It was May 2020 — and like many in the world — I found myself out of a job, laid off due to a global pandemic affecting every part of our lives. However, I was fortunate. I found a job in around three months, but that’s when the trouble started in the form of work from home. No office, no coffee shops, no libraries — just a desk in my house.
For an adult with ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder), it was a recipe for disaster. I had never paid much attention to my ADHD before. It was something I had just lived with all my life. But now, my ADHD was front and center. So I did what most ADHD folks do; I became obsessed in my quest to learn about ADHD and this new term, neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity is a viewpoint that brain differences are normal, rather than deficits and includes brain conditions like Autism, ADHD and dyslexia, among many others. I read books and articles, listened to podcasts, watched Youtube and sought professional help. Through these efforts, I realized I needed to find the right job for my brain.
A company that embraces diversity
My fortunate first step was interviewing for and then getting hired by the Zebra on their product team, responsible for customer acquisition, now called the Growth team. For a person just coming to understand my neurodivergent brain, I could not have landed at a better company than The Zebra. I quickly learned that the bullet points on the new hire slides are not simply window dressing but indicative of the commitment to inclusion throughout the organization and the embrace of diversity in all its forms. We have ERGs (employee resource groups) for women in tech (Shebras), minorities (Affinity), LGBTQIA+ (Dazzle) and those with mental or physical differences (Diversability). These ERGs are active, vibrant communities that constantly work to connect, inform and empower their members and allies.
Through the Diversability ERG, I dove even further into my education on ADHD and neurodiversity. As part of our monthly programming, we read the book Normal Sucks and had a Q&A with the author, Jonathan Mooney. The Diversability ERG inspired me to such a degree that I created The Right Job For Your Brain, a framework for finding the right job for the neurodivergent, but these components apply to everyone. I presented this framework at ProductCamp Austin in November 2021, winning Best Session.
5 components of finding the right job for your brain
- Right interest. If you have ADHD like me, this is crucial because finding a role that interests you will bring success. Determine what the drivers are for you now and in the long run. One of The Zebra’s core values is Innovation which matches my drive to discover, learn and grow. Figure out where your interests lay and seek roles best suited for you.
- Right pace. Different roles at different companies can operate at vastly different paces. Some organizations — such as startups like The Zebra — move with the swiftness of a zebra (you thought I was going to say a gazelle, right?). Conversely, some organizations move at a glacial pace, whether by necessity or preference. Figure out what is your preferred pace and seek companies that align well.
- Right people. This is possibly the most crucial factor in any role, especially for those with neurodiversity. Another core value at The Zebra is Collaboration. For people with ADHD like me, collaboration is vital. Working with team members can be energizing and help provide guardrails so I don’t get off track. However, if you’re a more solitary contributor, ensure the organization has the right expectation for your level of engagement with your fellow employees.
- Right environment. With the modern world still grappling with how to emerge from the pandemic, companies and organizations like The Zebra are evolving on the fly. In August, The Zebra became a hybrid workforce, and I couldn’t have been happier. For folks with ADHD like me, I love the ability to go into the office a few days a week to get the socialization I need and work from home to focus and get work done. Determine where you work best, whether from home, the office, local coffee shops or a combination of locations and seek out organizations offering your preferred working style.
- Right growth. Depending on where you are on the neurodiversity continuum, managing others might be perfect or petrifying. Regardless of what is suitable for you, whether as an individual contributor (IC) or people manager, make sure there is a career path that matches your growth goals. At The Zebra, I’ve been impressed how the product organization has defined product levels, providing pathways to both high-performing ICs as well as people managers. Embrace how you excel and find organizations that offer you the right career growth for your brain.
These five components to finding the right job for your brain can work in a harmonic concert or in a cacophony of noise and distraction. Work to align all five in a way that suits you best, realizing you may have to compromise on one component to serve another. Finding the right job is not easy or even fun, but by better understanding what you and your unique brain needs, you’ll have a clearer vision of those ideal roles and organizations. For me, landing at The Zebra allowed me to align the five components to excel in my role within the product team, but also become a contributing member to the wider organization. While I can’t guarantee that everyone reading this will land their ideal role, I’m confident that by applying this framework, everyone including neurodivergent folks like myself, will know what to look for when they need to find the next role.