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I was successfully working as a developer at a Company X when I got cancer. Treatments and side effects resulted in a sick leave of around 9-10 months. The company welcomed me back and I continued working there, until I changed jobs and now work for a different company. My total time at company X was around 3 years.

There is an issue that keeps coming up in discussions with recruiters, interviews etc. My CV states I worked 3 years at Company X, but in reality I worked 3 years minus 9 months. I’m uncomfortable with this inaccuracy.

I realize the difference to, say 20 years. But this being the IT industry, 20 years at one company would be somewhat unusual. My total experience is closer to 10 years, so 9 months as part of a bigger picture is still small. I was employed at the company during the entire sick leave.

At least once in an informal discussion, a potential employer commented ”so you worked at X between such and such, that makes it N years, right?”. So far I managed to deflect such comments but this is borderline to lying.

But I also don’t want to say ”I had cancer for 9 months”. And putting an unspecified 9 month period on the CV is also problematic, as questions will be asked.

What is a good strategy for the future that minimizes the inaccuracy but avoids disclosure of my illness?

  • 142
    Just imagine someone works 20 years in company X and has an average of 14 sick-days per year. Let's assume he leaves that company and applies for a new job. Nobody would substract those 40 weeks and say he's worked a little bit over 19 years. Just because you are on sick-leave doesn't mean you weren't employed during that time - so don't bust your head too much over this ;) – iLuvLogix Jul 16 at 8:20
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    How long was the employment in general? 9 months out of a year is a lot, 9 months out of 20 years is nothing and not even worth mentioning. – nvoigt Jul 16 at 9:59
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    How many years is N? If you worked there for 1 month, then left for 10 months and came back for only one more month before leaving, the difference between 1 year of employment and 2 months of experience is large, but as @iLuvLogix pointed out, if it's 20+ years those 9-10 months are inconsequential. – Alexandre Aubrey Jul 16 at 19:12
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    How big is N? The advice would be different if N were very small, e.g., 1-2 years. – Captain Man Jul 16 at 21:37
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    "My CV states I worked N years at Company X, but in reality I worked N years minus 9 months. I’m uncomfortable with this inaccuracy." - Would you be more comfortable if you mentally replaced "worked at" with "was employed by"? – marcelm Jul 16 at 23:19
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Just because you were on leave, doesn't mean you stopped working for the company. It's still N years.

If you really must mention it "I worked for company X and did great job, in spite of overcoming a serious illness", then do so, but you'll make the interviewer really uncomfortable.

I think you're worrying over an inconsequential and missing the big picture, which is that you have overcome a tremendously serious health problem that kills millions annually. Just be happy that you're alive and healthy enough to worry about such trivia.

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    Another way to think about it: you don't work for a company for X years, minus weekends, federal holidays, and PTO taken; it's not literally "how many hours were you on the clock and productive?". That's not what the interviewer is asking. You work for a company for X years because for X years they kept you on their employment rolls, which is true here, and the sick leave isn't different from the weekends/holidays/PTO in this context. – Upper_Case Jul 16 at 18:43
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    While I agree with the essence of this answer, I think that the third paragraph has no bearing on OP's question and is slightly patronizing. – Peter Jul 17 at 5:40
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    Not downvoting, but I'd be careful about mentioning illnesses to potential employers. It's illegal to discriminate on those grounds, but it's also trivially easy to say the words, "you're not a good fit" when in fact, the only reason for not hiring you is fear that you'll get sick again on their dime. – bvoyelr Jul 17 at 12:21
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    Cancer survivors are allowed to have ordinary, down-to-earth concerns, and spend time and energy focusing on those concerns. They don't have to spend their entire waking lives in a state of enlightened beatific gratitude for having survived their illness. – Ceph Jul 17 at 20:39
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    @Ceph To be fair, I don't think that that's what Justin was saying. – Strawberry Jul 18 at 9:27
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You don't need to feel uncomfortable about stating that you worked there N years.

Your sick leave happened within your employment.

