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I have been laid off at the same time as I was diagnosed with cancer. Now, after almost a year of battle, I want to update my resume and start looking for a new job. And I want to address the “gap” in my resume and on LinkedIn but I am not sure how. I haven’t been actively searching till now.

How can I show in my resume / LinkedIn what my employment status is without opening up too many questions about my health?

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Just keep it simple:

  • 2020: off work due to a health issue which is now resolved
  • 2018 - 2019: Senior Widget Wrangler, Acme Corporation
    <description of senior widget wrangler role>
  • 2016 - 2018: Widget Wrangler, Acme Corporation
    <description of widget wrangler role>

Nobody should ever be asking for details of the health issue, but if someone does you just say "that's a personal matter, I do not expect it to impact my work going forwards".

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    If you are applying for a commercial plane pilot, or other mass transport driver position, the employer would like to be sure you won't just drop dead all of a sudden while in full speed. For some jobs, you just cannot avoid it. – stackoverblown Feb 18 at 14:00
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    @stackoverblown And in that case, the potential employer can provide documentation for why it's not a personal matter. But until then, there's no reason to volunteer the nature of the medical issue. – chepner Feb 18 at 15:01
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    Sound advice generally, I think, but cancer has a sort of a special place in our collective minds, where beating it has a special sort of triumph that beating, say, alcoholism or COVID doesn't have. It may seem silly or even distasteful, but "cancer survivor" can be made into a benefit on a resume. – Michael W. Feb 18 at 16:53
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    @MichaelW. I think that assuming the default response will be "wow, they beat cancer!" rather than "wow, they have an elevated risk of getting it again!" is optimistic. – Useless Feb 18 at 18:13
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    For a commercial plane pilot, "health issue, now resolved, with a medical clearance for flight" Flight licenses are tied to medical clearances anyway (in the USA) so stating you're cleared for flight is all they'll need to know. Personally I don't find cancer a show stopping item, and I wouldn't mind sharing it; but, if you're private, you don't need to share it. – Edwin Buck Feb 18 at 20:50
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Phillip Kendall’s answer is the correct, here is why.

Unfortunately you have a tricky trade-off. On one hand, you are not required to explain anything and the company can't really ask (in the US). On the other hand the company is not required to hire you and if there is anything in your resume or the interview they don't like, they will just move on to the next candidate.

So you need to decide what level of disclosure you are comfortable with and you can practice what you will say if the questions are getting past your comfort zone.

In the US a good phrasing on your resume would be "Medical Leave of Absence, fully cleared to return to work, no future accommodations required or expected".

These are legally well defined terms that say the following:

  • You had a medical issue as certified by a physician
  • A physician has also certified that you are "cured" and are able to return to work
  • Your medical condition has no further impact on your ability to work, you can be treated as any other "healthy" employee.

If they still ask for more details, it's really up to you. There is nothing wrong with "I prefer not to discuss this as it's personal. If there are specific concerns or considerations about the current role, I'm more than happy to address them directly".

That sentence redirects the inquiry to the potential impact of your health on your expected job performance. This could be questions like "can you lift stuff", "are you ok with pulling the occasional all-nighter if a project is on fire", "do you need frequent breaks and/or limit on work times", etc.

These are GOOD questions and you should encourage or bring them up proactively. Every interviewer will THINK these questions. If they can't ask, they will just guess and make up their own answer. It's much better if you actually get them out in the open and answer them truthfully.

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Be open about what happened. That builds trust. You don't have to be it every time but if you find an offer interesting, tell them what happened. I interpret your question as it wasn't something "shameful" (being hospitalised for a year after a car accident due to DUI would, in my eyes, be shameful because it would signal really bad judgement - but just being randomly sick can happen to anyone).

Be proactive - if they show even the slightest interest in what happened, don't wait for them to ask but instead have a prepared story to tell. This way you set the narrative. I don't mean that you should lie but you can emphasize whatever you feel comfortable to talk about and let out details that are private.

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    This is good, just don't overshoot. Some people come across as surviving cancer is the defining attribute of their persona. – Džuris Feb 18 at 11:29
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A close friend of mine had to stop working for a few years because of health issues. When everything was resolved and she started looking for a job, she didn't update her resume. Instead, she explained the gap during interviews by saying "I had to stop working because of health issues, but now I'm completely healthy and ready to work again".

From all her interviews, only one interviewer dared ask her what was the health issue. She responded that she didn't want to talk about it.

She faced a lot refusals, many of which stated that the gap was the issue (which was really stupid, because the gap was clearly apparent in the resume, and yet, they decided to call her).

But overall, she found a job after a couple of months of research.

You don't have to give details if you don't want to. Just be as vague as you can, and if people get nosey, just tell them you don't really want to talk about it. They should be respectful enough to change the subject.

