I’m a procrastinating chatterbox with ADHD

Dear Shelagh

I’m a true people’s person and could be considered a social butterfly, but I am rotten at job interviews. I always seem to say the wrong thing, and end up not landing the job because of it. In anticipation of my next job interview, I read your book Your First Year of Work, and found it very useful. I have now finally landed another interview and my nerves are shot. It feels like I don’t have enough time to prepare, even though I have more than two weeks. I’ve also sussed out where my problem lies and I seem to have the most issues with answering strengths/weaknesses questions.

Because I’m talkative, it is hard for me to not blab on and on about my strengths. When it gets to the weaknesses though, my brain shuts down. I always end up saying that my weaknesses are things like punctuality (even though I’m hardly ever late), that I have a learning disability (I have ADHD) and that I’m a procrastinator. Please, please help me? I never know what to say. How do I deal with these questions? I really, really want to get this job.

Nervous wreck

Dear nervous

While you describe ADHD as a learning disability, in the workplace such a condition can – and often does – make for a super-productive employee, particularly in high-tech, science, creative, marketing or sales positions. I have worked with ADHD people before and the most annoying thing about them is that they have a tendency make me look like a slacker by doing twice the amount of work in half the time.

You say you are talkative. Talking is better than not talking, but talking too much and at the wrong time can be off-putting in both interviews and at work. It gives the impression that you care more about your own thoughts and ideas than those of others. This does not go down well in the workplace.

You are obviously a smart and determined young person, so it’s time to put some of your energy into managing this. The trick is two-fold:

  • Focus on listening, and on addressing one point at a time. Don’t try to second-guess the interviewer. What they have to say has as much value as what’s going on in your head, so respect their opinions or questions, and respond to that point or question. Don’t interrupt the interviewer – however much you may want to. If you forget to listen, you’ll not be able to make intelligent responses. If you do listen, and allow the interviewer to direct the interview, you will be far more likely to offer considered and relevant responses.
  • Write down what you want to say at the interview, rehearse each point, and wait (patiently) for the right moment to say it. Make sure that your responses or questions are to the point and add value. If you feel yourself going off on a tangent, rein yourself in and stay on topic. You may need to practise this with a friend or family member.

Instead of blabbing on and on about your strengths, practise making factual references to your achievements. It means little if you say “I am a fast learner” but a great deal if you can demonstrate this by making intelligent references to the organisational structure, or client base, of the company to which you are applying.

Be realistic about your weaknesses. If you claim ‘punctuality’ as a weakness, you may appear to be showing off – displaying false modesty. I’ve always thought it an odd question, but if your interviewer does ask what your weaknesses are, select one, but spin it as a strength. For example:

“I tend to be over-enthusiastic at times, but I’ve learned to direct that enthusiasm into becoming more informed about the things that excite me.”

Which brings us to procrastination. I wish I could tell you how I mastered this; but I still haven’t. What does work for me is drawing up a priorities list and setting daily and weekly tasks (I use my Outlook for this) and ensuring that everything on the list is completed by the end of the week. This sometimes means that I end up working on Sunday evenings (as I am doing right at this moment), but at least I know what needs to be done and by when. I’ve also become more disciplined about social media, and only dip into Facebook and Twitter when I’m on my tea break. (This article is a big wake up call.)

Lastly, I would suggest that you take time out every day to either meditate, listen to soothing music, or lie on the grass and stare at the clouds. I know this is hard to do when your mind is racing in ten different directions all at once, but this is all the more reason why you should give it a go. I would also recommend that you do the breathing exercise at the bottom of page 30 of Your First Year of Work. This will really help calm your nerves in preparation for your interview.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

Send your work related questions to dearshelagh@shelaghfoster.co.za.



In defence of millennials


Dear Shelagh 

I recently read this article which fills me with terror and also makes me angry. I am one of these “millennials” and I work for a company where I sometimes have to select images to go in the company newsletter or to send to clients or whatever. 

