Job-Hunting Tips for ADHD Teens

How your teenager with ADHD can survive — and succeed — in the summer workplace.


Filed Under: Teens and Tweens with ADHD, ADHD Career Paths
ADHD teens can find work including summer jobs and after school jobs. ADDitude Magazine

Aside from producing a paycheck, a job instills responsibility.

It’s that time of year again. School has come to a close, so bookworms and athletes alike will transform themselves into short-order cooks, assistants, construction workers, waiters, and sales associates, if only for the summer. As parents, your summer job is to help them.

Aside from producing a paycheck, a job instills responsibility in a teenager with ADHD. It gives teens a sense of purpose while offering opportunities to communicate, follow directions, and hone skills. Succeeding at work boosts self-esteem — and even helps with key attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) issues. Working young adults learn to make smooth transitions, interact with new people, and stay focused on tasks. And they have the opportunity to build a résumé that will land future positions.

Of course, summer jobs present challenges, too. Teachers grow to understand ADHD, often offering extra help and attention. Summer employers, however, may be less attuned to the condition, and less equipped to handle the accompanying issues. Still, with preparation and motivation, you and your teenager can leap over these hurdles together.

Prep talk

Your job starts before your child ever punches the time clock. What you can do ahead of time:

  • Look for the right job. Your child should choose a summer job as carefully as he would choose a class in school. Ideally, the job will play to his strengths. Ask your child if a potential job is interesting to him. Make sure it’s a fit with his skills, as well as his attention capabilities. He’ll want to find a boss who seems patient and a well-organized workplace.
  • Change your child’s routine before the job begins. Kids with ADHD depend on routines more than others. Altering a child’s schedule could upset important sleep habits and medication times. To help with the transition, change your child’s routine a week or two before his job’s start date. Wake him up earlier and send him to bed earlier. Be sure that meals and medication coincide with his new schedule.
  • Help your child understand his responsibilities. Encourage him to talk to his employer about how she defines a good worker. He should ask questions about his individual job tasks and the work environment: What rules are enforced? Is tardiness tolerated? Is it acceptable to leave precisely at quitting time? What’s the dress code? Whom will he will report to? Is it OK to take notes (or carry a small tape recorder) when policies and procedures are explained? He might also ask about what constitutes going “beyond the call of duty.” Discuss these matters with your child to ensure that he understands what will be expected of him.

Secrets of success

No matter what summer work your child lands, some job strategies are universal, and can prepare him for any adult career. So encourage him to:

  • Dress appropriately. Your child should notice what others wear and dress similarly. Make sure clothing is clean and wrinkle-free (he should iron the night before) and a standard is maintained — even a “blue-jeans” job doesn’t mean ripped clothing or wrinkled T-shirts. When interviewing, remember the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
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  • Practice punctuality. Time management is often a problem for those with ADHD. But in a new job, punctuality is critical. Your child should use a watch with an alarm to remind him when to leave for work (and when to take medication at work if necessary). Suggest he set the watch ahead 5 or 10 minutes, to give himself a head start.
  • Be polite. Communication is a vital workplace skill. If he tends to blurt out comments, interrupt others, or chitchat a lot, your child will need to control these impulses. Employers appreciate give and take in conversations, not constant chatter. Practice communicating at home, urging friends and family to signal when he talks out of turn. If possible, have him work with a career counselor or therapist to help raise self-awareness.

Lessons from the pros

What separates great workers from good ones? Habits like these...

  • Love what you do. If your child enjoys his work, he’ll want to do it more — and do it better. Enthusiasm always shows and always pays off.
  • Follow directions. Caution your child to do as he’s told, not what he’s inclined to do. If he has trouble following instructions, as many kids with ADHD do, suggest he take notes or tape-record instructions and refer to them often.
  • Leave personal problems at home. The workplace is not the arena for airing problems that don’t concern work. Even a skilled worker appears unprofessional if his troubles spill into the workplace.
  • Be a team player. The ability to work well with others is crucial. If one of your child’s co-workers is causing trouble, brainstorm with him about how to work effectively with that person.
  • Go the extra mile. Encourage your child to do more than his job description requires. If his job is to pack strawberries at the grocery store, he might also make sure the containers are neatly stacked. Applaud him when he volunteers to go in early or works overtime.

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