Working With Chronic Illness: Searching for a Job
As someone with a chronic illness, I know how challenging it can be to navigate a job or career — especially when you don’t fall into the “norm” of other employees’ abilities or what non-disabled people can sustain long term.
It may take a lot of consideration, flexibility, and time to set yourself up for success, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be employed (companies would be lucky to have you!); it just might take a different process to find a role that works for you.
Where should you start? Let’s dive in.
Do you know what kind of employment could work for you/your health?
This is the first step and one that requires brutal honesty. Once you discover what you need for your health baseline, you can use it to build your upcoming job search criteria.
Some important questions to ask yourself:
- What time of day do I feel my best and worst?
- Would a full-time or part-time role work better for me?
- Check your medical appointments. Are there any days that simply won’t work for a potential work schedule?
- Do I already have health insurance benefits, or is that something I need/want?
- Do I offer a skill set that could allow me to be self-employed?
- Can I handle full shifts, or would I need frequent breaks throughout the work day?
- On my absolute worst health days, what am I still capable of getting done?
- Should I work from home or go into an office?
- If going into an office is desired, what accommodations might I need? Think: reserved parking spaces to avoid long walks, accessible bathrooms, elevators/ramps, a quiet room, etc.
What Are the Best Websites for Finding a Job With a Chronic Illness?
There are a lot of job sites out there, but these two are my top picks for those who have a chronic illness.
FlexJobs: Requires a paid membership (ranging from one week of access to one year) with the opportunity to request a refund within 30 days of account creation if you are unsatisfied with their quality.
Why do I love this one so much? It has everything — remote and flexible jobs, from employee to freelancers, short-term or long-term, travel preferences, work preferences, schedule preferences, and more. Plus, they vet their listings, meaning they are ad and scam free. They also provide additional member benefits and perks, including free learnings to those job hunting through webinars, along with skills tests to see where you fall into specific areas.
Chronically Capable: This site is free for job seekers, which is perfect if you have a limited income. It does require you to create an account to view full job listings, but there are many listings in their database every time I’ve checked.
Why do I love this one so much? Hannah, a Lyme survivor and frequent panelist at Diversity & Inclusion conferences, created this website to ensure no one ever had to decide between their health and work ambitions again. The employers who are part of their network understand that people living with chronic illness or disability are still capable of being productive employees — which is super encouraging and can make the difference in going into an interview with more ease and confidence.
Lastly, this website has a gold mine of resources that are super specific to career navigation when you have a chronic illness or disability. To me, this makes setting up that free account worth it alone.
The Dreaded Ask for Job Hunting: Send Your Resume and Cover Letter
In today’s market, it is not uncommon for employers to ask for a resume (also known as a CV) and cover letter. If you find a job listing that fits into what could work for you, it will often lay out what they want for any candidate submissions — including what to talk about or highlight in one or both of these items.
Some things to keep in mind when you start applying for any jobs that are strong fits for your needs:
Customize each application based on the job description to showcase what makes you a strong fit for that open role.
Yes, it’s time-consuming and may drain your energy, so you may need to pace yourself. It will drastically increase your chances of being considered if you follow their instructions and guidance upfront, along with showcasing you can follow directions and pay attention to details.
Sprinkle your authentic self into your resume and cover letter to showcase your nature, work ethic, or personality.
This makes you show yourself through, and while some may find this risky, it can be the difference between passing up the chance to talk to you or calling you on the spot to set up an interview.
Always have someone review your cover letter or resume if you can.
A first impression is made once those items are sent to an employer, and while some minor errors can be overlooked, depending on the job you applied for, it might deter any action from the employer or HR department. Don’t have anyone to do this for you? There are a lot of local and free resources that might be able to help you with this and potentially find employment opportunities. A great example we have in our state is Michigan Works (and other states may have similar state-funded programs) which has videos on demand to help make your cover letter and resume stand out, along with other career training resources available.
You Received an Interview Request. Now What? Don’t Panic, Prepare.
First off — celebrate getting an interview! That’s a big deal, but now you might start feeling anxious about what to anticipate and not knowing what you should disclose about your health.
Before we start to get ahead of ourselves, we need to check on the following:
How will the interview be performed?
In person, on the phone, or via an online video platform such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Teams?
Do you have everything you need?
Do you have access to the right technology, a steady internet connection, and a quiet space if it’s an online video interview, or could you find the means to make it happen on that set date and time? Think: Local libraries, community centers, family or friends’ houses, etc.
Will you need any accommodations from them up front?
If so, you should let them know as soon as possible so they can prepare for that on their end. This is where it can be tricky because we often need to disclose some hints around needing something that others may not, which can be scary since it can be risky. It’s important to remember that you have rights whether your illness(es) or disability is visible or invisible.
What questions do you need to have answered up front? This may include:
- Are there any benefits available to support the health and well-being of employees?
- Are there any requirements from employees regarding COVID-19? Think: vaccine status, masks, quarantine measures, etc.
- What are your sick time and vacation policies? Does COVID-19 impact this time at all?
- Does this company focus on diversity and inclusion efforts for their employees, and if yes, how do you do that?
- What does this role look like on a slow day? How does that change between a busy day?
It’s helpful to circle back to your employment preferences to ensure they can be met if an offer is made and why it’s an important consideration before even applying, such as: confirming the hours/schedule, job location, etc.
Should you disclose your disability or chronic illness during the interview?
This can get complicated, but ultimately it tends to vary from person to person and should be done with planned caution (such as an official diagnosis for potential confirmation to back up your requirements or accommodations) and if it’s visible or invisible.
This is a great article and podcast discussion to check out from Emilie Aries, which covers a lot of critical information to consider in this area.
Take Job Hunting With Chronic Illness One Step at a Time
Starting a job search when you have a chronic illness can feel overwhelming, but by breaking it down into phases, it can feel more achievable.
Job Search Phases:
- Determine what your ideal employment opportunities look like based on your needs.
- Find open positions that meet your needs and preferences.
- Submit and apply for those roles with customized resumes and cover letters.
- Prepare for the interview fully — consider accommodation requests, understand what employers can legally ask you, and determine if disclosing your health details makes the best sense or if you’re comfortable with that.
Please keep in mind that you can move as slowly or fast as you want in these areas. It isn’t a race, and job opportunities are always opening up daily, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see the best fit immediately.