There are a number of reasons why you might be looking for a new job during or after your cancer treatment. Maybe your personal values and work-related goals have changed because of your diagnosis and you want to switch to a more meaningful or interesting field. Perhaps you took an extended leave of absence for treatment and your employer wasn't obligated to hold your job for you. Or maybe you can no longer do the kind of job you were doing before treatment. Whatever the reason for your job search, there are important factors to consider as you begin it.
Looking for a new job is a process that has many highs and lows. There will be days with new leads or interview opportunities and days that feel like setbacks or rejection. All of that is normal and you'll want to think about how you are going to take care of yourself mentally, physically and emotionally through what can at times feel like a roller-coaster ride. Concentrate on being the most desirable candidate you can be and — as hard as it may be — try not to focus too much on your career experience. There are definitely things to consider relate to treatment and recovery, which are discussed throughout this website, but by equipping yourself with the right job-search tools, savvy and strategy, you will stand out among other applicants.
Before seeking a new position or changing fields, ask yourself:
- What skills and interests do I have?
- What education/training do I have? Do I need more? How expensive will it be?
- Are companies currently hiring people in this position/field?
- Would I be willing to take a lower-level position?
- Do I have the stamina to handle a potentially stressful job search or career change right now, after dealing with the physical and emotional effects of cancer?
Starting your job search
Treat your job search as if it were an actual job. Set realistic daily or weekly goals for yourself; for example, sending out a specific number of resumes or taking an online course to learn new, marketable skills. Research which companies are hiring in your chosen field and try to make contacts there. Follow up on all leads and always use a professional tone over the phone and in writing.
Many companies do online searches for information about prospective employees. Having a LinkedIn account or a website showcasing your professional experience can be helpful, but putting too much personal information online can be harmful. For example, if you blog, tweet or update your Facebook status about a recent chemo treatment, your cancer diagnosis becomes public information, and you may prefer to keep your health information private during your job search. For more information on online privacy, click here.
According to the American Association for Cancer Research, nearly 15.5 million people in the U.S. are cancer survivors; many of them are in the prime of their working years when the cancer is diagnosed, and, like you, many are eager to get back to work, looking forward not only to having a steady income again, but also to the psychological benefits of work and of feeling more "normal" again.
Know who you are and what matters to you
- Who am I?
- What do I feel passionate about?
- What, if anything, was missing in my previous work situations?
- How can I make a different for an employer? (Answer this one without reference to past job titles.)
- Am I a specialist and an expert or more of a generalist?
- What are your core strengths? (Think of these as a combination of transferable skills, interests, values and personality traits.)
Learn something new
Identify a skill or an area of knowledge that would be relevant to your desired future work, the learn it. You might go back to school, take an online course, study on your own, read books and magazines, observe others, earn a certification. Taking one or more of these active steps will increase your confidence as well as your market value. Learn more about our Professional Development Micro-Grant Program here.
Keep up with technology
Learning about and understanding technology is not an option; it's a necessity. You don't need to know how to write HTML code, but you do need to know how to use LinkedIn, write a blog, and contribute to sites that support your personal brand and virtual resume. It's also important to keep up with technological changes and developments in your chosen field, so that you remain a competitive and valuable employee or candidate.
Create a job-search plan that is flexible
Your plan should encompass several tracks or options, including self-employment or even working for a startup. Many people have begun by seeking to work for others and ended up creating their own entrepreneurial opportunities.
Be open to doing two or three different things to cover income, benefits — and personal satisfaction. Don't think only in terms of traditional jobs, such as teacher, IT manager, social worker and accountant.
Create meaningful relationships
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable aspects of a job search: networking, introducing yourself, asking for help and advice, and follow-through.
Network broadly and deeply. Be relentless in your efforts to meet people of all kinds, and sue every means of communication: face-to-face, voice mail, email, social media, postcards, shared articles and letters.
Always begin any communication by offering the other person something, such as an idea, a resource or an introduction to someone else.
As you look for a job after cancer, here are three tips to set yourself up for success both in your search and once you land the job:
- Be honest with yourself about what you can commit to in a job. For example, try to get a full-time job only if you really feel strong enough; otherwise, look at part-time jobs.
- Consider all kinds of flexible situations, and think about which might work best for you. There are many factors to consider, but telecommuting (whether it's 100% of the time or occasionally), flexible schedules and part-time jobs all offer benefits to people who are juggling other priorities in their lives.
- Focus on doing something you really want to do, ideally with people you want to work with. This should be a priority for everyone, but if you're keenly aware of how precious every day is, doing something worthwhile is especially important — and gratifying.