Eight Ways in which ADHD and Executive Function Deficits Sabotage Career Plans

"What? You mean it is ADHD that is getting in the way of me finding a job I like? I did not realize that."

As a certified career coach and ADHD Coach, I have heard this so many times from new clients who reach out to me for 1:1 coaching.

When people come to me for coaching, they are not always sure HOW their ADHD got in the way of their most current job, or during their last interview. Typically when they first come to me, clients are frustrated, overwhelmed, and feel defeated. Many clients find exploring the world of networking, resumes and cover letters with no help or guidance from someone else to be daunting tasks. They describe themselves as feeling embarrassed, frustrated, anxious, and having low self-esteem. Imagine having no idea where to start or how to start? Add to that being pressured by well-meaning friends and family, feeling shame, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), coupled with extremely low self-confidence, and it is a recipe for failure, or at the very least frustration.

As a coach, one of the first questions I ask new clients is, "Do you know what executive functions are?" I don't ask to embarrass them or to test them, but to be respectful of them. Every person has a different level of knowledge about the facts and research on ADHD and executive function. Many tell me that they have heard the words "Executive Functions" or "Executive Functioning deficit," but when I ask "What are some of the Executive Functions you are good at, and which do you struggle with?", they usually say "Uh...focus? Organization? Managing time?” There is really so much more to Executive Functions and HOW those executive function deficits (EFDs) can get in the way of your career!

So, what are executive functions? Broadly speaking, executive functioning refers to the cognitive and mental abilities that help people engage in goal-directed action. People with executive dysfunction struggle to organize and regulate their behavior in ways that will help them accomplish long-term goals. We all have executive functioning strengths and challenges that affect our attention, learning, work, and relationships. However, for those with ADHD, EF challenges are more severe and more numerous than for those without it.

What types of self-regulation are associated with Executive Functioning Deficits?

  • Activation- Organizing, Prioritizing, Planning & Initiating Action

  • Focus & Attention- Focusing, Sustaining and/or Shifting Attention, being able to accomplish more than one thing at a time

  • Effort- Regulating Level of Alertness, Sustaining Effort and Process Speed

  • Memory- Utilizing Working Memory: Memory Storage and Retrieval, recalling past knowledge and using it in a current situation

  • Timeliness- Awareness of time, Scheduling: Time Management, keeping track of time

  • Planning- ​​Imagination, Evaluation, Selection of Possible Options & Outcomes

  • Emotional Control- Modulate Emotions and Manage Frustrations, Ability to control emotions

  • Action- Self-Monitoring & Regulation of Action

So how can you deal with these EFD's when looking for a job or on the job?

First, really know yourself by working with a coach, getting hands-on work experience, and volunteering to help others. As a certified ADHD and Career Coach, I see how important it is to really know yourself long BEFORE you choose a career. Contrary to what many people might try to get you to believe, a high GPA in a certain subject area does not mean a job in that career is necessarily a good fit. Similarly, simply because there is a high dollar salary attached to an offered position, it does not make that career choice a good one for you. Second, think about ways that YOU can improve yourself, overcome challenges, and get good advice about what is expected of you at the job - BEFORE you take the job. Truly understanding yourself, and the particular nuances of your neurodiversity are important and essential first steps down the path to finding a career that fits YOU. Third, go above and beyond once you are on the job. Know your strengths AND your challenges. YOU do NOT have to DISCUSS your Executive Functioning Challenges with a potential employer, you just need to know yourself well so that you can improve and be successful.

The biggest takeaway I can offer you is that ADHD and Executive Functioning Deficits go hand in hand. It is up to you to identify what those challenges are and how you can deal with those challenges on the job, how you can improve in the areas where you are weak, and to know when "that is not the right job for you"...and that is OK! Anyone with ADHD or EF deficits can do well at work - and at a job that they love. In fact, with ADHD, if you are not motivated to do well, it will be hard to fight off these Executive Functioning Deficits.

Do you struggle with executive function deficits? Share your comments with us below!

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About the author: I am Lynn Miner-Rosen, M.Ed., ACC, CDCS the founder of LMR Coaching and the creator of the ADHD JOB SQUAD™ where I provide coaching, instruction, and support to college students and adults with (and without) ADD, ADHD, Executive Functioning Deficits and Learning Differences worldwide. I am a leading expert in ADHD career coaching and an ICF Credentialed and Board Certified Career Development Coach, ADD/ADHD Coach, Executive Function Coach and Life Coach.