Get a Job when You Have a Work History Gap Due to Disability or Illness

If you've experienced a work history gap due to mental or physical illness, you may find it a challenge to get yourself back into the mode of job searching and finding new work again. After months and even years of not working, it can feel daunting but there are ways to get back into the swing of things, such as through networking and making use of your friend and acquaintance connections. It's also important to concentrate on your own health and well-being as you venture back out into the work world, so that you can approach returning to work with confidence.


Are you ready to return to work?

  1. Sit with yourself and take some time to reflect on what you are now capable of. Ask yourself some important questions such as:
    • Am I ready to go back to work?
    • If I am, how much do I need to make? And if I'm on some form of social benefits, will that be affected? Namely, if I earn money will it affect me and my benefits such as in the USA Social Security Disability /SSDI and/or Supplemental Security Income/SSI , Medicaid or Medicare or housing benefits? And if you think it may, set up appropriate appointments with those offices, such as social security in your town and/or social services or Independent Living Centers which are nationwide in the USA, although not in every town. These can advise you how your earnings will affect your social service and social security money and health insurances.
  2. Be certain about your health status. It's helpful to ask any MD/doctors you may work with for their advisement as to any physical or mental health concerns, such as: How many hours can I work a week? What type of jobs do you think might be good for me or not? This conversation can include your psychologist, psychiatrist, and/or licensed social worker to see how their professional opinions impact your process of designing your return to work path. Key in on what jobs they recommend that are low stress. Be aware that any stress will likely worsen medical concerns, even chronic ones, but with planning, the other questions will be: How can your medical team help you succeed and cope with this new change you are proposing: going back to or going to work!
  3. Ask your family members that you trust and best friends: What do you folks think? Listen to the answers from family that loves you and friends that have your best interest in mind. They may have some ideas about places to work and how to go about jump-starting your back  to work career path. They may even have some connections to get you an interview.

Boosting your morale and positive self

  1. Do positive communications online to help your internet image and to help others. Many people spend hours online, especially when health forces you to remain at home. While you are online, you can do something that matters for others. Maybe you eat in a certain way or Sharing your experience and knowledge to help others is a good thing. Begin showing community spirit with your positive self. Helping others may help you in unexpected ways to be more proactive and interactive with the world community. And who knows––that happy, gentle new job may come from this type of powerful connecting activity.
    • If you ever have anything embarrassing online that you or some old friend put up and you can't or don't know how to fix it, keep trying and keep forgiving yourself. Raise your positive vibes by posting things that make a positive difference, that can help the world.
  2. Get active. Work out or go for walks or wheel your chair or meditate with movement. As your doctor allows and as your friends support you, getting up and moving around more is helpful, so that you can be more work ready. Even sedentary jobs require some movement and any increase in fitness may help. Also bring a water bottle with you. Drinking quality, filtered water increases your health (unless your doctor says less water––always check on that).
  3. Keep your happy spirit alive in some way. Do this in gentle, affordable ways. For example, go to the library and take out upbeat or motivational talks or funny talks. You might like listen to comedy a lot when getting your ego ready for asking people to hire you, like Jerry Seinfeld, John Pinette, Carol Burnett and Kevin Hart. What makes you smile? What can help you feel good? Maybe do affirmations as well. There are a lot of affirmations on YouTube that may help. Again, if you are sensitive with your mental health, doing this type of self support may need some support from your counselors or your friends, or both, to be sure you are on a good path. Or, doing some lighthearted viewing or reading in a way that suits you.

Preparing yourself professionally

  1. Prepare a resume. Resume oh resume, where art though dear resume? Do you have one? If not, write one if you can't get help. It doesn't have to be perfect. There are articles to help you prepare a resume but the issue is: What are your strengths and qualifications? In particular, how to cover your work gap is a big deal, so it is important to do volunteer work as a way of showing you have stayed engaged and can work. It is dreadful to do work for no money, yet even once a week for two hours shelving books at the library, being a mental health peer, being a writing tutor, babysitting, making meals for your grandma, and so forth, are all ways that you can factor in to explain how you spent your time while recovering. Moreover, volunteering is a way of getting your work network going. For example, who knows and has seen you do some form of work, whether it's filing or stirring soup.
    • A quick resume tip about gaps: Highlight your qualification section. Write a brag resume that brags about your volunteer work too.
    • It may be that you have other steps, such as meeting with a jobs counselor at your local One Stop Employment Center to have access to free technical classes (to help you prepare the resume, etc.) and his or her advice, so as to be able to produce a good document. Be sure to make use of all that is offered, so that when you apply, you have what's needed.

