, benefits, etc.

As with anything, you'll want to assess your individual circumstances and the nature of the job and interview process in order to make the decision that is best for you. It is always a good idea to seek professional legal advice about what you are required to do and what a prospective employer is required to do so that you can be prepared.

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  • Bryant C.

    Bryant C. on Oct 3, 2014

    I am wondering what the perspective is from an employer. I am fit and in remission. When I have had treatment, it was radiation that caused only relatively minor daily absences. However, my prescription is $9,000 a month.
    I am a professional engineer with a senior position at my firm, seeking a senior position at another firm. Is it ethical to not disclose my cancer, and am I headed for conflict with management by not disclosing my expensive medication?
    I could see a very large company not caring as long as I am bringing value to the firm, but a smaller company may feel the impact when I get on the or insurance rolls. Of course, they may employees already with expensive chronic conditions.
    Can you provide any perspective from the employer side?
    Thank You,
    Bryant C

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