Finding a suitable job and career fulfillment is challenging for many people these days. But if you're dealing with a neurodivergent brain, for example because you have ADHD, autism or ADD, it might be even trickier. For some adults with a unique brain – which we call the Wandering Mind – it can almost feel like an impossible task to find job satisfaction.
But there is definitely hope for the Wandering Mind! Because more and more experts expect a demand for neurodiversity in the future. This will make it easier for Wandering Minds to find a suitable job.
As an adult with ADHD or ADD you just have different qualities and needs than someone with a neurotypical brain. What is suitable work for someone with autism, ADD or ADHD? How do you find happiness within your career as a HSP? What are typical ADD or ADHD professions, in other words, the ideal jobs for someone with a brain that works differently? In this article we hope to give you some inspiration and tips.
Job or career challenges for neurodivergent adults
Work & career is perhaps the life area in which adults with AD(H)D, autism and HSP struggle the most. Almost every day we receive messages in our Dutch Facebook community where adults with ADD or ADHD are sharing that they are unemployed, ill (burnout) or even incapacitated for work. But it is also known that this group regularly underperforms, is bored at work or does not find satisfaction within their career. The corporate world does not always seem to be suitable for people with a neurodivergent brain. The way the Wandering Mind works is simply different, and not all employers know how to deal with that. A missed opportunity, we believe, because neurodiversity can be a great strength for companies.
Conflicts in the workplace, lack of understanding, feelings of powerlessness, failure due to illness or communication problems at work are of no exception. If you have a unique brain, things may be expected of you that don't suit you at all. Many of us don't come to our full potential.
Research on ADHD and work/career
Remarkably, little research has been done on the effect of ADHD on work and career. In fact, many ADHD practitioners, therapists, and coaches aren't exactly sure how to help clients with ADHD when it comes to their work lives. The Dutch psychologist Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D., who worked with ADHD children for years and later with ADHD adults, says psychologists and therapists who specialize in ADHD are undertrained in helping clients when it comes to their careers. In 2005 she published an article on career choices and workplace challenges for individuals with ADHD .
The Impact of AD(H)D Symptoms at Work
Several AD(H)D symptoms make it difficult for adults with this label to function within certain jobs and corporate cultures. Therefore, not all professions are equally suitable for people with ADHD.
For example, many adults with ADHD find it difficult – especially when still unable to deal with the symptoms – to concentrate on one task for a longer period of time. In addition, as an adult with ADD or ADHD you may have difficulties with planning, organizing and getting things done on time. Following rules might be hard, as we sometimes know things can be done in a more efficient or better way. It is also difficult for many people with AD(H)D to stay motivated when a job offers little variety. Boredom sets in quickly. Or we get overstimulated, and then burn-out (or understimulated, followed by bore-out).
Fortunately, with our unique brain, we are smart enough to either (1) learn to deal with our symptoms or (2) find a job in which we can fully use our unique qualities. In addition, it is said that neurodiversity is the future! It is important that we recognize our value and step into our power.
Neurodiversity is the future
The future is neurodiverse, according to the Dutch Maartje Laterveer. She published an article in the Dutch newspaper NRC on June 16, 2022. “Little by little, more companies offer a policy aimed at people whose brains work differently than average. This is called neurodiversity. Rightly so, according to experts, because the future is neurodiverse. Neurodiversity is needed.
What is classified under the term ‘neurodiversive brain' are autism, ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, dyscalculia and recently also giftedness and high sensitivity (HSP). More and more companies are recognizing the power of the neurodivergent brain and are adjusting their policy accordingly. Vodafone and Microsoft, for example, have programs specifically aimed at people with autism.
Finding a job that matches our qualities and talents
Knowing this, it might still be challenging to find that workplace where your Wandering Mind is valued. But we can't get around it anymore: some jobs have a strong match with our AD(H)D brain (and the qualities that come with it). We might even call these jobs real ADD professions, ADHD professions or HSP professions. The key is, to find a career that best fits our passions, skills and talents, and where our challenges don't cause major problems.
People with AD(H)D are creative, inventive and original. As an adult with AD(H)D, you are probably excellent at connecting the dots and solving problems. Because we can think quickly, out-of-the-box and master conceptual thinking, we easily find new angles and creative solutions. Jobs where originality and innovation are important, come naturally to us.
Also, people with ADHD often excel at analytical thinking and in seeing the bigger picture. This quality can come in handy in many different professions. Or we have fantastic people skills and with our empathy, openness and intuition, we excel in connecting with people.
This was one of my (volunteer) jobs in New Zealand: I was a beekeeper for a week ;-). Maybe not the first ADHD profession that comes to mind. But this was a great temporary job. I loved being outside all day and working with my hands.
What does someone with a neurodivergent brain need in a job?
Do you know what your Wandering Mind needs in order to thrive in your career? What job is a good fit for someone with a neurodiverse brain? What is typical ‘AD(H)D work'? Where does the Wandering Mind comes to their full potential? This question is difficult to answer, because every person and every brain is different. But maybe the following information will give you some inspiration.
Creativity, fun, variety and meaning
For someone with AD(H)D or HSP it is usually important to have the opportunity to be creative and have fun at work. Everyone wants to enjoy their job, but for some of us Wandering Minds, this may be even more important. Being able to work with our creativity, keeps boredom and frustration at bay. It is also important for most of us, to have variety in work.
