ADHD and Looking for Work

Word cloud with ADHD in the middle, and various positive
and negative words around it

ADHD shouldn’t prevent employers making the most of your talent. Here are some common job-hunting hurdles and ways to overcome them… 

Lack of confidence

People with ADHD are often misunderstood in ways that lead to us not feeling good about ourselves. We may struggle with the impact of negative messages from parents and teachers in childhood. We may be seen as high achievers but struggle underneath. Our achievements may seem uneven, with lots of highs and lows. Adults are often treated for anxiety or depression and find it difficult to manage their emotions. There are also many myths associated with ADHD which lead to people not being diagnosed, or getting the right support. Counselling, therapy or coaching can help with the emotional challenges, and there are an increasing number of practitioners who specialise in supporting clients with ADHD and other neurodiverse conditions. This type of support can be expensive, but some adjust their fees for people on different incomes. If your lack of confidence affects your ability to find or stay in work, you may be able to get coaching or counselling through Access to Work. 

Concentration and focus

It’s often thought that people with ADHD lack concentration, when in fact, we can concentrate very intensely on something we’re interested in; known as hyperfocus. This can mean we have intense interests and specialist knowledge which are a real asset to employers. However, we may have difficulty concentrating on the right thing at the right time, or switching concentration. Our ability to hyperfocus on something often kicks in when there’s an urgent deadline, or when we feel overwhelmed by something else. This means we might tend to delay getting started on a task, such as a job application, until the last minute, or have difficulty motivating ourselves to do a task where there’s no clear or immediate outcome, like sending a speculative CV. A combination of medication and practical support often helps with focus and time management. Having a friendly accountability buddy can help you keep track of your goals. For example, you could agree that you’re going to complete a task within a certain timeframe and ask them to check in with you on how it’s going. They can also help you by interrupting your hyperfocus when it’s time to switch tasks, and helping you set reminders and alarms. An accountability buddy doesn’t always have to be someone who lives with you: there are online communities of people with ADHD who support each other this way virtually, even across different time zones!

Planning and organisation

As well as concentration, ADHD affects short-term memory and planning. Tips on how to be more organised or set goals are often vague (“Trying keeping a diary…”) or are designed for people without ADHD and rely on being able to remember, so can be difficult for us to stick to and we can feel discouraged easily. A growing number of ADHD coaches have podcasts, workbooks and social media accounts featuring tips specifically designed for people with ADHD, which you may find more helpful when looking for work and managing your life. Some are free and many have subscription levels. 

Being bored or discouraged easily at work 

ADHD brains produce less of a substance called dopamine, sometimes known as the ‘reward chemical.’ Dopamine affects focus and planning, the main challenges associated with ADHD. It also affects how we feel pleasure and interest. A lack of dopamine can make us likely to seek out or being distracted by things which produce more, such as using social media, browsing the internet, exercising or gaming. The need for dopamine also means we thrive on novelty, rewards and feedback. This can make us do well at work or school when feel emotionally connected to a subject or a person, such as being really interested in a topic, or having a tutor, manager or client we get on well with. However, work or higher education environments can sometimes feel impersonal and you may feel like a small fish in a big pond, especially early in your career, of if you retrain or return to studying later in life. Mentoring, buddying or connecting with others in your industry can help with this. If you struggle to find encouragement in your job, being interested in something outside work can help and may lead to a job or business. 

Having lots of jobs or gaps on your CV

People with ADHD are more likely to have changed jobs often or left jobs more often. Employers tend to be more understanding of this than they used to be, especially if you’re still early in your career. There are positive ways to explain this if you’re asked to: you can mention your need to be challenged and stimulated, or talk about the different things you’ve learned from a variety of jobs and emphasise how it shows your adaptability. It’s also worth bearing in mind that overly negative attitude towards gaps can suggest an employer lacks understanding of disability and other issues.

Understanding ADHD as an adult

If you were diagnosed with ADHD at school, you and others may find it difficult to understand how ADHD affects you differently as an adult. The structure and reward system of school often make the challenges of ADHD easier to manage and it only becomes more challenging when responsibilities increase as we get older. Because of the myth that children grow out of ADHD, many adults don’t receive support after school or university when they may need it most. Being reassessed as an adult can help you recognise what ADHD means to you at work and in your home life. 

Other types of Neurodiversity 

Other neurodiverse conditions, such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia, often occur alongside ADHD and aren’t always recognised. While neurodiverse conditions are often diagnosed alone, it’s thought that most people who are diagnosed with one condition have more than one, and sometimes more than two. If you have challenges in reading and writing, social skills, motor skills or numeracy, you may find an additional diagnosis helps you understand yourself better and helps others to support you. Co-occurrence is increasingly being understood, and if you’ve already been diagnosed with ADHD, this should help to support a second diagnosis, particularly of autism or dyspraxia. Sometimes, ADHD can be hidden behind another condition and some people are diagnosed with ADHD following another diagnosis. However, you don’t need a formal diagnosis to apply for support through Access to Work.

by Maxine Roper, Genuine Copy

If you have ADHD, or any form of neurodiversity, our employers are keen to hear from you. Search for jobs with them here

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