Secrets of Job Success

Tips for adults with ADD seeking happiness and success on the job.

Two adults with ADHD successfully working together on laptop in office
Two adults with ADHD successfully working together on laptop in office

For people with ADD, finding a rewarding job can be a challenge. Certain ADD traits-such as creativity and high levels of energy – can be advantageous in the workplace. But impulsivity, a lack of focus, and problems with organization and time management can make it very difficult.

How can ADDers find happiness and success on the job? Wilma Fellman, author of Finding a Career That Works for You, says to find work that relates to your interests and strategies that help you work productively.

ADDitude: What kind of work is best for people with ADD?

Wilma Fellman: Certain occupations are off-limits- being a commercial pilot, for example. But there is an incredible range of occupations, including some, like accounting and scientific research, that are actually good choices for ADDers.

Think about your interests-the more passionate you are about a job, the less likely it is that your symptoms will get in the way. When they do interfere – as they almost certainly will – odds are, you’ll be able to find an accommodation to make things easier.

ADDitude: What should ADDers consider when choosing a job?

WF: One of the most important things is the way you process information: Do you like to think quietly about a particular problem until a decision crystallizes? These people, whom I call “internal processors,” generally don’t do well in jobs that require lots of teamwork and brainstorming. At the other end of the spectrum are “external processors,” who prefer to talk to other people before finally settling on a solution.

Are you a “sprinter” or a “plodder”? Sprinters like to take on a project, give it their all, and quickly move on to a new one. They enjoy having closure at the end of each day, and they get bored if they have to keep working on the same thing for a long time. If you’re a sprinter, you might enjoy being a dentist.

Plodders prefer to devote the same level of focus to each day, and they don’t mind spending weeks or months or even years working on the same project. A plodder might make a good research scientist.
Within every industry, one job may work for you, while another may be the kiss of death. For example, criminal lawyers must pay close attention to complex facts over a long period of time. A sprinter might do better in real estate law, which involves shorter-term projects.

ADDitude: What if an ADDer already has a job he loves, but symptoms keep getting in the way?

WF: No job is perfect, and all of us have to adapt in some ways. Most of the time, if 75 percent of the job is a good fit, you can adapt to the other 25 percent. Find accommodations and simple adjustments that will make the job work for you, such as:

  • Getting extra clerical help and written, rather than spoken, instructions
  • Finding assistance with setting up filing systems and breaking up big projects into smaller tasks
  • Tape-recording meetings and conversations
  • Request a desk in a quiet area

Coaches can help ADDers explore accommodations and devise helpful occupational strategies. You can find an ADD coach at add.org or addcoachacademy.com.

If a job simply isn’t working out for you, despite your efforts to make things better, you might ask if you can be reassigned to a different position within the company that better suits your strengths. If that’s impossible, it may be time to move on-to a new job or even a new career.

ADDitude: Should employees tell their bosses that they have ADD?

WF: In general, that’s a bad idea, whether you’re looking for work or are already employed. The Americans with Disabilities Act is intended to stop employers from discriminating against workers who have disabilities. But employers sometimes make false assumptions about job candidates who have ADD-for example, that they are less intelligent or less capable. In my opinion, it’s simply not relevant that you have ADD-any more than it would be if you had diabetes or some other medical condition. Share your diagnosis with people who can help behind the scenes-a therapist or coach, for example.

ADDitude: What can parents do to help ensure that their child will be able to find a good job?

WF: Stress good career development. Read up about various careers-the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, is a good place to start. Speak with three or four people who are already doing a job your child is interested in, and have her observe the job-for an hour, a day, a week-or take an internship or volunteer position.

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