Cancer survivors who disclose their health history in a job interview are less likely to receive callbacks from potential retail employers than those who do not disclose their health history, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.1

This study compared job applicants who apparently never had cancer and job applicants who presented themselves as cancer survivors.

Focusing on retail employers, five undercover researchers—2 men and 3 women ages 21 to 29 years—were randomly assigned to disclose a cancer history when applying for a retail position. They targeted 121 retail managers at 3 large shopping malls in a metropolitan area in the southern part of the United States.

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Researchers confirmed the establishment was hiring prior to data collection, excluding those who used a strict online-only application process. Only 1 applicant entered each store.

The applicants’ resumes were tailored to fit the work history and job requirements for the position and standardized for length, formatting, and level of experience.

No hiring laws were broken; however, the researchers found evidence of discriminatory behaviors toward the cancer survivors.

Those who revealed a cancer history received fewer callbacks (21% vs. 37% for those who did not reveal a cancer history). In addition, they saw negative interpersonal cues from managers such as frowning, brow furrowing, and less smiling.

In addition, the study included an online survey with 87 currently employed full-time participants who had experience as a manager or interviewer.

Participants were asked about their opinion of cancer survivors in the workplace. Survey responses indicate that cancer survivors’ job skills were not rated as high as their social skills.

The researchers conclude that diversity efforts have increased over the last decade, but health characteristics are often not included in diversity programs. Managers should be trained to be mindful of subtle biases they may have toward some health histories. In addition, cancer survivors should be counseled on how to present themselves in ways that reduce possible negative behaviors toward them.


1. Rice University. Cancer survivors less likely to receive callbacks from potential employers [news release]. EurekAlert! website. Published November 6, 2015. Accessed November 9, 2015.