Changing jobs

A cancer diagnosis may make some people reconsider their career goals and work values, and they may decide changing jobs is an opportunity for a fresh start.

For some people, returning to the same job may not be possible due to changes in ability or length of time away. The desire to reduce work-related stress or seek more meaningful work may also be a motivating factor to change jobs.

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Finding a new job

Before looking for a new position, you may want to consider:

  • Does my illness mean I need to look for a new line of work?
  • What abilities and skills can I offer a new employer?
  • Will I need to update my skills or education?
  • Is there a market for people with my experience in my new chosen field?
  • Would I be happy with a lower-level position or fewer hours?
  • Can I afford to live on a lower salary?
  • How would I manage the stress of a change in employment?
  • Does my confidence need a boost?
  • Will I need more support (e.g. new equipment or extra breaks)?
  • How many hours a week am I able to work?

You may also want to consider different ways of working, i.e. jobsharing, volunteering, self-employment, part-time or agency work.

Discuss your options with colleagues and referees who are familiar with your work and can be honest about your skills. You could also talk with a career counsellor, Cancer Council’s Workplace Advisory Service (phone 13 11 20) or a JobAccess adviser on 1800 464 800.


Preparing for an interview

Here are some helpful tips when preparing for an interview:

  • Consider seeing a career counsellor or social worker to practise your interview techniques. They can also help you identify your strengths, skills and abilities.
  • Think about what you may say if asked about a gap in your résumé (CV).
  • Keep explanations about a gap in your employment general and straightforward – don’t make up a longwinded story. Some people write ‘career break’ on their résumé. You might want to say that you had a health issue that is now resolved. If you don’t want to say this, you may wish to say you took some time off for personal reasons.
  • If you have an obvious physical impairment, consider addressing how you are able to perform the specific job responsibilities.
  • Being up-front with your employer can make it easier to negotiate any necessary modifications to the workplace or time off for medical appointments.
  • If you are asked a direct question regarding your health history, possible answers include “I had a health or family issue, but it’s resolved now”, “I have no health problems that would affect me performing this job” or “I have medical clearance to perform this type of work”.
  •  If you don’t get the job and you believe it is because of the cancer diagnosis and treatment, you can make a complaint to the employer, the discrimination agency in your state or territory, the Australian Human Rights Commission or the Fair Work Ombudsman. However, claims are often unsuccessful because it’s hard to prove why the prospective employer didn’t hire you.

Telling a potential employer

While some people may want to tell a potential employer that they have had cancer, you don’t need to unless it may impact on your ability to do the job. You only need to let a prospective employer know about:

  • anything that may affect your ability to perform tasks that are an essential part of the job, e.g. if you can lift heavy boxes or drive a car
  • any health and safety risks for yourself or others
  • any adjustments you may need to help you do your job, e.g. an ergonomic chair or standing desk.

There will probably be a gap in your résumé (CV) if you did not work during cancer treatment. Be prepared for a potential employer to bring this up.

It’s common for people to have breaks in their employment history because of travel, having children or other personal reasons, so the employer may not ask about it. Your employer does not need to know details about your personal life unless it is relevant to the job.


Other options

If you are unable to return to your previous job after treatment:

  • you may be able to attend a rehabilitation or retraining program to prepare you for another job
  • you may be eligible for a payout if you have disability insurance or income protection insurance
  • you may consider retiring
  • contact Centrelink on 132 717 to see if you are eligible for the Disability Support Pension or other payment.

This information was last reviewed in January 2017
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