A nagging, life-long question resurfaced as I began exploring career options again: Where do I fit? And how and where am I meant to find a role that leads to a life I can be proud of?
I recently researched employer branding to better understand employer and corporate perspectives. However, it also gave me valuable insights into why the quest for the perfect job seems so elusive for people with ADHD.
Employer branding is essentially a corporation’s dating profile: It makes the company as appealing as possible for the talent it wants to attract and hire. It works like a magnet in traditional haystack recruiting, effectively pulling the needle to the recruiter, saving them time and resources searching through the rest of the hay to find it. This streamlines their hiring process as strong candidates who are also a good cultural fit are already interested and engaged with the brand. It’s the business version of a low-cut top and great hair, promoting an appealing image of the company and its culture, or “personality,” and what your work life could be like if you join them.
Employer branding is both catnip and kryptonite for people with ADHD.
We can’t help but chase the dream job and career. We are eager to buy into the company’s brand image and idealize belonging there; to be happy in our work, with a good wage and benefits package to do something we love in a place where we feel wanted, respected, understood, and financially and socially secure. It doesn’t matter if we’ve never heard of the company or if the industry’s tanking; we view our jobs as a new adventure packed with potential, and we’re excited to make a difference. Once we’re in, we’re all in — until it starts to go wrong.
One minute, we’re super happy to finally find a ‘work home,’ and the next, we’re left feeling like something’s a bit off. People with ADHD are genuine, loyal, hard-working, open, adaptable, (far too) honest, and often socially dependent yet oblivious creatives who think differently from our non-ADHD peers. We’re genuine gold dust but with a slight catch. We make mistakes that look careless but aren’t, do things a peculiar way, and miss details (like the boring bits of the job description!). Sometimes we miss deadlines and details others deem obvious and communicate in a funny way, especially when we feel overwhelmed and don’t realize it.
We make these little ADHD mistakes early on, and then we overthink every single one of them because we really care about doing good work and take great pride in it. The shame is a big blow, and we care so much that sometimes it can drive us mad. We lose sleep, and our ADHD symptoms spike, especially over unavoidable critical feedback, which we don’t always know how to react to or process in the moment. So, we do our best to adapt, or we overcompensate.
Ultimately, we get hurt — a lot — during our careers, especially when our ADHD mistakes add up. We have a higher rate of getting fired than people without ADHD. Sometimes, we’re just the wrong fit for a job, but our brains, which are primed on strong emotions like pain, rejection, and joy, blame ourselves for the mismatch. This forces us into a constant internal feedback loop fraught with negative thinking.
Like most images of pretty people on social media and dating profiles, employer branding doesn’t tell the whole truth. It’s the image that the corporation genuinely aspires to and wants us to see in an attempt to build a relationship that creates loyalty and excitement even before the first interview.
The truth is that large organizations are run by a mixture of people with different attitudes, agendas, backgrounds, and images of what makes a respectable professional or a creative. Trying to meet that ambiguity can make us feel like we’re a bogart from Harry Potter, whirling and morphing every time we receive feedback until we finally turn into a balloon, whiz around the room, and retreat to the safety of our dark little cupboard. It’s exhausting, as is the unrealistic pressure we put on ourselves to be ‘perfect’.
So, when we encounter this seductive employer branding, with its beautiful blonde hair and gorgeous smile, we must understand that it’s as genuine as any other social media post or dating profile. But it’s also written by a good person genuinely trying to give us what they think we want too.
Of course, after the toil of job hunting, it’s natural to feel enamored by a new position. But just as we need to manage our expectations in any new relationship, we need to take a step back during the first few months, stay neutral, remember ourselves, acclimate to the job, and understand that the people we work with and for are only human. They, too, have flaws.
But don’t give up hope.
There’s a real person behind every job advertisement who is probably confused about what they want, just like you. Ultimately, they only want what’s best for their team, to hire someone they can rely on and work with, who makes a better future for them and the company. Someone they can be proud of. We have to trust that they see us for who we are, and until then, we have no choice but to get up and try again until we find that perfect fit.
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