Meet Jen Anand. Every week Jen will be providing a new tip or two on approaching life during and after cancer to help inspire others. Jen was diagnosis with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January 2012, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments for 8 months. Jen is now a survivor and just celebrated her 5 year anniversary this year as cancer free!
“Life is a rat race. What’s your hurry to join it?”
The words my oncologist told me when I was in a rush to finish school, get a job and get on with my life. Now that I’m in the real world, I see what he means. Gone are my long summer vacations, Christmas break, spring break, and bank holidays. Here comes working on the weekends, answering phone calls any time of day, and replying to emails long into the night. But on those seemingly endless, tiring days, I remember how grateful I am for a job. The next few posts I want to share are about my interviewing and job seeking process, and the unique challenges facing young adults with cancer.
So, let’s start at the very beginning. Finding a job.
Never say never.
My biggest piece of advice would be to not limit yourself. Be open to any new opportunities! It might seem so very scary, but remember, we’ve faced wayyyy scarier. If you had ever said that I, an engineer, would be working for an insurance company, I would have laughed at you. No way. Yet, here I am, in a position I love and never would have dreamed existed. There’s a long series of events that transpired to getting my current job, but, it all began when I saw someone standing at a table and decided that it couldn’t hurt to talk to them. This is your chance to find out what’s out there and go for it.
Sit still and look pretty.
While the above paragraph is hopefully energizing, the reality of job seeking is that it’s hard to put yourself out there. Maybe you’re bald, or bloated, or skeleton-y, or in some other way show how cancer has ravaged you. Ever heard the saying “Look good, feel good”? There’s a lot of truth in that. Take the time to dress your best. You aren’t going to let cancer ruin your life. Wear your favorite outfit. Buy a new suit. Do a little extra make-up. This is for you, not just for potential employers. Looking good makes me feel good. But I also need to take a moment to breath, sit still, and relax. I have found that taking the moment to breath has helped me so much before meetings. It’s very calming. I follow up with my gratitude list. I give thanks that I’m here and not in the hospital. That I am able to get dressed up by myself and have this opportunity. That I can speak in a normal voice and walk up the stairs unassisted. And then I do a quick 5-second reflection of how far God has brought me. I think of my diagnosis, chemo, radiation, transplant, the ICU, and so many more things that have been incredibly difficult. And I realize if God brought me through all that, I’ll make it through meeting an employer.
All the world’s a stage.
In college, we said “fake it till you make it.” A mentor told me recently to act as if. Act as if you know what you are doing. Act as if you have it all under control. Act as if the world is at your fingertips. Cancer leaves me tired. Doubting myself. Struggling to keep up. Mostly just really tired. But then I remember the world is my stage, and this is my chance to give the performance of my life. To act as if I don’t have a care in the world. And somehow, strangely- it works. The more I bring the enthusiasm, the more I find people work to match it. Pretty soon, there’s a swirl of electricity in the air, and for a few minutes I can even forget how tired I am!
Keep on keeping on.
Finding a job is hard. I’ve lost count of how many resumes I handed out and how many times I talked to a future employer. And, how many times I’ve got the dreaded “we decided to go with someone else” call. It’s so easy to get discouraged and tired of applying for a job, especially when they probably won’t call back. Sometimes I feel so intimidated because I know my competition. They think faster than me, they can respond faster than me, heck- they even walk faster than I can. But they’re not me. I’ve faced challenges they haven’t and I know how to keep fighting. If you’re in the middle of the job hunt, don’t give up!
The number one question I had during my interviews was do I share my cancer. In my co-op interviews through college, I was bald. But for my full-time interviews, I had enough hair that no one would have known that I had had cancer. Short hair can be the rage, after all. And it was something that weighed on my mind. I know there are laws and rules against discriminating, but frankly employers are human and do have bias.
My co-op office immediately told me “Don’t tell them about your cancer.” Easier said than done. OK, but how do I explain away a gap on my resume, or where this chunk of time went, or how my life has completely changed? It’s a tough conversation to have!
Stay true to yourself.
I always wear my StupidCancer wristbands, and a few in honor of cancer friends. I wore them to my interviews. They are a part of who I am. I have a bracelet engraved with the saying “What Cancer Cannot Do” and then a list of things it will never take from me. I call it my courage bracelet and wear it whenever I need the extra boost. Don’t change your appearance to fit a mold that you think someone will like.
State the facts.
I have a lot of cancer related activities on my resume. Relay for life, fundraisers, young adult groups- all of these extracurriculars are very near and dear to my heart. And I’ve been asked about them. My answer became- cancer has very personally affected my family- a very true statement! Most people aren’t going to press past that, and honestly it explains away a lot of things!
Be proud of yourself.
I had an interview scheduled, to apply for my first internship. The morning of the interview, I began a low-grade fever and ended up admitted to the hospital. I was devastated. I begged my parents to let me go to the interview first and then the hospital, but in typical fashion they decided my health came first. I emailed the HR rep from my hospital bed and rescheduled. I was bald when I entered for my 2nd interview date. I wanted the job so badly- I wanted to prove I could be a “normal’ person again like the rest of my classmates. It was hard walking in bald while in treatment and being tired and nervous about the interview. But I did it. I made it to the interview. I made it through the interview. And in the end, I got the job.
Cut yourself some slack.
The cancer life is not for the faint hearted. Interviewing is going to knock the stuffing out of you. No matter how nice the interviewers are, you’re going to be nervous. Chemo brain has been such a scary part of my interviews, because I’m always afraid I’m going to draw a complete blank. I know in my daily life I can suddenly have a complete brain freeze and forget everything I was in the midst of saying. I’m terrified that’s going to happen in an interview. More and more companies are moving to behavioral interviews, where now I additionally have to recall stories from my past. I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast, so excuse me if I can’t instantly recall a conflict on a team that I successfully resolved. If you do have a brain freeze, cough. It sounds weird, I know, but it buys you some time. You can try to remember what you were saying. At the very least, someone might offer you water (take a very long sip) and then remind you where you were. I find it gives me a moment to try to pull myself together.
Write your answers to common questions on index cards so you can recall them. Attend mock interview workshops. And check out the many organizations that host cancer and career workshops!
Here is my cancer reveal story. I had an internship with my current company during my senior year of college. Two weeks into it, I decided that I liked the company enough to consider working for them long term. My personal promise was that I would not accept a full-time offer without disclosing my cancer background. However, I wanted to be upfront even before this company considered me. I walked into the manager’s office and told her my cancer story. Her response made me choke up. She said, “I celebrated five years cancer free on Saturday.” Knowing her story and hearing she was treated was a reassurance to me. This was a company where I could work for the long term. Like any job, there are challenges. I have been able to reach out to this woman on various occasions. I have learned that when you like your work it is easier to accept challenges as they arise. Let’s face it, nothing worth doing is ever easy.