Nov 23, 2010 - 2:39 pm
My sister gave me an article from a newspaper about looking for work after surviving cancer. I thought it was worth posting here for other heroes to read.
Over the last few weeks I spoke with five interesting people who had five things in common. Here are the first four. They are all cancer survivors, they are all returning to the workplace after a long battle, they are all having a monumentally hard time getting a job, and they are all over 55.
That I speak with people like these is not new, although five in such a short time is quite a coincidence. And none of the above things is either rare or a sole reason to write a column.
However, the fifth thing they have in common is why today’s column came to be. They are all doing everything they can to hide these facts, especially the first one: the cancer. Now jump to thing five, the difficulty in finding a job. That’s why I got their calls and emails. I gave them all the same advice. Tell people about it. Don’t hide it. Get it out front and out of the way. This seemed counterintuitive to them – it may to you as well – and when I first laid it out, it made them uncomfortable. By the time we finished our conversations, though, they all agreed.
And I’ll bet many people reading this disagree initially, too. In fact, the advice these five people had gotten from everyone to whom they had previously spoken was opposite to mine – don’t mention it, don’t bring it up, don’t discuss it, employers are not allowed to ask about that, if employers know they’ll never hire you, it’s none of their business, your previous employer is not allowed to mention it. And so on, ad infinitum.
Well then, if that’s the right advice, why are these people unable to find work? If they’ve hidden these facts, shouldn’t that – based on those others’ advice – lead to job opportunities?
No, because it’s bad advice. If you follow that line of strategic (?) thinking, and it goes month after month – in two cases, over a year – doesn’t that indicate it might be faulty? This advice came from people who meant well; they just don’t know the realities of the job market.
In each case, we got around to how these five answered the “what-have-you-been-doing-since-your-last-job?” and “why-did-you-leave-your-last-job?” questions. OK, so how did they answer those questions? With every half-baked cockamamie answer you can think of, none of which holds water. Other than the truth, any answer is weak and suspect. If you think otherwise, go ahead; try any other answer and get back to me if you come up with one that sounds convincing – and that sounds like one that will move you to the second round of interviews.
Now, one might think this is asking for trouble, that – as they all said – employers would not hire them due to fear they would get sick again and … you know the rest.
Underneath it all, what’s wrong with all this is that, in the eyes of many – me included – cancer survivors are heroes, and nothing less. They know all about the important things in life, like vision, determination, patience, goals, positive thinking, decision-making, responsibility, team work, bravery, and fortitude. Are these not the characteristics an employer looks for?
So why hide this? Is it because you feel you’ll get fewer calls or second interviews? Indeed you will, but that’s OK. This deception game is the same faulty thinking that goes into the hide-my-age-by-leaving-stuff-off-my-resume fallacy. C’mon, some employers might be unfair to older workers or cancer survivors or anyone else, but they’re not stupid. Whatever you try to hide will come out sooner or later. If you do the deceptive dance, they’ll just find out later (not sooner), and then you’ll just have wasted an awful lot of your time, not to mention keeping your hopes up artificially.
So my suggestion is this. Start your cover letters off with a bold statement: “After spending the last 10 months battling cancer, I have won that battle and am now re-entering the workplace.” Continue your letter as you would normally (see my article, “The Great All American Cover Letter Challenge,” September 12, 2010), and send it out.
You know what’s going to happen? For sure, you will get fewer responses. But the ones you get are going to be real – very real. Don’t you think there are people who admire what you’ve done? Don’t you think a large number of hiring managers have either had the same experience you did or had a family member who did? Don’t you think there are companies who are such avid supporters of cancer research that they sponsor 5K runs, Relay for Life, and other events in which we now all participate? The answers are yes, yes, and yes.
And don’t you think that, to these companies and managers, you’re a hero? Yes again. Well then, let them know!
The ones who will disqualify you because of what you’ve been through are jerks, and if by any slim chance you get this by them initially, what do you think will happen once this comes out? Jerks are always jerks; don’t forget that.
I’ll take fewer calls any day of the week if they’re sincere and real, wouldn’t you? And if you can create the conditions under which that happens, why wouldn’t you?
Do not lose sight of one thing. You’re a hero. And if you’re a hero, why are you hiding it?