DEAR JOYCE: Shortly after being let go from my job early last
year, I discovered I had cancer. I didn't work during treatment. Now
my doctor says I'm cured and ready to return to work. How much
should I say on my resume about the work gap? During my treatment I
took a few classes at a community college and can fill in the gap
with my studies. What do you think? - J.H.
The firing is easier to handle than your illness. The cancer word scares off some people, so use words like "my cured illness."
Give the dates of your last employment on your resume, but don't say anything about why you left. Across from gap dates, write: "Illness now cured. Used recovery time to improve my knowledge of skills related to employment."
When you are filling out a formal company job application, remember that this document is a legal form, and if it asks for your reason for leaving, write "Terminated; see below." In the explanation space, write "Cured illness that I am happy to discuss."
During an interview, briefly state your history. You might say something like this: "A malignancy was discovered, but, fortunately, I'm one of those lucky people who are 100 percent cured and healthy now. The illness is history."
When explaining the termination, expand on this line of thought: "I was terminated because my work slipped, but based on my earlier successful performance, that must have happened because my energy level was under attack. But I'm delighted to confirm that my health is now excellent, as my doctor will verify.
"Actually, there was an upside to my previous illness. The upside was that I had time to reflect on the scope of life, how valuable it is, and how much I want to contribute to this world. I'm in a hurry to get back into the mainstream of business and I'm enthusiastically interested in the budgeting aspects of your electronics division because ?reason?.
"I'm good at what I do and I need a chance to prove it. I hope I'll find my chance here as this position is at the top of the list of jobs I want to do - and will do very well. I'm good, and I need a chance. I hope I'll find it here."
Don't allow the interview to stray to the wonders of medical science; keep it pointed at the wonders of your qualifications.
DEAR JOYCE: My company merged last year and downsizing occurred. My management level was eliminated. As a result, I'm back in the technical ranks rather than the management track. Maybe I should check out other jobs but I've been with this company eight years and I don't want to make a dumb move. Your thoughts? - N.E.S.
I think it was playwright Neil Simon who said, "If no one ever took risks, Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor."
If you don't move to get back to management ranks, you're leaving opportunity on the floor.
The longer you remain in demoted status, the harder it will be to climb up again.
Employers will understand that you could get squeezed out in a merger-based downsizing, but they'll wonder if you're management material if you passively accept your nonmanagerial status for months or years.
Let research be your shepherd. Dig around to learn how the new company has treated other reduced-in-rank employees. Were they quickly raised up again? If not, your mindset should be, "I'm out of here ASAP."
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