ADHD Adults: Tips for Making Good Career Choices

For adults with ADHD, career choices may be based not only on skills but how a job fits with our ADHD symptoms. Here are some things to consider.For adults with ADHD, career choices may be based not only on skills but how a job fits with our ADHD symptoms. Here are some things to consider.

For Good Career Choices: Ask 20 Questions

Planning a career is serious business. Money, time, effort and self-esteem go into the process of finding that right career match. How can we maximize the probability of success and minimize the possibility of failure? It isn't by an instant, simple fix of stereotypic generalizations. We need to start with a complete collection of data, and in so doing, ask the following 20 questions:

  1. What are my passions...those interests that really "light me up?"
  2. What have been my accomplishments thus far?
  3. What personality factors contribute to my ease of handling life?
  4. What are the specifics that feel as natural and automatic as writing with my dominant hand?
  5. What are my priority values that must be considered to feel good about myself?
  6. What are my aptitude levels that maximize success?
  7. What is my energy pattern throughout the day, week, month?
  8. What are my dreams and how do they relate to the real world of work?
  9. What are the pieces of jobs that always attracted me and how can those pieces be threaded together?
  10. How realistic are my related options in terms of today's job market needs?
  11. How much do I really know about the related options?
  12. How can the options be tested out, rather than tried out, with the possibility of failure?
  13. What special challenges do I have?
  14. How do my challenges impact me?
  15. How might my challenges impact on the work options?
  16. How could the challenges be overcome by appropriate strategies and interventions?
  17. How great is the degree of match between the option & the real me?
  18. Can we test out the degree of match before pursuing the field?
  19. How could I enter and sustain the work environment chosen?
  20. What supports can be put in place to ensure long-term success?

Let's examine each of the questions, to see how the information they provide is valuable:

  1. Interests:
    As we get older our interests broaden. We become exposed to more of life's experiences and select those that create a spark for us. Yet, most adolescents are asked at 17 to make a decision about what interests them enough to formulate a career! A career counselor can administer an interest inventory that will throw out dozens of options, but the secret to its helpfulness is in the interpretation of the results. There are clues to be gotten from an interest inventory...tiny clues that added to other clues, will weave a trend, an answer, a direction. Just handing someone a list of correlated jobs often "falls flat" in terms of helpfulness.
  2. Accomplishments:
    We learn from our successes and from our failures. Accomplishments should be charted to see if there is a pattern that can lend support for a particular career route. Early accomplishments might be simple, yet still demonstrate a quality or talent that has grown with the individual.
  3. Personality factors:
    When we are comfortable within our own skin, we do a better job at whatever we attempt. It's helpful to identify how personality factors impact on our day-to-day comfort, in an attempt to move toward those environments that nurture our comfort zones-and away from those that constantly threaten.
  4. Natural & Automatic:
    Most people have a dominant hand preference. If we break our dominant hand, we can adjust--but it requires more focus and more energy. Most of us want a certain degree of challenge in our life's work. We want to feel as though we are growing. However, if 95% of our day-to-day tasks felt as unnatural as writing with our non-dominant hand, or if we had to focus with everything we have at every moment, we would likely feel threatened and burn out quickly. If we can feel natural and automatic with the majority of our job tasks, (even 51%) and still interject areas of challenge, then we have found a balance that could cultivate freshness, creativity and growth.
  5. Priority Values:
    We want to feel proud when we speak of our life's work. It's important to consider those parts of life that have the greatest meaning and identify them to be incorporated into a career. While we can't always work at our greatest "heart's desire," we also wouldn't want a career that goes against our deepest convictions, values and beliefs.
  6. Aptitude Levels:
    As in the discussion of personality factors, comfort is essential in a good career match. If we are working at a job that requires too high or too low an aptitude level for us, the match won't work out in the long run. Aptitude levels can be tested, or assumptions can be made using school achievement scores, aptitude levels and/or past performance in various subjects.

