Job Hunting When You Have A Chronic Illness

Let’s be honest, job hunting is a stressful endeavor. Representing yourself well, going through the interview process, and handling rejection can be a demoralizing and tiring process. Factor in a chronic illness, however, and an already stressful process can easily become overwhelming.

Unfortunately, you don’t always get to choose when you’re going to look for a new job. If you were put in a position where you were laid off or felt unable to continue on at your workplace anymore, you probably need to find a new job as soon as possible.

This can create some stress-inducing circumstances, which can often exacerbate chronic illnesses. Whether you suffer from persistent pain, a physical disability or limitation, or mental health issues, it’s hard to be on top of your game when it comes to securing a new job with a chronic condition.

You may have a lot of questions about how such issues will affect your interview and the chances of getting the job. Although a chronic illness will not prevent you from getting a job, it’s important to consider your personal limitations.

Job Hunting With a Chronic Illness

Before you start applying for new jobs, you should take a moment to think about the work you want to do. As you consider the types of jobs you generally enjoy doing, think about your chronic illness and how it may present obstacles in various positions. You may be so eager to be done with job hunting that you’ll take whatever you come across, which might have you searching for yet another job in short order. Instead, find a position that you’re well-suited for.

A few good questions to ask yourself include:

  • Can you stand for long periods of time, or would it be better to work a desk job?
  • Are you capable of working 40 hours each week, or should you pursue a part-time job instead?
  • Can you work under bright fluorescent lights, or should you look for a job where that can be avoided?
  • If your hearing is compromised, are you able to work a job that requires you to answer phones?
  • Does your chronic illness require a telecommuting job?

As long as you feel capable of successfully performing the job tasks, it shouldn’t be a problem for you to apply for any position that interests you. That being said, there are many positions that can take a toll on a person’s physical or mental health, especially if you suffer from a chronic illness.

After you take a moment to consider these factors, sift through your local job postings for jobs that you’re capable of doing with reasonable accommodations. In order to protect the rights of individuals with such conditions, equal employment opportunity laws have been established to enforce civil rights laws against workplace discrimination. Employers are required to accommodate your chronic illness, as 60 percent of Americans have at least one chronic illness, and 40 percent have more than one.

Remember that you are not required to disclose your medical issues to an employer as these issues are often personal. It’s illegal for an employer to require you to tell them about your illness and to rule you out for a position based solely on this. However, in order to receive reasonable accommodations, you may need to disclose specific aspects about your condition. Carefully determine when it is appropriate to disclose such details if you require them.

Some medical issues are highly personal. It’s not uncommon to want to keep them private — and not reveal them to an employer who could make a judgment on what the illness says about you. Some of the most common chronic illnesses not only disrupt your work life but also carry a stigma. It’s important to note that you don’t have to disclose specifics to your employer or coworkers, apart from letting them know when you will require time off due to your medical issue.

Going Through the Interview Process

After you apply for a job, you will likely receive a call to schedule an interview for the position. There is a lot of prep you should do for an interview, and although you have likely prepared for it by writing a cover letter to send in with your resume, you should prepare yourself for how you will respond to interview questions. If possible, schedule the interview enough days out that you have time to prepare for the interview.

In an interview, it’s always best to put your best foot forward and try to build rapport with the interviewer by being polite, friendly, and outgoing. This is easier to do when you’re feeling well, so do what’s in your power to limit the symptoms of your chronic illness.

If symptoms are exacerbated by stress or lack of sleep, make sure to go to bed early and attempt to control your stress by meditation or self-care. During your interview, sell yourself to the interviewer by talking up your skills and talents and what you bring to the workplace in your unique, introverted way.

It’s best to save the request for reasonable accommodation until the end when they’ve had a chance to get to know you. However, if they bring up a gap in your employment history in the beginning or middle of the interview, you can simply let them know that you took a medical leave of absence but got back to work as soon as you got back on your feet.

If you do a great job during the interview and the employer offers you the job, request a moment to decide on the job offer. Did they seem willing to accommodate you, and does the workplace environment seem positive and inclusive? If not, you may want to hold out for a better job offer.

Job hunting when you have a chronic illness can be difficult, stressful, and a lot of work. However, the law is on your side, and you have the right to be as comfortable and private as you want about your medical issues. The most important thing to consider when looking for a job is finding a position that is well suited for you, your personality, and your chronic illness.


Jori Hamilton
Jori Hamilton
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the pacific northwest who enjoys covering topics related to social justice, the changing workplace, and technology.

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