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.