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    Interesting story. When a gap is specifically stated as from a medical issue, and an interviewer actually is dumb enough to tell you that they are rejecting you because of that gap...that's an open and clear admission of rejecting you based on medical discrimination. I'm not at all surprised that people medically discriminate, but I am surprised they're actually dumb enough to call the person and tell them they're medically discriminating against them. That's a fantastic way to get sued into oblivion. – Jimbo Jonny Feb 18 at 3:41
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    Not updating the resume looks kind of unprofessional to me and a probable reason for being rejected (depending on how many candidates they were). HR asking about health issues is unprofessional+opening a door for a law suit. – Quora Feans Feb 18 at 6:30
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    @JimboJonny Or they object to the fact you haven't worked, gathered experience, or practiced your skills for however many months/years, regardless of the reason why that happened. Especially when compared to a candidate that doesn't have such a gap. – AmiralPatate Feb 18 at 10:44
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    @JimboJonny That's not correct. They don't know there's real medical issue because you declined to tell them. All they know is that you claimed it was a medical issue and when they asked you to elaborate so they could also know that it was a medical issue, you refused to do so. You would be right if the OP offered details such that the interviewer did in fact know that it was a medical issue as opposed to simply hearing someone's bare assertion that it was. This is the danger with not providing details, you can't then turn around and say they rejected you because you had cancer. – David Schwartz Feb 18 at 11:37
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    @DavidSchwartz How does elaborating help them "know it was a medical issue"? How much private medical information would satisfy them? If you said it was a health issue you did tell them, so either they're going to press for your medical records or they're just prying (or I guess constructing grounds for future dismissal). – Useless Feb 18 at 18:07
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Personally I wouldn't even include it on the resume. I would just put in the work you did and just the time you did it in. Don't explain "gaps" between those time frames.

You're right to assume people will be curious, but you have to also understand that when you're being vague and lacking any sort of clarity, people will assume the worst possible thing. With that said, if you said you took a year-long stay at home, they will probably ask what you mean by that. And you'll just say it's for personal health reasons and they'll just say "Ok" without pressing any further. At that point they'll do one of two things: take your word for it, or move on to the next person. They may just ignore it since they had a good interview, or they may assume the worst possible things about it.

Best way to handle it is to not show it on the resume and wait for them to ask. If they say, "Why is there a 1 year gap between your previous job and this job?" And you'll just say, "I had health issues that had to be addressed and it took me up until recently to resolve that. I am well now and recovered and ready to work again."

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    Sorry, that won't work. A resume with an unexplained 1 year gap is highly unlikely to survive the first scan. You will almost never get to a point where they would even ask the question. – Hilmar Feb 17 at 14:25
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    @Hilmar Can you cite some source for that? If you have a gap and generally people will assume you had some sort of issue that needed to be taken care of. As I said if it is a one-off type situation, then that is fine. I know a person who taken a few years off from work to take care of their sick parent and after the parent passed away, they were looking for a new job and their resume had a few years gap. That person found a job without ever having to mention the gap. So it works. If you put something vague on the resume, expect questions no matter how personal. – Dan Feb 17 at 19:52
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    @Hilmar, I've had more than 1 one year gap in my employment history, and they were due to a lack of work available in my industry combined with a massive amount of people looking for the same work in that geographic area. Simply explaining the gap as something you don't have any control over is good enough for reasonable employers. There are people who take a leave of absence for even multiple years that end up getting jobs again. That's not very common here in the US, but in the EU I hear it's less rare. Yes, I got interviews with many "unexplained" gaps. That's what the interview is for. – computercarguy Feb 17 at 20:47
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    If I'm not having luck finding someone to hire, sure, I'll pull in the person with gaps in their resume and ask about them. If I have 100s of qualified applicants, anyone with gaps is going to be an easy pass. Having a brief comment about the gap (health etc) would definitely put that resume above one with no information about the gaps. – Dragonel Feb 17 at 21:45
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    @Graham > "just an unexplained gap looks like you chose not to work and sit on the couch in front of daytime TV instead" actually it may look like this for you, but I don't think that would be the case for everybody. Anybody can probably come up with 3 or 4 reasonable explanations for a gap, why assume the most negative one? Especially as it's easy for anybody actually sitting on the coach for 1 year to fill the gap by lying or wrapping the truth in a very professional explanation ("I took 1 year to work on personal projects") – Laurent S. Feb 18 at 8:46
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It certainly depends on the location, but I (as in "if I was in that situation") would be completely open about that.

I would put 2020: off work due to a health issue which is now resolved (to use Phillip's example) and, then during the interview, at the slightest hint of a question, I would openly say that it was cancer, it is now all good and I am happy to be back to work.

You want to show that you are fine and that you are eager to work.

If I was the interviewer, I would be glad and appreciative if someone told me this because such vague wording can indicate anything. Ultimately I am hiring someone to work and I want, all things equal, to make the best choice for the company.

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  • If you're going to be "completely open" and tell all at the "slightest hint of a question", why not put the details in the resumé in the first place? Particularly since the details are "Off work due to cancer treatment; all good and ready to work" or words to that effect. – Andrew Leach Feb 19 at 9:26
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    @AndrewLeach: because this is medical information and a CV is not a good place to discuss it. Depending on the place it may even be a problem (for instance, HR may be legally obligated to black such information out, and then it really becomes a red flag). Discussing it orally is easier, more informal, more reassuring. OTOH the way you put it is very sensitive (and sensible) so why not (though the legal part above may be a problem) – WoJ Feb 19 at 9:46

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