Get Hired? Know How You’re “Wired”
By Marla Stone, MA, CMC, PCC, CSS
As appeared in Eastern Association of Colleges and Employers (EACE) Fall 2010 Bridges Newsletter
For diverse learners, enjoying success in the workplace necessitates an even greater understanding of one’s strengths and challenges: particularly with respect to what are referred to as executive function skills. Socrates had it right when he said, “Know thyself” and to do so you must gain an understanding of how your brain is “wired” to function.
“The chief function of your body is to carry your brain around.” ~Thomas Edison
What are executive function skills and why are they important?
Executive function skills are those skills required to execute tasks. They give order and organization to our lives. Not coincidentally, the prefrontal cortex, (the area behind your forehead and the predominant “home” of such tasks), is nicknamed the CEO of the brain. Executive function skills can be divided into two groups:
- “Thinking tasks”- planning, prioritization, organization, time management, meta-cognition (an ability to take a non-judgmental “bird’s eye” view of your actions), and working memory (taking in and retaining new information, while retrieving and applying old, relevant information).
- “Doing tasks”- response inhibition (being able to work amidst distractions), emotional control, sustained attention, initiation of tasks, flexibility, and persistence in working on goals.
The above skills are utilized often during the course of a work day. Weak executive function skills can impact productivity and job performance. They can also overshadow the determined, creative and entrepreneurial “out of the box” problem solving strengths of neurodiverse minds.
How can someone with executive function skills deficits find a career that will enable them to succeed?
As mentioned earlier, awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses is paramount. Everyone will find that they are better at performing some tasks than others. To help determine how you learn best, which executive function skills are strongest and weakest, as well as your personality traits, consider the assessments below:
- A learning style assessment- http://www.open2.net/survey/learningstyles/
- An executive skills assessment- Smarts By Chuck Martin, Peg Dawson, Ed.D., and Richard Guare, Ph.D. provides assessments and questionnaires to determine your own executive skills strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of others. Their other book, Work Your Strengths, provides information that enables you to match your executive strengths and weaknesses with specific careers.
- A Via Strengths test (www.authentichappiness.com) questionnaire from UPenn- Look under “Engagement Questionnaires” section. Click on VIA Survey of Character Strengths. You do have to register and log in, but there is no charge for this test.
- The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator- Check with your college career center.
Ask questions. What does the job that I am interested in entail? What kinds of skills are required? How do my skills match those that are necessary to perform this job? What kind of job is the best fit to enable me to use my strengths? How flexible is the environment in which I will be working?
What strategies can address weaknesses and enable greater opportunities to apply strengths?
- Executive functions are hardwired and do not change dramatically. So, instead of trying to build up weaknesses, discover how to use your strengths to work around your weaknesses. Construct a niche that will be most conducive to achieving success.
- Advocate by stressing your strengths rather than your challenges. For example, rather than saying, “I am easily distracted so I need an office of my own,” mention that you work most effectively in a quiet environment.
- Technology, technology, technology. Embrace the numerous options that are available to alter your environment to compensate for weaknesses. Examples include:
- Kurzweil text to speech software
- Dragon Naturally Speaking speech to text software
- Pulse smartpen records as you take notes. This pen links audio to what you write and allows you to transfer notes to your computer (www.livescribe.com)
- Planner Pad-planner that incorporates categorizing, prioritizing and scheduling all on one page (https://plannerpads.com/index.asp)
- Mindmapping software that helps with brainstorming, organizing, and collaborating with others (www.mywebspiration.com)
- Microsoft OneNote enables organization and sharing of information
- Keep track of your tasks and receive email updates with http://www.taskanyone.com/
- A free “reminder” application for your computer (www.mic-ro.com/eggtimer)
For additional helpful sites and tools visit www.stoneadhdcoaching.com and click on “Career Development Tools.”
What can employers ask of themselves when hiring?
- What executive function skills are required of the job I am seeking to fill?
- If we will be working together, how do my executive function skills strengths and weaknesses compare to my employee’s? Are they compatible or complementary?
What can employers do to enable maximum productivity and retention rate of employees who have neurodiverse minds?
- Provide a flexible work environment and offer flextime schedules.
- Recognize employees’ strengths and place them in positions that will utilize them. Not only will this benefit your employees, it will translate to increased productivity, quality of performance, and retention rate.
- Provide mentors and coaches to help support employees as they maximize their strengths and abilities.
- Offer “roaming assistants” to provide assistance if an employee is faced with an effortful task that draws upon an executive weakness.
Success in the workplace can best be achieved when both employers and employees embrace the gifts of neurodiverse minds.
Armstrong, Thomas, Ph.D. Neurodiversity. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2010.
Dawson, Peg, Ed.D. and Richard Guare, Ph.D. Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential. New York: Guilford Press, 2009.
Martin, Chuck, Peg Dawson, Ed.D. and Richard Guare, Ph.D. Smarts. New York: Amacom, 2007.
---------. Work Your Strengths. New York: Amacom, 2010.
Rock, David. Your Brain at Work. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.
Marla Stone is an AD/HD and executive function life coach who works with teens and adults throughout the country. Contact her at [email protected] with any questions.