Don't Let ADHD Hold Back Your Career

Martin Yate By Martin Yate October 27, 2020
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Dont Let ADHD Hold Back Your Career

This is the first in a two-part series of columns on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and how to not only manage it but also use it to your advantage in your job search and in the workplace.

Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Visit Your Career Q&A to see more.

I've been laid off for a few months because of COVID-19, but fortunately the jobs seem to be opening up again. I am getting interviews but not job offers.

I've used this time off for some soul searching about managing my career and realize that while I leave interviews thinking we had a great conversation, the companies rarely follow up for another interview. I look back on my career and see I've been passed over for promotions and that I've been criticized for not listening and for trying to dominate conversations.

I wonder if I have ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder]. I'm seeking medical advice, but in the meantime what can I do to improve my performance at job interviews? 

If you have ADHD and don't learn how to channel and control it, you won't be able to maintain consistent focus with your work.  But if you learn to channel and manage the extra mental and physical energy that comes with ADHD, you could be driving your career with focus, speed and agility. 

You asked specifically about improving your performance at job interviews. At any job interview, you are there to answer the interviewer's questions and relate each answer to the needs of the job for which you're applying. The more you relate your experience to the employer's needs, the better you'll synchronize with the interviewer. 

Preparing to Interview Well

People with ADHD are often energetic and friendly, which is a great asset at job interviews. But with the stress that comes with any interview, "energetic and friendly" can easily turn into "manic and domineering." You'd do well to spend the next week or two watching, listening to and learning how you're perceived by friends and colleagues, and then learning to stop those behaviors that give the impression that you're being manic and domineering, such as: 

Interrupting. During an interview, you're nervous and eager to speak. Being impetuous can mean you fail to listen to the whole question and jump in with an answer, interrupt the interviewer and perhaps miss nuances of the question. 

Speaking before you think. When you begin sentences without knowing where, when or how they are going to end, you end up rambling on about what you might think is important, jumping from topic to topic until your "answer" eventually peters out. Your interviewer may think you talk too much and are domineering while lacking both listening skills and focus. That sounds like a management nightmare that every manager will do his or her best to avoid. 

Thinking out loud. People with ADHD tend to verbally process what's going on in their minds at the moment. This results in skipping from one topic to another and often forgetting to give the listener a signal that you've changed direction. Therefore, your response is hard to follow. 

Trying to be witty. You probably have a likable personality. Just keep it in low gear, and let the interviewer make the jokes in the meeting. By all means laugh or smile, but don't try to top the interviewer; it rarely goes well. 

Turning Interviews into Offers

During this COVID-19 pandemic, wear a mask to in-person job interviews, and remember that these days you no longer shake hands on meeting or leaving. Instead, make eye contact and smile as you introduce yourself by first and last name. 

Recognize that the interviewer is in charge, and follow his or her lead. If you seem like you'll be hard to manage, you'll never get the job. Take the time to really think through the deliverables of the position:

  • Think about the responsibilities of the job and develop intelligent questions to ask about those responsibilities. Hiring decisions are made based on whether candidates answer questions in ways that demonstrate their competency, but also based on the questions candidates ask, because a question shows the depth of understanding and engagement a candidate has with the deliverables of the job.
  • Be clear about how the job helps the company make or save money or improve productivity in some small but important way.
  • Think about how you would ideally execute your responsibilities. 

As the interview wraps up, show enthusiasm for the job and understanding of the work and ask for the next interview. Or, if there is no follow-up interview, ask for the job. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

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