Writing a CV After Long-Term Illness

“After leaving school, I gained employment immediately, and enjoyed progression throughout a 10 year period. However, in 2008, I was diagnosed with cancer and ended up being medically retired from my position. Following my treatment, I am now in remission after beating my fight and am looking to get back into the workplace. This is where I am stuck…how do I handle this apparent ‘gap’ in my CV while also supporting my career change? Many thanks, Amy.”

Fighting an illness (such as cancer) can often be a long, hard process, and meanwhile your life changes with every aspect; especially when it comes to your job.

If, like Amy, you’re looking to return to work following illness, and now find yourself having to look for a complete change of career, we’ve put together some tips, to help you get back on the saddle and plug the gaps in your CV.

After figuring out what career path you want to pursue, you have to start with the basics. Be specific when it comes to CV content. You will probably have to rewrite a part of it, so before you do that, ask yourself a few questions, such as:

  • Which skills, abilities and interests from my previous experience can I shift to a new field or job?
  • Do I need more training or education for this new perspective, and if so, can I afford to pay for training, especially if I don’t work and sustain myself during the process?
  • Are there companies that hire people in this new field that I’m trying?
  • Am I willing to accept a lower-level position, if it’s needed?
  • Do I have the energy and resistance to manage a potentially stressful job change, after dealing with the physical and emotional trauma that illness can inflict?

paper showing medical history

Put together a functional CV, rather than a traditional one based on chronology.

After a gap in your employment history, try to focus on your skills and competencies, rather than chronology. Describe your job experience by the abilities you have or what you have done, instead of dates and periods. That way you don’t attract attention over a specific date in time when you didn’t work because of your illness and treatment.

If you have been left out of the working field for a few years, forget calendar years and use the number of years spent in occupying certain positions. Use phrases like, “1 year experience as a sales manager at…”

List Everything

Make sure, that you highlight any work experience, volunteering, community involvement or special projects since returning to health. By doing so you will demonstrate your willingness to get back to work and upgrade your skills. Also, try to show that you are up-to-date with the changes in the industry (if applicable).

Use a Cover Letter

You can see the cover letter as an opportunity to explain the gap, and also discuss about how this experience has transformed you into a stronger person. Keep in mind that The Equality Act states that it is illegal to discriminate a person who has been out of work due to illness when it comes to employment, recruitment, training or promotions.

Have a Letter from Your Consultant

The employer might be concerned that you will need more time off from work than others, because of your illness or doctor appointments. You should attach a letter from your consultant that lists your appointment schedule, in order to show when these activities will take place (again, if applicable).

Don’t Forget the Basics

Don’t forget about key words. People who are looking to hire don’t have time to read a CV word by word. That’s why they overlook it or use CV-screening software that helps them sort dozens of applicants. If no word from their field of activity is found, they won’t even consider you for an interview. To find the most used keywords for your position, look at the recent job listings and you will notice the desirable skills and traits.

Underneath your name and contact information make sure to write a short paragraph that summarises what you have to offer with a profile. List your most important experience, skills and accomplishments. This should be your personal ad, in which you’re trying to sell yourself. Many employers only scan those paragraphs and decide based on it, if you’re a keeper or not.

Make the Most Of Your Experience

If you want and you think it is relevant, show a few personality traits that you have obtained throughout your illness. Even though some of them are considered clichés, you can explain them in your cover letter. Thus, you can use in describing yourself characteristics, like: self-motivated, determined and resilient in the face of adversity.


Keep in mind that your employer doesn’t need to know about your illness, unless you need a special accommodation. Check your legal rights and if you think the employer has crossed any line, speak up. But if you choose to talk about it, try and correct any wrong ideas the employer could have about your illness. You can also explain why what you’ve been through makes you a great employee, how you have dealt with challenges and successfully resolved arising problems.

PS: To Amy: congratulations on wining your fight against cancer and good luck with your upcoming career change!

With 20+ years of experience writing CVs, it still puts a smile on my face when I hear a client has secured an interview Lee Tonge - Founder and Director


Email: help@thecvstore.net
Phone: (01904) 902 102


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