Have you ever heard an ADDer say, "That interview was a piece of cake. I nailed it"? Consider George, one of my clients. He had a designer friend freshen up his resume, and he wrote a clever, persuasive cover letter, a la What Color Is Your Parachute? He researched the company he was applying to, and knew as much about its competitors as its CEO did. His hard work paid off. He got an interview.
George's ADHD symptoms reared their ugly head, though, seven minutes into the meeting. His prospective boss, a serious, sober guy, asked him how he handled change. George said, "I put it in a jar on my dresser in the bedroom." The boss looked annoyed, and George spent the next few minutes scrambling to regain his credibility. He didn't get the job.
We've all had ADD moments in life and in interviews. Instead of dwelling on past mistakes, or worrying that we will make them again, try to avoid them. Besides the basics -- having your outfit ready days before the interview, making a dry run to the company instead of estimating how long it will take to get there, finding a place to park, getting a good night's sleep -- there are common challenges that ADHDers face in an interview. Here are the best ways to overcome them.
PROBLEM: You overdo your enthusiasm for the company and job, and you babble on when answering a question.
SOLUTION: Create a script -- and stick to it.
> Before going on the interview, sit down in a quiet place and list all of the reasons you think the job is exciting. Get them out of your head and onto paper. This will temper your enthusiasm.
> Write a two- or three-sentence preamble to use when you first meet the interviewer. You might say, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Smith. The prospect of working as director of the health and wellness program is very appealing to me."
> Make a list of likely interview questions, and develop responses that are straightforward but enthusiastic. Run them by a friend to make sure they are clear, concise, and complimentary.
> Rehearse your answers in front of a mirror, until you are comfortable saying them.
PROBLEM: You don't listen to the interviewer's questions, and you butt in when he is talking.
SOLUTION: Rehearse a mock interview.
> Have a coach or a friend who has hired people at a company interview you. He can give you honest feedback if you are not answering the question or are stepping on his words. A good way to learn to stop butting in is to go to a social gathering with the purpose of listening to what is being said. Respond only when someone asks for your opinion. It has worked for my clients.
> Bring a copy of your resume to the mock interview, and have the interviewer quiz you on it. Sometimes we are so nervous that we forget the dates and time line of our jobs, and are reduced to umms and uhhs as we struggle to recall.
PROBLEM: You worry about drawing attention to your weaknesses.
SOLUTION: Talk about the qualifications and attributes that make up for your challenges.
> Almost all job descriptions list excellent time management and organizational skills as requirements. Neither is a strength for most ADDers. Before the interview, list qualifications and attributes that could make up for deficiencies you may have. These could include a positive attitude, a high energy level, being creative and a problem-solver, welcoming challenges, and taking pride in your work.
PROBLEM: You apply for a job impulsively, or talk too loud or act nervous in the interview.
SOLUTION: Follow job application instructions closely and learn to calm down.
> When applying for a job, read the directions carefully. My biggest blooper prevented me from getting a job interview. The application directions said that only online applications would be accepted. I sent over a packet of material to every person involved in the hiring process. When I called to say I would be in the area and available for an interview, they informed me that the choices had been made for the first round of interviews. When I asked why my application was not considered, I was told that, although I seemed to be one of the best-qualified candidates, I didn’t follow directions. Now I remind my job-seeking clients to read the application directions twice before applying.
> One of my clients is soft-spoken most of the time, but gets loud and shrill in interviews because he is nervous. When I pointed this out to him, he became aware of it. Taking a deep breath between thoughts or pausing for a second or two before answering a question solved his problem.
> Nervous gestures, like foot-tapping or playing with a pen, are not signs of self-confidence. Arrive early for the interview and do some stress-relieving exercises in the car or waiting area. This gives you time to "quiet" your feet and mind.
Preparing for an interview doesn't have to be a scary process. It can be an opportunity to show that we are more than a diagnosis of ADHD. When we go into an interview knowing this, we can put our best foot forward with good results.
This article appears in the Fall issue of ADDitude.
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To discuss and exchange job interview techniques with others, visit the ADHD at Work support group on ADDConnect.