One of the first things to smack me in the face of my survivorship of cancer, was the first time I went to look for a job. Granted, this was back in 1990. Prior to the 1990’s, employers were pretty much unchecked with discriminating against employees or hiring new employees. Sure it was illegal, but too many employers got away with it.
But it was an application with a nationally known insurance company, who was originally “on my side”, when I first applied, I seemed like the ideal candidate. My application looked good for only a half dozen years in the workforce. I was completing the required education courses for working in the insurance industry, breezing through all the testing. Everything looked great as far as getting hired. Then the company rep informed me that I would have to undergo a physical.
I did not suspect anything. I was in remission, and my doctor’s confidence led me to believe that it would be forever. I had rehabilitated myself back into shape, and overall felt real well. I completed the physical and expected to be given a “start date” to begin working. Then I found out the insurance company was not “on my side.”
I was informed by the district manager, that the company would prefer that I was in remission for my cancer longer, FLAT OUT DISCRIMINATION! I remembered feeling so dejected. Was I going to go through this every time I looked for a job? I would never find a job simply because I had cancer. I decided I was not going to stand for this, and as I am prone to do, started making phone calls. The first call that I made was to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. Of course I was only making the call because I “knew” this had to be wrong to discriminate against me like this. But I had no idea what I would find out.
Eventually, a hearing would be set up with myself and my representative (my social worker from the hospital, one of my biggest advocates), a representative from the PLRB, and then two reps from the insurance company. I was not in this for monetary gain, only to be able to earn money. This was about principle for me. Both of us testified against each other. The insurance company denied that they ever told me I had to be in remission longer and that I had removed my application. This was silly because of how far I went process-wise to get the job. Needless to say, the PRLB called “bullshit”, and informed the company of a new law, having just been passed, called the American With Disabilities Act. While the law is not perfect, it did guarantee that applicants could not be discriminated against due to health reasons, and accommodations may need to be made for certain working conditions. But the biggest thing that came out in my favor, was I discovered that part of this new law, employers were no longer allowed to ask you health questions, or subject you to a physical, unless you met all of the conditions necessary for the job. So there it was, no more discriminatory hiring practices.
Don’t worry, I did not just fall off of a turnip truck. There are still loopholes to every law that ever gets passed. And of course, with social media, there are plenty of ways to know ahead of time, any history of any perspective employee, and prepare how to deny an applicant for any other purpose. I eventually found work, in fact, actually two more jobs following that, each one, progressing to a better opportunity.
So what is it like to apply for a job today? How do you go about finding work as a cancer survivor? Today, it is much more involved of a process, but depending on the level of job you are looking for, health clearly does not come into the hiring process anymore. To give you and example, I am going to show you the difference between applying for a small business job, and a big business job.
No matter the job, you still want to have a well prepared, and brief resume. With a properly written resume, you need only put “key” words, and also have an opportunity to have an opportunity to highlight certain aspects of your work history so far. But by no means, do you ever mention your health.
Now is when it gets complicated. Getting hired with a small business, many still do their hiring the old-fashioned way, having you come into the business and fill out a job application. At this point, you will make a first impression, and possibly even get an interview. And that is a good thing, and you still will not have to deal with your health history.
But with a big company, it is much different. There are no more applications to fill out at the location. Resumes and applications (if necessary) are submitted only over the internet. This saves big businesses lots of money, but for the applicant, it is a huge disadvantage. Application and resume programs are set up with a filter. So if you do not meet all of the requirements for the job, your submission will not get passed the filter. You could be the best thing since sliced bread to come along, but an employer will never get the chance to know that, because of the dehumanization of the application process.
In search of the perfect applicant, not necessarily the one who is the best candidate for the job, if you get through the first screening, often times there will be an additional on-line screening. Most likely a behavioral or personality assessment will be the next level of the hiring process. But either way, there still will not likely be any human interaction, and still, nothing to answer about your health.
But of course, for the big business application, just like the small business application, when you do get the opportunity for the actual face to face interview, that is your time to “SHINE!!!” And still, you do not have to mention anything about being a cancer survivor, or even a patient if you are currently going though treatment (though honestly, that will eventually come up once you are hired anyway if you have to take off for treatments). With an interview, that is your moment to show they type of worker you are. You did everything right to get to this step, big or small business.
Regardless, of the size of the employment opportunity, the process takes time, sometimes a long time. You have to have patience. But at no time do you ever have to mention that you have or had cancer, until the moment they tell you that you are a candidate for hire, pending the “passing” of a health physical if it is pertinent to the job you are applying for. And as long as you pass the physical, even if you had cancer yesterday, they cannot turn you down for employment.
I remember 24 years ago, how proud I was of myself, for dealing with my cancer the way that I did. I wanted to be a role model for other survivors and patients, to show that they could get through their battles as well. I was proud of the fact of the limited time I missed from work during my illness. I missed only time for surgical diagnostics, an hour in the mornings for my radiation treatments, and two hours every other Friday afternoon to get my chemo injections. I missed no other work during my cancer history. I was proud of my dedication and loyalty to my employer during that time, and felt that it should have been the ultimate commitment this employee would bring if hired. Unfortunately, back in 1990, it did not work that way.
What I can tell you is this, if you do not have anyone that can personally hand your resume to someone in a big business, be prepared for disappointment. I am not saying not to try, it can be done, but it is frustrating. My resume attracts all kinds of opportunities from social networks, but when it comes to the actual application process, I get lost in the system. I enjoy the interview process itself, because like I said, it is the time that you can actually prove your worth to the company that you want to work for. All the while, they have no idea that at one time you were sick. You will be judged by what you can do, not what you had.