Returning to work after cancer – Advice from a recruitment agency

Malwina King is a Director with Sigmar Recruitment in Dublin. We spoke to her recently about her advice for someone who is thinking of returning to work after cancer.

Perhaps it’s something you are thinking of doing yourself in the New Year. Malwina says if it feels good, there’ll be nothing stopping you. Here’s her answers to our questions.

Can you give us a description of the current recruitment market? What are conditions like currently?

We are currently in a very busy recruitment market. This means that there are plenty of opportunities on offer and a large variety of jobs within most industry sectors.

In some specialist areas like IT, Science or Professional Construction, to name a few, demand outstrips supply and employers are struggling to secure a qualified workforce.

If you are planning to start your job search soon, this should be music to your ears.

Not only are there more opportunities to choose from but many employers have become more flexible when it comes to working arrangements like length of contracts, working hours or flexi benefits.

The key is to navigate through all that information and select what suits you best at the current stage of your career and your life and go for it!

This is where the assistance of a trusted recruitment partner like Sigmar might be beneficial. A good recruiter will listen, get to know you and help you to see the wood from the trees when it comes to job titles, duties of the role, a company’s culture and future career path.

What general advice are you giving currently to new candidates who come to your agency looking for work?

Here at Sigmar we take a very individual approach to our candidates and the advice we provide is very specific to the person we work with. After all, it’s their career, future development and often a life decision that we are supporting them with. Saying this there are also some good tips that are applicable to anyone who is considering looking for a new role:

1 – Please brainstorm before we meet

In order to benefit the most from a recruiter’s knowledge, have a good think about what you want prior to the meeting.

Think what type of work you’re looking for and know what you want to achieve by securing new employment. Is it a better paid job you are after? Is it an easier commute? Perhaps more training? Or less demanding working hours? We all have very busy lives these days and sometimes we don’t afford ourselves the luxury of sitting down for 15 minutes and thinking about our own needs and plans. This little exercise helps to zone in on what we really want and why we want it. At the same time it will help recruiters present you with the most suitable options in the most efficient manner.

2 –  Keep track of your job applications

Know job titles and names of companies you send your details to.  At the beginning of your job search create a ‘Job Application Sheet’ and write every application down.

You don’t want your CV arriving multiple times to the same business. This looks bad and is not professional.

3 – Stay positive

Nothing beats a positive attitude and enthusiasm. Candidates with the best skills can seem less attractive when they interview in a monotone voice and without conviction. Energy, upbeat attitude and a smile will often carry your abilities further.

What specific advice would you give to someone who is looking to re-enter the workforce after cancer?

  • Firstly, take your time and get physically and emotionally ready

You have just been through one of the most difficult experiences in your life so make sure that you’ve given yourself enough time to feel as well as you can. Don’t rush in. An extra few weeks won’t make a difference in the long run but might help greatly in helping you feel confident and ready.

  • Don’t let the past define your future

While you have been through an extremely difficult experience, you shouldn’t let it define you. You were a skilled, experienced and valued contributor to a team prior to your illness and you should continue to feel like one and be one after your return to the workforce.

  • Build back your confidence

See what you DID to date and CAN DO going forward. Focus on the positive. Think of any achievements you had in your career to date. Think about what skills you must have to be able to accomplish your previous tasks/deadlines/projects.

  • Show energy and enthusiasm

They always help when starting your job search.

  • Be prepared

Be prepared to briefly explain why you had to take some time off work. But also, be truly prepared to enter workforce again. Know in advance how many hours a week will you be happy to work, think in advance if you need additional time off for follow-up medical appointments, re-think even simple things like your commute to work, school runs or other daily activities that you hope to combine with work.

What would you advise someone to say on their CV to address the date gap of a period when they have not been able to work due to their illness?

My number 1 advice for all CVs is to keep it simple and clear.

Nobody should feel awkward having a gap on their CV due to an illness. We didn’t choose it, we were faced with it and dealt with it to the best of our abilities.

Write your CV with a specific type of job in mind highlighting your most relevant experience. It’s your experience and skills that are stars of the show and this should be your focus.

Do not try to hide time that you were unable to work. Instead address it in a clear and professional manner as a career break or leave of absence and be prepared to provide further details when asked.

Your CV is not a place for lengthy explanations and also you will do a much better job explaining it yourself face to face when at an interview.

How would you advise handling the subject of a previous illness with a potential employer? Would you advise to bring it up, if so, how and when would be most appropriate?

You definitely should be prepared to answer the question.

As mentioned earlier this is nothing you should try to hide. It happened in your life, so you should address it. Most employers will be completely understanding.

At the same time, you don’t want your illness to define you. Your SKILLS, EXPERIENCE and ATTITUDE should be 3 things that are deciding factors in how your new/potential employer sees you.

Explain – ‘’I made a difficult decision to leave my job due to medical reasons. Now I am delighted to be back, feeling good and ready to re-enter the workforce again!’’

A lot of people returning to work after cancer have concerns around confidence, concentration and fatigue. How would you advise them to handle these with a new employer?

Most people who want to return to work after a long or shorter career break, regardless if it is health-related or not, need a little boost of confidence. It’s important that people who experienced cancer don’t feel like they are the only ones that feel like this, as they are definitely not!

It helps to think and write down a “what am I good at” list. It might have been a while, so you might have forgotten but please make an effort and write down a few bullet points. What did you enjoy doing in your last role? What was your proudest achievement? Or maybe you completed a particularly demanding project or met a tight deadline?

Write your list, read over it several times and add another point or two, you’ve achieved loads, you just need to dig them out!

When it comes to concentration and fatigue only you and your doctor can advise on this.

In many cases it might be a good idea to look at less than a 40h working week, in order to ease yourself in. It could also be a good call to look for contract work to start with. This way you will get a chance to try a new work arrangement for a few months and see how you feel.

But at the same time if it feels good, there should be nothing stopping you.

Malwina King is a Director of Sigmar Recruitment, a leading Irish recruitment services company comprised of 140 recruiters in 14 specialist divisions covering all industries and sectors across offices in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Tralee.

Malwina has 13 years’ experience delivering the highest quality recruitment solutions both internationally and domestically for clients across all industry sectors. She holds a Master’s Degree in Occupational Psychology and is a BPS qualified psychometric assessments user.

We are very grateful to Malwina for taking the time to write this piece for us and hope you may find it helpful.

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