Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Finding a Job while Coping with Illness

Before endometriosis really hit me hard, I worked as a lab researcher and was on my way into a promising career in medical sciences. However, life has a way of screwing up plans, and, for 1 1/2 years, everything I wanted was put on hold. I needed to reduce stress and I was forced to work a menial job at a farmers market. School was too intense, so I had to take a year off. All my extra-curricular activities (as a research assistant or volunteering in schools and hospitals) ceased. To any objective observer, I became a slacker. Unfortunately, there is no check box in an application that says, "I was struck by debilitating illness and had to take a temporary vacation from pursuing my goals."

I cannot think of any good way to put in your resume that you are not responsible for a gap in your work history. If I did put that an illness disrupted my life, then I would appear as an excuse maker or undedicated, and employers would be less likely to hire me. I would give the impression of being unreliable. They would also wonder when I would be 'struck by illness' again. Not to mention it is private information. I had to let my work speak for itself and avoid blaming any shortcomings on my body.

How can we recover from the damage that illness does to a career? Let's be honest, illnesses like endometriosis are not cheap (the treatments, medications, procedures, etc.). Illness and disability can also make it harder to perform well. The expense requires a good job, but the cause can make having a good job really difficult. Jolly good.

To help give hope, here is the advice I followed to my current job. If anyone would like to add further commentary or suggestions, feel free to add at the bottom or email me.
  1. Create an impeccable resume. One that employers will remember and respect. CareerOneStop.org has a helpful resume guide that gives step-by-step instructions and advice on how to write this. Even if you already have a resume, you are always able to improve it. 
  2. Write a cover letter for every job. Even if they do not request one, even a short two-paragraph explanation for: (1) why you are applying for the job and (2) how you are qualified, can set you apart from other candidates. Additionally, it reinforces that resume gaps were circumstantial, not 'laziness'. 
  3. Peruse multiple job boards. I've looked on sites from Craigslist to LinkedIn, Indeed to CareerBuilder,etc. etc. Every site has different opportunities and different methods of browsing. You are more likely to find a job that fits if you are willing to explore various sources. 
  4. Find ways to keep a good attitude. One of the hardest parts of job exploration is the constant rejection and being ignored. Or, even worse, when you receive a praising response, and you realize someone is trying to scam you. Every job application is an opportunity to learn and grow. It's a hands on way to learn and study the best methods for obtaining a satisfying career. And remember, the frustration comes from when a goal we desire is being blocked. Focus on overcoming that block, work hard towards your goal, and look forward to that extreme satisfaction when you reach the finish line. It's a great feeling!
  5. Apply in person whenever possible. Online applications are easy and convenient and do not really prove sincere interest. But if a company offers a way to drop off an application, it can be a good opportunity to put a face to the resume. Often, these online job searches give addresses/locations of the company you are applying to. I advise you to print up your cover letter and resume on some professional quality paper, place it into a nice folder or large envelope, and drop it off yourself (preferably, not in sweatpants). 
  6. If you need more education to further your career but do not have the medical health to attend full time school, consider night classes or home study. I am finishing my remaining courses via independent study. It is a great way to attain your education without endometriosis forcing you to drop out or something. 
Right now, my  job is to make my cohorts see that I am determined and hardworking. Endometriosis does sometimes make me unreliable (unfortunately, I cannot control when a bad episode/flare up strikes), but it has also made me strong, conscientious, capable, and more productive when I am healthy (to make better use of lost time). If people do not recognize the good qualities in an individual who has suffered from illness, then it is simply up to us to make those qualities evident. 

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Contact me at bedhead@bedriddenhead.com

About The BedRiddenHead

I want to be happy. And this site is about that chance. How to strive to thrive in the body I've got and maybe turn my experiences into something worthwhile.

This site aims to help educate and reach out to people all over that struggle with pain or illness. To try and make something helpful. I work as a medical research writer, my background is in neuropsychology and biology, and I want to share what I learn in a way that is easy to understand. I am not a doctor. I'm definitely not your doctor. I am just some lady who wants to make someone's (anyone's) life a little bit better. Whether you have endometriosis, a chronic injury, a struggling friend, or just want to learn something new, I hope to make a place that has what you are looking for.

Thank you for stopping by, I wish you strength in your health and happiness.