While many people feel sufficient motivation by receiving a salary and good work conditions, it is important for many adults with ADHD or HSP to be intrinsically motivated. We love to be really interested in the things we do on a daily basis. We prefer to even feel passion and meaning in our work. When we know that our work matters, we excel.
The right work environment
Not only the type of job is important for someone with a neurodivergent brain. The working environment and corporate culture are also decisive for success. Do we have our own office, or do we share the office with one person and can we easily concentrate, maybe by isolating ourselves? How is the space furnished? Does our boss expect us to be in the office from 9-5, or are we allowed to work from home? Is creativity valued, or are we mainly expected to carry out our tasks? These are all influential factors.
Someone with ADHD may not be able to concentrate well in an open-plan office. Because open workspaces give an abundance of stimuli. This can make it hard for the Wandering Mind to concentrate. We might be completely exhausted after a day at work. But put us in a creative brainstorm session in a creative space, and we thrive. After a day like this, we come home with an abundance of positive energy.
When looking for work, don't just look at the type of job, but also at the environment and culture of the company.
A large open space may not be the ideal work environment for someone with ADHD. Unless we can work with noise canceling headphones, that might help.
Our neurodiversity is needed for our evolution!
Helen Taylor, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, says neurodivergent brains are not flawed, but have qualities that are essential for our evolution. The qualities of the unique brain are necessary for humanity to adapt to changing environments. She even uses a term for this: “neurocognitive specialization”.
The neurotypical brain is perfectly capable of maintaining the status quo, but when change is needed, neurodivergent brains are needed. Because they can come up with innovative solutions. Think, for example, of the current climate-, political and health issues.
Self-knowledge: essential for finding a suitable job with AD(H)D or HSP
Neurodiversity is important and even necessary for our evolution. But even with this information, how do we find the job that best suits us? How can we thrive in our career, find meaning and make a difference?
If we want to find a job that suits us, it is essential that we know ourselves well. That means knowing who we are, what is important to us in a job, what qualities we have, what we enjoy doing and what we would like to contribute.
Are there any ADHD symptoms that are preventing you from thriving in your career? What can you do about this? What do you need in a job to be able to come to your full potential?
These are all important questions to ask yourself.
Know yourself for direction & focus
There are many ways to increase self-knowledge. Think of reading books (like What Color is your Parachute?), doing courses, listening to podcasts that offer exercises. But also meditating, journaling and mindfulness are powerful methods.
In 2016 I was traveling in New Zealand, feeling very motivated to find my core values, to be able to find more meaning in life and in my work. For weeks, I was doing different kind of exercises to know myself better. That process never ended; I’m still working on it every day. And every day, I’m finding more meaning in life. The proces of self-knowledge changed my life completely.
My experience, finding meaning in my career as an ADD woman
My ADHD coach, back in 2015, said I might never be able to work full-time, like ‘normal’ people. It was something I had to accept. My Wandering Mind might just not be suitable for it. Working for myself would be a terrible idea too, because I would have to deal with ‘boring tasks’ like finances and administration. Now, years later, I work as a freelancer and entrepreneur on various projects, such as this website. But I also offer SEO advice, mostly to small-scale travel organizations such as Roy Reizen, Norway Adventures and Kingfisher Tours and through my SEO course for beginners on Udemy.
I only take on jobs for which I feel intrinsically motivated. Also, I determine my own working hours. This makes a huge difference; I really enjoy working, almost every day. Because I’m able to work for different clients, and also make space for my own creative projects, I stay motivated. I don't work full time. This is a conscious choice; I value my free time and I place no value on buying a big house and expensive things. My sort-of minimalistic lifestyle enables me to work less than average. I’m so grateful for this life I created.
Exercise for finding suitable work as an adult with ADD or ADHD
There is no unequivocal answer to the question ‘what is the best job for someone with ADHD or ADD?’. The answer to this question is very personal. It depends on your skills, talents, interests and your personal needs.
The following exercise may help: Make 3 lists: (1) what are you good at, (2) what do you like to do and (3) what will someone pay you for? The ideal job for you as an adult with AD(H)D would appear in these 3 lists. If you don’t master a skill yet, but you would like to do it and someone would pay you for it, it might be worth it to learn something new. Invest some time and money in self improvement.
List of ideal jobs for men and women with AD(H)D
The perfect job for someone with AD(H)D does not exist. But since I work with SEO, I Know that many people search for “What is a real ADHD job, ADD job or HSP job?” in Google. Maybe that was you. You might wish to find a list with suitable jobs.
Some examples of jobs that might be a good fit for someone with ADHD are: innovator, woodworker, teacher, baker, interior designer, writer, architect, art director, designer, translator, actor, musician, editor, chef, carpenter, inventor, fashion designer, journalist, industrial designer, researcher, web designer, data-analyst, psychologist, coach and advertiser.
Physical occupations can also be a good fit for someone with ADHD. Think of a firefighter, catering employee, gardener, personal trainer or gym teacher.
But don't let these examples limit you. With your unique brain you can go in so many directions!
There are plenty of suitable professions for people with ADD, ADHD and HSP
Getting a label like ADD, ADHD or HSP, might have made you think in limitations. But someone with AD(H)D can excel in a job. It is important to find out what you are good at, where your interests lie and in which environment you function best. The possibilities are endless, and you too can find work that suits you (and your unique brain). You can also get a grip on your symptoms, for example with the help of a coach. And don’t forget: the future is neurodiverse!
Did you already find the ideal job, as an ADHD or HSP adult?
Have you found your dream job as an adult with AD(H)D? Or are you still looking? We would love it if you share your experience in the comments.