If you had taken annual leave, maternity leave, caregivers leave, whatever leave, it doesn't change when you started employment and when you ended employment with that company. Nobody is expecting you to deduct leave.

It is not a lie, or being misleading, to say the period you were employed is N years.

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    This is a better answer, I would be very cautious about mentioning any hint of illness in an interview. But if you are feeling excruciatingly honest, you could say something like 'I only started working with xxx technology for the last year I worked at Company'. Then you're not exaggerating your experience too much, if it's a factor, but you're also not mentioning being out on sick leave before then. – user90842 Jul 18 at 0:23
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    @GeorgeM Your comment contains something that all the answers so far have missed, that "Time at company" usually translates to "Time working with X technology", and mentioning that difference could be important. Consider writing your own answer that includes that. – GreySage Jul 18 at 17:41
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You are overthinking this. Technically you were employed for the entire duration of N years with the company. If you specify it any other way, this will create a confusion for every other person who comes across it, and you can potentially face issues (longer durations) in your background checks if being done by third party.

Recruiters and other interviewers tend to ask this information because they may be co-relating it with the amount of experience you might be having with a particular technology (checkbox on years of technology), or if by any chance you've mentioned it as N-1 years verbally when they see it is N years as per your resume.

Being on an extended leave might look unusual when working at the same company to an external person, but remember, you had perfectly solid reasons for taking that. While Cancer can be one reason, sometimes people take extended leaves due to worsening health (of self or a close family member), personal events (death of a family member, divorce, birth of baby) and even other reasons (burnouts, sabbaticals if company allows for it).

So, if anyone explicitly asks about this, any competent recruiters and hiring manager will understand when you state something along the lines that you took some months off for taking care of a personal situation.

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If it makes you feel comfortable, you can consider separately mentioning your two work durations with Company X. You need not mention anymore details apart from this. Just leave out the 9 month period.

If enquired about the reason for gap, you can simply mention that it was due to health and recovery reasons without revealing much details. You may not get asked everywhere to give out full details.

This way you haven't lied.

However in my opinion, you were employed with Company X while you took the sick leave. You haven't done anything wrong. Leaving the details of sick leave out of your resume isn't ethically wrong and you shouldn't feel guilty about it.

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    You say "This way you haven't lied.", but they haven't lied anyway. It's not really your opinion that they were employed while on sick leave, it's just basic fact. – Chris H Jul 16 at 9:23
  • Nimesh, What you're suggesting will break down during the verification process. For verification, actual dates are required. That's why an application form gets usually filled out (in addition to the resume). In other words, if he does as you're suggesting in your first paragraph, the potential employer would end up finding out that he lied about the dates he was employed, and the referring company wouldn't be able to explain the discrepancy because it won't be allowed to mention the leave. – Stephan Branczyk Jul 17 at 15:55
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I wonder if saying "worked" is what bothers you and doesn't go well with you conscience? In which case would it help you to say "I was part of Company X for 3 years" instead of "I worked at/for Company X for 3 years"? That way, you are not lying or misleading or hiding anything. Technically you are correct in stating this as it is true.

  • True, when discussing this I tend to use similar deflections. My CV is the standard kind where each item starts with {start_date}-{end_date} so the wording there is less important. – ThisMachine Jul 19 at 17:33
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I am confused. You talk like you quit but it doesn't sound like a quit. I think you would have noticed the signs of having quit: below.

If you didn't explicitly quit and rejoin, then you worked there ~4 years. This was not a fool's errand on their part. For one thing, you were available to them for any emergencies that might've come up, since you were still employed and thus subject to NDA. They also bet that you would beat cancer and return to be a productive employee, and they won. So yeah. That counts.

Maybe there was charity involved; maybe they said "it'll cost us little to keep you on, but it'll have a huge impact on your health, so why wouldn't we do it?" But again, if they chose to do that, then they also chose to credit you with being continuously employed.

