Changing jobs

Wednesday 1 January, 2014

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On this page:  Finding a new job | Telling a potential employerConcerns about discrimination

A cancer diagnosis may mean some people reconsider their career goals and work values, and they may decide changing jobs is an opportunity for a fresh start. For some people, returning to the same job may not be possible due to changes in ability or length of time away. The desire to reduce work-related stress or seek more meaningful work may be a motivating factor to change jobs.

Finding a new job

Before looking for a new position you may want to consider the following:

  • Does my illness mean I need to look for a new line of work?
  • Can I use my skills and experience in a different way?
  • Will I need to update my skills or education?
  • Is there a market for people with my experience in my new chosen field?
  • Would I be happy with a lower-level position or fewer hours?
  • How would I manage the stress of a change in employment?
  • Does my confidence need a boost?

You may also want to consider different ways of working, i.e. job sharing, volunteering, self-employment, part-time or agency work.

You may find it valuable to discuss your options with colleagues and referees who are familiar with your work and can be honest about your skills. A career counsellor can help guide you through these decisions. You could talk to Cancer Council’s Small Business Advisory Service (not available in all states). People with a disability can find an advisory service at

Telling a potential employer

New employers do not need to know about your diagnosis or treatment unless it may impact on your ability to do the job.

There will probably be a gap in your resume (CV) if you did not work during cancer treatment. It’s common for people to have breaks in their employment history because of travel, having children or other personal reasons, so the employer may not ask about it.

Your employer does not need to know details about your personal life unless it is relevant to the job.

  • Think about what you may say if asked about the gap in your resume.
  • Keep explanations about a gap in your employment general and straightforward – don’t make up a longwinded story. Some people write ‘career break’ on their CV. You might want to say that you had a health issue that is now resolved. If you don’t want to say this, you may wish to say you took some time off for personal reasons.
  • If you don’t get the job and you believe you are being discriminated against, you can complain to the employer, the discrimination agency in your state or territory, the Australian Human Rights Commission or the Fair Work Ombudsman. However, claims are often unsuccessful because it’s hard to prove why the prospective employer didn’t hire you.

A prospective employer can ask you about your ability to perform tasks that are an essential part of the job, e.g. if you can lift heavy boxes. These are called the inherent requirements of the job. If this is a problem for you because of the cancer or treatment, you need to mention it at the interview.

Concerns about discrimination

You cannot be refused a job on the basis of cancer or treatment. This right is protected by law. Anyone who has had cancer is protected by the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Fair Work Act 2009, and their own state or territory human rights or equal opportunity laws.

These laws apply to the selection and appointment process for a new job. They also prevent employers from directly or indirectly discriminating against people with disabilities in the workplace.

Reviewed by: Marie Pitton, Head of Human Resources, Mortgage Choice, NSW; Merilyn Speiser, Principal Consultant, Catalina Consultants, NSW; Helen Tayler, Belconnen Health Centre, Oncology Social Worker, ACT; Pauline Shilkin, Consumer.
Updated: 01 Jan, 2014