If chronic illness impacts your work life, a job interview can feel like a massive hurdle you can’t climb over. But I’ve seen how much easier this becomes when you normalize your situation.
What’s normal about chronic illness you ask? Nothing, really. But isn’t there more to you than just this illness? Here are two examples of what I mean.
Jody,33, has 3 young children and a husband whose work requires constant traveling. She also lives with multiple sclerosis (which is relatively mild at this point) and has recently had cancer. Jody’s current job is very demanding and the organizational culture doesn’t support creating boundaries between job and personal time. Jody has come to realize that this pace isn’t healthy for her. She needs a job with flexible scheduling and clearly defined hours. She realizes that most likely that means underemployment.
Jody panicked at the thought of interviewing and describing her reasons for change. But once she saw that she doesn’t have to talk about illness in an interview, she felt comfortable. Although her family’s demands won’t work in her favor, most hiring managers are familiar with the “mommy juggle” and will accept the realities that come with it. Jody doesn’t have to bring up illness at this stage. It’s unnecessary because she already has understandable reasons for her choices.
Jim, 58, plans to take advantage of a different cultural shift. Severe chronic asthma forced him to leave a good job as a mid level manager in a Fortune 100 a few years ago. He wants to return to work but understands he needs to be in a physically protected environment. This has meant reinventing his career self by capitalizing on what he knows and gaining new experiences. He’s volunteered extensively for two years in the “green” tech field to learn a new industry and make new contacts. This gave him the credibility to get a part time, short term contract job in a “green” tech firm.
Like Judy, Jim’s life situation means that he doesn’t have to give much detail when asked about his unemployment and why he’s changing careers. It’s not unusual to lose a job at his age in this economy. Encore careers are becoming accepted and older workers reinventing themselves are the norm. Now he’s ready to start interviewing for more permanent work in this field.
Both Jim and Judy have looked beyond illness. They’ve normalized a difficult life situation and seen how they aren’t so different. To do this, you have to:
- Be willing to take what is available, even if it’s “underemployment”, if your goal is to keep working.
- Recognize your skills and limitations so you can apply for jobs where you can succeed.
- Create your story that allows you to be truthful about what you want and need without jeopardizing your prospects.
Can you do that?
(Please note: I change the names and details of clients to protect their privacy.)
FYI: If you’re a mom with chronic illness, Cafe Mom know has a knew discussion board on Mom’s with illness. I hope they address working moms with illness, too!