Over the years, I have given career advice to attorneys, florists, accountants, nurses, doctors, stay-at-home dads, therapists, clergymen, and even a professional skateboarder with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
It’s a misconception that certain jobs are not right for people with ADHD. As I’ve found, there seems to be no limit to the careers that adults with ADHD find fulfilling. But it is true that ADHD can make choosing a satisfying career a challenge.
If you’re like many of the students I work with, you changed your major in college at least once. Similarly, many of us have such varied interests that picking a career path to pursue is difficult.
Just about every job involves some mundane tasks, but finding work that is interesting most of the time is critical to an ADHDer’s job satisfaction and performance. Boredom can sidetrack us, which causes our performance to plummet. But if your job ties in to your passions, you’ll thrive. Maintaining a realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses are part of the job of planning for — and keeping — a job.
I often ask clients, “What would you do if you knew you could not possibly fail?” This bold question can point people in the right direction, freeing them from automatically crossing something off their list because it might, at first, seem an unrealistic choice.
It’s also important to know what you value. Would you rather work to serve others, get recognition, make lots of money, or meet interesting people? Work with a career coach or take an online quiz to help you evaluate what’s really important to you (see “Career-Search Resources," left). Testing can identify careers that suit your personality—and can eliminate those careers that may sound great, but don’t mesh with your personality or abilities.
Knowing Your Strengths — and Weaknesses
Skills for workplace success may be grouped into two main categories: hard and soft. Hard skills are job-specific and they vary, depending upon the industry or field in which you want to work. For instance, a graphic artist must have the computer skills that go with that job.
Soft skills are those personal characteristics that go with a variety of jobs; they include sociability, problem solving, communication, time management, and organization. People who prefer to work alone, for instance, might find research particularly appealing.
Time management and organization, for those of us with ADHD, are the most daunting skills to master, but they must be mastered. You can start working on your organizational skills during the career search itself. Buy a file or notebook, or use your e-mail program, to store information you will need in your investigation, such as contact names and numbers. Use a calendar for recording appointments.
Start a prioritized task list that includes the basics: assessment testing (for skills, personality traits, interests, and values), career counseling through your school, researching specific careers, and requesting informational interviews.
Testing will tell you which hard skills and soft skills you possess and which need improvement.
I learned the value of testing early. When I was in college, I worked during the summers as a camp counselor. It paid poorly, but it was fun and I was good at it. One summer, my aunt told me that a friend of hers was a manager at the telephone company and could get me a summer job as a switchboard operator and I could earn twice as much. I jumped at the chance — I knew I was a shoo-in!
Fortunately, my aunt’s friend didn’t skip protocol and give me the job without testing me first. I knew one minute into the test, which was supposed to assess my ability to recall lengthy sequences of numbers, that this was not the job for me, no matter how much it paid! Years later, my aunt told me that her friend had confided that, in all her years at the company, she had never seen anyone do so poorly on the test. That test saved me from what could have been the worst job ever.