Quitting and rejoining looks like this

  • You serve notice to quit, or are called into an office and terminated.
  • They take your laptop and badge away from you.
  • You are permanently locked out of company email, VPN and servers.
  • You stop getting paychecks. Financial life becomes super hard.
  • Your healthcare ENDS. To continue on employer healthcare, you must sign up for a program called COBRA at your own expense. It's expensive. You'd know it.
  • Your unvested stock options all void.
  • You lose the right to execute vested options.
  • Contact totally severed!
  • You then apply for a job at the company.
  • You are interviewed.
  • Salary negotiations.
  • You must bring right-to-work paperwork (birth certificate, SS card, drivers license) to HR.
  • You are issued a badge and laptop.
  • You have to set up all new email and server accounts with new passwords
  • You attend company orientation.
  • You get new stock options and restart the clock on vesting (grrr!)
  • Someone else sits at your old desk now. You get another.

Remaining an employee in convalescence looks like this

  • You keep your badge and laptop
  • You keep your company email, VPN and server access
  • You stay in touch and continue to support staff with questions you can answer
  • No need for new HR paperwork or orientation
  • Your options continue to vest on the original schedule
  • Same salary on return
  • You may or may not have gotten salary during your convalescence, but if you did, you definitely stayed an employee!
  • In my country, being on sick leave means you are officially employed. So no confusion here :-) but thanks for the clarification. – ThisMachine Jul 18 at 11:56
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At @GreySage's suggestion, let me point out here in less fleeting form that time worked at a company is usually a shortcut for experience with a certain technology. You might consider, if the conversation turns to something that the interviewer is very intent on, saying something like 'I only worked with --- for ?a few months ?a year while in this job, and I feel very/not so comfortable with it because... I'm using it in my current project/last time was 2 years ago... Example..'.

That should clarify that you haven't really worked with it quite as long as they might otherwise assume, and soothe your conscience. Mostly to be used if you don't feel that comfortable with the thing mentioned in my opinion, because if you do then it matters little whether you've had 2 or 3 years experience, you'd have learned most of it in the first year anyway.

There's no need then to give them the illness/interruption reason, because it's not at all unusual to use different technologies at different stages while working at the same company. I have myself mentioned in interviews that I only used such and such in one n-months project while working some place, it's not a red flag at all just the reality of tech work.

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"To be completely, technically accurate, I did take some leave back in {year}, which lasted more than 6 months. I do not anticipate having to take leave again, and have been focusing on such achievements and skill sets since then." >>>> this should let you sleep at night and get a bland "Glad to hear it" from your interviewer.

You might want to skip over it altogether, there's so much stigma around taking medical leave that employees should really make a point of downplaying it or taking it out of the conversation as much as possible. Your medical history is none of their business, really. If they call your previous company to do an employment check and your dates match up, there shouldn't be any problem with reporting that you worked for them for three years.

And what I've seen when in a lot of fields is that your success really comes down to skills and whatever you've been doing the last six months.

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You can honestly say your period of employment with company X is around three years. That is measured from the time that you commenced employment, to the time that you ceased employment. The amount of leave you took during that period is between you and company X and, if you left them on good terms, that is all you need to say to recruiters or potential employers.

a potential employer commented ”so you worked at X between such and such, that makes it N years, right?”.

If, in interview, you are saying something different (like saying "I worked two years or so" when your employment history mentions start and end dates) then that is a discrepancy that will catch the attention of an alert interviewer. Best case, they will take more time to check the details, and add a delay to the selection process. Worst case, it will raise a doubt about authenticity of information you have provided, and they will disregard without a further check. Either way, you are introducing a discrepancy, which does not help your case.

Most recruiters and employers do understand that people take leave, and are unlikely to ask about it. They are more interested in whether you completed work required of you, and left previous employers on reasonable terms. A discrepancy related to how long you worked with Company X introduces doubt about that. They are more interested in what you will contribute in your future employment, and how reliable you will be.

If, for some reason, you are asked about leave you have taken, simply say you took a period of leave for personal reasons, and you are grateful to Company X for supporting that. Practically, that sort of question is unlikely.

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