The road to recovery - Seeking new employment after a long illness

Updated: Jan 20, 2019


After a serious illness, the prospect of seeking new employment can be extremely daunting. Not only can a long absence affect your confidence, the fear of not being a desirable employee again can take its toll on your self-esteem.


I’ve written this blog with the aim to support those that find themselves in this situation, to help proactively prepare them to overcome and manage objections and to provide the best platform for a successful outcome.


Support that you may be able to access

Whilst researching this topic, I came across a number of resources that you may be eligible for, dependant on your circumstances.  I have listed them below for your reference;

  • Work & Health Programme accessible through your Job Centre Plus (https://www.gov.uk/work-health-programme)

  • The Shaw Trust, a national charity to help people enter work, develop their career, improve their wellbeing and rebuild their lives. (https://www.shaw-trust.org.uk/)

  • Many charities associated with specific illnesses or being long-term unemployed have pages on their website providing advice to support people wishing to return to work


Before you begin

Before you consider returning to work, see your GP and ask them to write you a ‘fit note’. This will explain to employers about your illness and will recommend things a company can do to help you at work.


Consider enhancing your skills

Dependent upon your circumstances, it may have been difficult to maintain your skills whilst you have been ill. There are many on-line resources available that you can access offering affordable courses on specific topics and software packages to boost your skills. Not only that, it’s great to add them to your CV as it demonstrates your initiative and reassures a prospective employer that you have a vested interest in keeping your skills current. With the extra benefit, of course, of increasing your confidence too. (https://www.tate.co.uk/strengthen-your-skills)


You may also wish to consider returning to education to learn a new trade or gain more qualifications. This can certainly improve your chances of securing a job, but this can be a long-term choice and you will also need to consider the financial investment too.


Before returning to permanent employment also consider undertaking some voluntary, unpaid, part-time or temporary work. You’ll build up your self-confidence and knowledge of local employers along with your work history. Make a point of noting down everything you learn and can prove you’ve done, you never know if you are in a temporary assignment an employer may also be able to offer you a suitable permanent position?


Honesty is the best policy!

The likelihood is that you will be initially thinking about how to explain your gap in employment to a prospective employer. It’s perfectly understandable that you won’t want to go into too much detail but, you also don’t want to leave doubts in an employer’s mind about your ability and commitment.


When it comes to your CV, it’s important to explain why you have gaps. Like I said, you don’t need to go into uncomfortable details or compromise your privacy but explaining the circumstances will support the employer to understand your situation better. If necessary, they may even be able to make reasonable adjustments to support you on your interview day.


By not ‘filling in the gaps’ instantly allows employers to draw their own conclusions and the sad likelihood is, that your application may not be taken any further.


Use your network

Now you are fit to return to work, contact your old managers and work colleagues and let them know you are available again for work. Whilst they may not have any suitable positions available, they may know of someone who does.


Focus on your strengths

Being off work for a long time doesn’t mean that you haven’t developed your skills. Hobbies, voluntary work or just doing things around the house all contributes.


As well as drawing on your previous work experience and successes, if you feel it is relevant and you are happy to, demonstrate a few personality traits that you have obtained through your illness such as self-motivation, determination and resilience perhaps? Appreciating that sometimes these can be considered as clichés, explain them in your CV or cover letter.


Overcoming concerns and doubts

If you are concerned that a prospective employer still has concerns or doubts, ask the question “are there any concerns that you may still have, that I haven’t answered?”. It’s important that you acknowledge and respond to them. 


Feel reassured that even leading candidates rarely come to a job opportunity entirely unencumbered. A line manager or HR representative isn’t looking for risk-free, they are looking to know and mitigate any risks.


Be mindful of the employer’s point of view. The employer is in a difficult position. The company has responsibilities for the safety of their staff and customers and these responsibilities come into play if an employee falls ill again at work, for example.


Returning to work after a long-term or serious illness can be a daunting prospect but it is absolutely achievable. I hope this helps and good luck!


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