E S. on March 2, 2020
Thanks for taking the time to respond. I was terminated from my job after a terrible year: cancer diagnosis, treatment, and multiple surgeries. I'm in remission, and have been actively on the job hunt for over a month, but now I have an interview coming up for a great position and am not sure how to tackle a few important issues:
1) My reconstructive surgery didn't go as well as I would have liked, and I will likely want to have surgery to fix it... I can manage just fine, but things are painful till I get it fixed, so I'd like to get it dealt with, most likely within the first three to six months of starting any job. When would I bring this up, and how? I'd feel dishonest not mentioning this in the interview process, but do you recommend against it? And if I should, then would this be better to bring up during final negotiations or early on in the process?
2) My previous employer terminated my position - ultimately because my surgery didn't go well and I needed extra time before returning to the office. It's been complicated, and I can't use them as a reference even though I'm proud of everything I accomplished there! In an interview, how can I explain my job termination without divulging my heath history, and also somehow explain that I can't get references from there? It's a bit of a mess and kind of a missed opportunity to present how well I did in a very challenging role (it was a great gig).
3) Part of the issue for the last job is that they refused to let me work from home during my recovery, so I maxed out sick days, vacation days, leave, etc. I want to make sure the next employer I work with is flexible. How can I tackle job flexibility and see if they're even ok with remote work options early on in the interview process without divulging too much about my health history? I also work better from remote - always have - so this is also just a work preference issue in good times too!
Nicole Franklin, MPH
Mar 9, 2020
Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:
Hi E S.,
Thanks for writing to us. Congrats on being in remission and on the upcoming job interview! It sounds like you’ve been through a lot, so it’s exciting that you’re actively job-hunting now and seeing results. You’ve posed important questions about the job search and interview process, some that are relevant to many survivors.
The first thing I’d like to mention is that in general you are under no legal obligation to disclose your medical history and or any medical conditions to your employer (current or prospective), but ultimately it’s a personal decision. However, if you need to access a reasonable accommodation (keep in mind, taking time off may be considered a reasonable accommodation). If you do decide to disclose that you’ll need surgery during the hiring process, you want to be strategic about when you do. Typically, you won't really know what you need until you have started a job and have a sense of what your recovery post-surgery will look like, and how this may affect your job and vice versa. If you decide to tell, remember that the interview phase is part of a strategy of getting hired and the first interview is just the beginning of a relationship. The goal is to impress the prospective employer and advance to the next phrase of the hiring process, so the first interview may not be the best time to share information pertaining to your medical condition and/or needs. As you move through the various rounds of interviews, you'll want to pick a moment where you think the company is invested in you and likely to hire you, or wait until the offer comes through and then share this information as part of your discussion of salary, benefits and other related factors. To get a better understanding if issues around disclosure, I’d recommend watching this: https://www.cancerandcareers.org/en/community/videos/bwc/2019-webinar-online.
It can be a little nerve-wrecking to think about explaining what you view as “red flags” to potential employers (like not being able to get references from your previous employer), but there are definitely ways to address them (I’ve added a list of potential resources below).
Lastly, it completely makes sense that you would want to know more about the benefits a company offers (in your case, the flexibility to work from home). It might be helpful to do a little research on the company and see if you can gain some insight into what they provide to their employees. Websites like glassdoor.com, linkedin.com, indeed.com, salary.com, simplyhired.com and payscale.com may help you identify what they are offering their employees and/or what other similar companies are offering.
I’ve reached out to our coaches for their insight but in the meantime, I’ve listed some helpful resources below:
I hope this is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us at email@example.com or 646-929-8032.
A coach will be in touch soon!
Nicole Franklin, MPH
Senior Manager of Programs
Cancer and Careers
Mar 10, 2020
Career Coach Comment:
Congratulations for being in remission! Nicole did a great job responding to your question about whether or not to tell the interviewer that you will need time off for surgery. Timing is everything with divulging your need for time off so I suggest waiting until you receive an offer or after you accept the job. You are also automatically assuming that this will be a big deal to your employer and it may not be at all, especially if they really want you to join their company.
As for not being able to give your previous company as a reference, is there anyone there who was a colleague or client or someone senior who left the company whom you can ask to be a reference? And believe it or not, not every company actually does references. And I know you are aware that you will need to have a response for why you left the company in case you are asked. So I would develop and practice your response to this question with your friends or family. Because you are very honest, you may decide that you can say that you were ill and maxed out your time off and this was the reason for being terminated. And be sure to spin to the fact that now you are healthy. Or if you are not going to give a your previous employer as a reference, then you can just say that there was a reorganization or that you left to take care of a personal situation. You did leave when you were ill, so this is actually true. It is important to remember that the questions you believe are daunting are always going to seem more signifcant to you then to a prospective employer. They are much more interested in knowing what you can do for their company and if you will fit into their culture.
Flexibility is the number one benefit that employees are looking for so employers are very aware of this. Nicole's advice to research the company on glassdoor as well as finding people on LinkedIn who have worked at the company whom you can reach out to and ask about the company's stance on flexibility. You can also negotiate flexible time as part of your employment agreement.
Regardless of the question you are asked, the key is to prepare and practice your responses. Keep them brief and always spin back to something positive about you, your experience, and your eagerness to make a difference to your new employer.
Good luck in your interview!
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