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How to Answer the Tough Question: Can You Do This Job with Your Chronic Illness?

By Jason Reid

I recently got a desperate call from a former client of mine whom I'll call Louise. She had been a senior manager at a communications company. She was talented and was recognized as an up-and-coming star in her industry until she got sick and eventually left her job.

Following a new medical treatment, Louise felt better and was eager to get back to her career.

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She wasn't planning on disclosing her illness to her new employer, but the industry she worked in was a small one so her prospective boss was already aware she had a medical condition.

"We understand you have had some personal challenges in the past year," said the interviewer. "This job is a senior position and we want to make sure our candidates can fulfill their obligations over the long term without long periods of absence. Are you confident you can do this job?"

Louise was taken aback by the question. She rambled a bit about the unpredictable nature of her illness and the fact that, while her new treatment was working well for now, its long-term effectiveness was not known.

By being unprepared for this question, Louise lost the opportunity to portray the type of confident attitude the company wanted to see before they hired her.

Ultimately, she knew she could handle the job the way she was currently feeling, but was unsure about the long term.

"What should I have said?" she asked me. "I feel like I'm making a promise when I answer that question. The truth is I can't predict my disease. I could have a relapse in 2 years, 5 years or 10 years - I don't know. Who can guarantee their future health?"

Louise was right. A debilitating illness or accident can strike anyone at any age and are much more common than most people realize.

Should the possibility of future ill health destroy your ambitions?

On one hand, Louise understood that every organization wanted managers who could reliably do the job. On the other hand, just because she had been sick once and might possibly get sick sometime in the future, shouldn't mean she should give up her ambitions. After a brief discussion we hit upon an answer. If her health condition was brought up again and she was asked about her ability to perform her duties she would say:

Of course, no one can guarantee what their health will be like in the future, and I am no different. However, I understand your expectations and am confident I can do the job.

This answer works well because it is concise, positive, and unambiguous. In Louise's case, it would show she was confident in her abilities and her present health while at the same time reminding the employer that no single person can make guarantees about the future.

This is also an excellent answer for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation. While chronic illness is inherently unpredictable, we can usually take a good guess about how we will feel in the next six months to a year.

Bottom Line

If our short-term prognosis is stable then we should approach our job search with confidence, knowing that any prediction beyond that time-frame is actually unrealistic for anyone to make.


About the author...

Jason Reid runs Sick with Success®, an organization committed to helping people with chronic illness, and their employers, become more productive. Jason's success as both a manager and a person with chronic illness gives him a unique perspective on how chronic health conditions affect organizations and their people. An award-winning former television news director, Jason is also a professionally trained coach and speaker. Jason is the author of Thriving in the Age of Chronic Illness - his new book, which is a guide for both employees with chronic health conditions and their managers. Follow Jason at SickWithSuccess.com.


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