So, this poor person posted a pic to the company’s Tumblr account and tagged it “clouds” and “smoke”, which is exactly what it looks like. She didn’t know that it was the exploding Challenger. I didn’t either. It looks like smoke or clouds to me. 

And then that article was written about the “dangers” of hiring people like me. What the hell is wrong with people like me? I don’t get how we’re supposed to know stuff we don’t know. I don’t get what we’re supposed to do so that we don’t look at a random picture of smoke or clouds and think, “hmmm, smoke or clouds”, not “I wonder if that could be an image of some disaster that happened before I was born…” 

Surely every generation has to deal with new young people entering the workforce, who don’t instantly recognise images of stuff that happened before they were born? I mean, I get that it’s all more scary now because social media makes sure that any stupid little mistake is transmitted around the world at the speed of light.

But seriously, what was that girl supposed to have done differently? What should I be doing differently? So that we’re not “dangerous” to hire…

Head in the clouds


Dear Head

I feel your pain: it’s always tempting for some people (click-baiting Jezebel writers?) to make sweeping generalisations when one member of one particular category of person makes a mistake. At any given moment “all” millennials/blondes/Irishmen/Chinese/middle-aged men, etc, etc, become one stupid thing because some social commenter decrees it to be so.

In your case, dear Head, the contrived bigotry of the headline has achieved its goal – annoying the targeted reader. I wouldn’t take it too personally if I were you.

The matter of this particular millennial’s (or “international social media employee’s”) mistake is another thing altogether and my immediate question is: where on earth is the manager in charge? Isn’t it a manager’s job to ensure that staff know stuff they don’t know? Surely American Apparel doesn’t simply take on social media staff without some guidance as to responsible image/copy selection? To then refer to the “insensitivity of the selection” is also sheer nonsense. This was not an “insensitive” act on the part of the employee, as she had no clue as to the image’s provenance, and therefore could not have made an “insensitive” decision. An uninformed one, yes – for sure.

I find it all rather annoying. A mistake was made and – hopefully – a few lessons were learned.

Perhaps what you and I can learn from this is: always check, ask, and check again and if still in doubt, find another image – or another company to work for.

There’s nothing at all wrong with millennials like you. You’re a rather fabulous, independently minded, world-changing lot. Hopefully this Washington Post article will cheer you up.

Send your work related questions to dearshelagh@shelaghfoster.co.za.



Rumours of retrenchment

Dear Shelagh,

I have been working at a wonderful company for little over a year now and although I am less experienced than the others in my position, I feel like I am a significant contributor and I bring a lot to the table.

The problem is not that I feel like anyone disagrees, rather that, in the light of probable retrenchments on the horizon, I am at the bottom of a pretty great pile.

I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive when it comes to assessing my possible fate, but I don’t know where to go from here. Do I approach my bosses and ask them if I should be keeping my ear to the ground for a new job?

Do I secretly start looking for a new position without telling anyone in case they start to think I want to leave (I definitely don’t)?

 Reluctantly Retrenchable


Dear Reluctantly

That’s a horrible situation to be in, I agree. There’s little worse than giving your all to your job with the Sword of Damocles dangling over your head.

I think you should speak to your bosses. Tell them that you’ve heard rumblings about retrenchments and would like to know if you are likely to be affected. They may be reluctant to give you a direct answer, though, as retrenchment is not something that can be done on a whim; there is a series of steps that have to be taken and strict protocol to be followed. Counselling for staff members forms a part of that process.

If the indication is that the company is heading in that direction, tell them that you truly don’t want to leave, while reassuring them that you will continue to give them 100 percent for as long as you work there. Discuss with them your intention to start looking around, and request a good reference should the worst come to the worst. I’m sure your bosses will respect your honesty.

Regardless of their response, try to bear in mind that retrenching staff is a horrible thing to have to do; not only are they losing valued employees, but they are also facing the reality that business isn’t good. The retrench-or can quite easily become the next retrench-ee. I’ve been on both sides of that fence, and both positions are horrible.

I truly hope that the rumours are just rumours. Let me know!

Send your work related questions to dearshelagh@shelaghfoster.co.za.