  1. Energy Pattern:
    Charting an Energy Pattern is an enormously useful tool in assuring a good career match. While everyone tends to have times when they are more "tuned in" than others (i.e., "I'm a morning person," or "I do my best work in the wee small hours...") charting an Energy Patterns goes far beyond that. It includes charting one's degree of energy (rating on a scale of 1-10) 3 times a day for at least a month. The results can be surprisingly helpful to learning to harness energy when it's there--and plan more "automatic" tasks for when it is not there. Particularly with adults with ADD, gaining predictability is an essential part of the career development process.
  2. Dreams:
    Our dreams need not be taken literally. If I dream of being a fireman, I may or may not find that a good career match. But, there are clues from our dreams that add to the process. If adventure and physical activity are both things I value and strive for, then I will keep that in mind as I continue to gather my facts.
  3. Threading pieces:
    Rarely do we love or hate all aspects of a job. It's more often the case that there are pieces of jobs that we enjoy or wish to avoid. A very helpful process is going through previous jobs and identifying those pieces and then threading them together to see what type of bigger picture they indicate.
  4. Realistic vs. Fantasy:
    If I truly want to be trained to be a circus clown, do I know if there currently is a market for them? If my talents lie in watercolor painting, am I aware of whether or not I can support myself doing that kind of work? I know for sure that I would want to go into something with my eyes open, and not with a fantasy shroud covering reality!
  5. Knowing about options:
    Today, it is easy to access valuable labor-market information that can cut down on mistakes in career decision-making. It is estimated that a career can be read about in the library in about 12 minutes. An easy investment in one's future!
  6. Testing out options:
    Once we've done the reading and still feel interested in a particular field, it's equally essential to do some testing of the option. We need to place ourselves, physically within the boundaries of where the work is being done. By observing, discussing, volunteering, interning, etc., we are gathering clues that would otherwise never be collected. This step separates the trial-and-error career seekers from those who wish to have more logic behind their final choice.
  7. Special Challenges:
    Often in the testing of options, we discover that, while there may be many areas of match, there might also be areas of mismatch. It's important then to identify the mismatch, the degree of mismatch and what might be done to offset it! If it's a disability that results in the mismatch, we'll need to zero in on the extent to which extra support and/or modifications would be necessary. As in previous discussion, if the degree of mismatch is greater than the degree of match, the option is probably not going to prove to be a good one in the long run. Strategies and accommodations are available for consideration, providing the match is otherwise a good one, and the outcome can result in a marketable employee.
  8. Individual Challenges:
    One person with ADHD may find that his/her symptoms manifest totally differently from another person with ADHD. Therefore, the next step would be to access the specific "gotcha" areas of the job that runs up against the individual challenge. Since we are all different, the strategy should match the specific person, and not be a stereotyping of someone else.
  9. Challenges Vs. Career Options:
    By observing, volunteering, interning, etc., we can often get a good idea of the degree of challenge a disability might provide within a given career option. It might be this step that separates a really exciting career option from one that has the potential to be a constant source of frustration.
  10. Strategies and interventions:
    There are dozens of wonderful books that highlight strategies and interventions used by others with similar challenges. These should be tried out in "safe" environments, long before the career match has been chosen, to see if they can provide enough offset power to eliminate the challenge as a barrier to the career option.
  11. Degree of match:
    Once there are one or several career options before us, we want to do more than make a pro and con list, for good decision-making. We also want to decide on the degree of match for each option. If there are 23 essential tasks associated with a particular job, and 2 of them don't match with what we are all about, it becomes extremely important to assess the degree of mismatch. It can often be the case that if 23 tasks line up well, but only 1 doesn't...that the one that doesn't is so great a degree of mismatch that the career should not be considered. This step must be dealt with carefully and skillfully.
  12. Test out:
    To begin with we stated that we want to minimize the possibility of failure and maximize the probability of success. This "test out" step cannot be skipped for that reason. Testing out can simply mean working as a volunteer in a place LIKE the one you'd like to work...just to see if it works. If all the other steps have already been done, the number of times that this step produces a surprise negative is very small...compared to not using a structured method of career decision-making.
  13. Enter & sustain:
    If we have tested out the career option, we have also already made some contacts into the field. Therefore, entering the field becomes much easier than one who tries to "knock on doors from the outside." To help sustain employment, all areas of perceived mismatch should be identified, along with strategies, accommodations and modifications, if necessary. Remember to be sure that the majority of the job is a comfortable, non-threatening environment.
  14. Supports:
    Today, more than ever before, career counselors, therapists, coaches and other professionals lend support for the career seeker to continue to grow within the field. There is no shame in seeking support. If talented basketball players require coaches to help them achieve their best, why not career-seekers? Such supportive interventions can be behind the scenes and no one else need know of it. It's the wise career person who identifies his/her needs and seeks them!

Planning a career is serious business. But it isn't a difficult business. It requires that we agree to as much effort put into it as we do in what we choose to wear! It requires that we find a process that works for us. It requires that we gather as much data about what makes "us tick" as we can gather in order to make the best decisions possible! Put the time in. You're worth it! For really good career choices, ask 20 questions.

Adapted from the book by Wilma Fellman. (2000). Finding A Career That Works For You. Specialty Press

next: Majority of Business Owners Exhibit ADHD Characteristics
~ adhd library articles
~ all add/adhd articles

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 29). ADHD Adults: Tips for Making Good Career Choices, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Last Updated: February 14, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info