Getting work

  1. Find professional help to look for work if this is available to you. Most American cities have One Stop Employment centers that can be very helpful. Do an online search for your city and/or county and that term and you will find the address. These people offer free help for work and that way, if you don't want or have enough personal network to help you, you can connect to some workers whose job it is to help others find work.
  2. Apply for work. if you have your other steps in play, it's time to start applying, even part time, as long as you feel ready and your medical and/or mental health staff are there for you to trust and transition to working. It doesn't mean you can't go about this stuff on your own, just that the help of others matters so that you can be brave. Try making applications for jobs you like or think you are qualified to do. Don't forget to use the libraries as a fabulous source for help to manage this very technical aspect.
  3. Listen to yourself. Trust and love yourself. Looking for work needs a lot of ego boosting. The fact that you had some time off to gain or regain your physical and/or mental health has an impact on your confidence. In some instances, that's a badge of honor, to be able to say: "I'm better now, I'm ready now." Pat yourself on the back and take steps, baby steps, each day.
    • When you are cleared to work, on average try to apply to five places a week at a minimum.
    • If you are not volunteering, try to do this as soon as you can; volunteer at least two to five hours a week doing something you love, or think you will like and be able to do.
  4. Be sure to cover all the basics adequately during the job searching. Are you sleeping enough and eating reasonably? Do you have access to good or decent food and water, medicines if you take them, a secure place to live and a network of friends and/or professionals? Be sure you are okay and feel okay––you don't have to feel fabulous or perfect, love yourself totally every minute, or be proud of all you do. Trust your ability to succeed in this. There will be times when you wish you did things differently but you'll still find aspects that make the outcome tolerable. Your ability to cope with rejection will build, and you'll learn the courage to apply knowing that they may say no but continue to keep applying even if you don't get an interview, volunteering even if you haven't been doing anything for a while so that you can see what it feels like to be out there again.
    • Consider what is it like to even think: "Hey, I can go back to work... or can I?" Search deep inside yourself, boost your ego and spend time with the people who support you, with your pets, eating good food, getting sufficient sleep, enhancing your resume and putting together a job interview wardrobe. In doing these things, you help yourself, stay prepared and keep your attitude positive about the future. In all honesty, the amount of time you haven't been working is less important than your attitude in continuing to keep trying.
  5. Just do it! Once you are approved medically, have your mental health supports behind you, some friends to support you, a place to live, a way to get about by bus or car or foot, and help to understand how work affects your benefits, get the applications in and keep up the volunteering. Stay physically active and do a little more each week, staying in a rhythm that feels right for you and keeps you actively involved in working your way back to working.


  • Be your best you. If you don't know how, this means: What did you do before the gap, what were you good at? What can you do now that you are proud of work-wise? What can you do that will make a little money, if that's the primary concern? For example, you may need to clean houses with a Bachelor's degree; anything that gets you back into a disciplined routine and interacting with others can help. You may feel shy and embarrassed but if it helps, it may be worth a shot. Look for the positives too––for example, cleaning houses is autonomous, quiet and fulfilling work that can be fitted into your schedule. Just because it isn't something you dreamed of doing doesn't mean it isn't the right thing for now; your mindset can help you use this transition type of work as a stepping stone for regaining confidence, earning a little income and giving you the space you need to work up to the next thing.
  • Adding qualifications is more than about getting a degree. It's about how you have spent time that relates to jobs and community and church or other type of volunteerism may help. It shows your connectivity and willingness to get stuck in and work with others.
  • The most important approaches to getting work after a gap include networking, connections with friends and acquaintances, maintaining good self health and appreciating and/or forgiving any mistakes you've made in life, so as to learn to be a better and healthier person.