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I will be getting interviewed very soon (tomorrow). I have ADD¹.

Without going into a whole lot of detail about what that is/isn't, it's enough to say that it's difficult for me to concentrate/focus, among other things. This causes mid-interview anxiety and frustration.

Because of this, technical job interviews have the potential to cause, and have caused, enough anxiety to actually become dizzy/lightheaded and nauseous mid-interview, which, needless to say, can make it nigh impossible to answer even simple questions, write code on a shared board/document, and, overall, have a reasonably successful interview.

Please note that I perform well while at the job, even when the conditions are somewhat stressful; it's not a job performance issue.

I've been through interviews where I've performed poorly simply because I couldn't think clearly enough to answer (sometimes simple) questions during the the process and the anxiety it brings² -questions that I can reason about and answer just fine a few minutes later after I'm more relaxed and can think more clearly, such as writing a function to generate prime numbers...

While I've been preparing for this upcoming interview for the past week, I'm still very concerned that I'll just make a fool out of myself again in the process -which, yes, can be sort of a vicious circle.

OTOH, I don't want to go into an interview and give the impression that I'm just trying to "make excuses" for (potentially) not doing so well, and so on. So, I don't think it'd be a good idea to inform my interviewer(s) about my condition and I'd prefer to avoid it if at all possible.

I've read this question and believe the accepted answer is very good, but the recommendations (e.g. having the pocket card) seem to be more practical for in-person interviews³.

I've also gone through this other question and think the accepted answer makes several good points, but it also seems an "easier said than done"-type of situation. (Obviously, if I could easily do those things, I wouldn't have a problem in the first place.)

This other question about anxiety during coding interviews is very likely to be applicable, but appears to be general, whereas I was looking for something more specific to my ADHD context, if at all.

My recent interview was on the phone (one-way video), and this next one will also be on the phone (no video), which makes this impractical IMHO. In addition, given that the initial phone interview is scheduled for 1 hour, having to excuse myself for an extended period of time on the phone (or even in-person) seems unprofessional/undesirable and just less likely to have a successful interview as a whole -much less a 2nd/3rd interview, etc.

My questions are:

  1. Is it really a bad idea to communicate this? If not, how can it be communicated in a way that does not give the wrong impression or place the interviewers in a position where they might feel "compelled" to give me a "thumbs up" regardless of how they felt?
  2. If you've been an interviewer, what do you suggest I should do to better handle the situation?
  3. If you have personal experience with ADD/ADHD, what, based on your experience, can be done to have better control of the situation, given the special considerations the condition has?

I'm open to additional recommendations, especially if you're experienced in the area in some way (e.g. you also have ADD/ADHD, are an interviewer, etc.) since I'm not necessarily sure I've even asked the "right" question(s).

For context, both me and the company are in the USA.

Thanks in advance.


Footnotes

¹ I was diagnosed in 3 separate occasions; I'm not a person who claims to have ADHD without having been evaluated or any sort of evidence as I've sometimes seen other people do, but I digress.

² During a recent interview, I started to feel lightheaded and nauseous while writing code on a "whiteboard" to solve a problem during an online video interview. I didn't say I was feeling that way and tried not to show it, which likely gave the impression I was simply less-than-competent for the task. It's similar to when people don't have the "stomach" to see blood and their body just reacts involuntarily to it, causing them to feel dizzy, nauseous, and so on.

³ Something I think I've noticed is that I tend to do better if the interview is more similar to a conversation/discussion, rather than a "You have 5 minutes to write code to find the shortest path between two nodes in a graph", but this is outside my control as an interviewee.

  • @JoeStrazzere No, I've never indicated this in a resume/cover letter/etc before. Was not aware of the site, either. – code_dredd Jun 18 '17 at 17:34
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    Possible duplicate of How do you overcome interview anxiety when writing code? – David K Jun 20 '17 at 19:37
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    Might want to drastically cut this down in length because I'm guessing you've got way too much detail here for what is ultimately a fairly simple question (but with no simple answers). Question #3 is also off-topic here: answering from experience is great, asking people to share their experience doesn't make for good Q&A. – Lilienthal Jun 20 '17 at 20:45
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    @Lilienthal #3 better? – Chris E Jun 20 '17 at 21:08
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    @ChristopherEstep Yeah, though I'm wondering if each of those questions isn't worth a separate post. – Lilienthal Jun 21 '17 at 8:42
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I'm a software engineer with ADD and generalized anxiety disorder, both professionally diagnosed as an adult. I've been in the exact situations you describe. It can be really, really hard, so kudos to you for confronting your challenges and following your professional ambitions.

Because of [ADD symptoms], technical job interviews have the potential to cause, and have caused, enough anxiety to actually become dizzy/lightheaded and nauseous mid-interview, which, needless to say, can make it nigh impossible to ... have a reasonably successful interview.

Your question paints your anxiety as a consequence of your ADD symptoms. I'm not a doctor or psychologist, but it's my inexpert opinion that you're not giving the anxiety, as a distinct issue, the consideration it demands.

What you're describing—extreme anxiety causing dizziness and nausea—is a panic attack.

You haven't said whether or not you experience anxiety in your daily life, but it seems clear to me that at the very least you have situational anxiety that you need to talk to your doctor about as a topic separate from (but obviously not exclusive of) your ADD. Please do this. Anxiety causing panic attacks is a real, treatable problem that can—in my inexpert experience—get worse if left untreated.

Were I in your shoes, here's what I would do:

Talk to your doctor.

Tell your doctor what you've been experiencing. Be frank and honest.

There are a variety of things a good doctor might do to help you, including prescribe medication, suggest lifestyle changes, suggest specific techniques for dealing with or heading off anxiety, or refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor. I've found things in all of these categories to be hugely helpful in my life. Try to keep an open mind.

If your doctor seems unenthused, press them. This is a real issue affecting your professional life and if they say something dismissive like, "Well, let's keep an eye on it," it's your right ask them to do more and, if they're unwilling, find a different care provider. (If the latter becomes necessary, your social networks are a great resource for recommendations if you're comfortable asking.)

Over time you and your doctor(s) will find long-term solutions for your anxiety. For the short term, however, you may want to discuss rescue medications. Rescue meds are fast-acting drugs that you can take "as needed" when you're having a panic attack or feel an attack coming on. I've taken rescue meds immediately before interviews when I was feeling extremely anxious and they've absolutely lived up to the name.

Manage your ADD.

You've been dealing with ADD for awhile (long enough to get three separate diagnoses anyway), so you probably have some experience with this, but now is the time to be newly diligent and vigorous.

In my life I've experienced serious professional consequences of not managing my ADD. For me, ADD isn't something you can just get some meds and a pomodoro timer for and call it solved. I have to be very mindful of my symptoms on a daily basis. Are my time-management techniques working as well as they did last week? Are my meds working as well as they did two weeks ago? Have I been getting enough sleep/exercise/socialization/quiet time? Have I been eating too much junk/drinking too much? Is my anxiety under control? What's changed?

Taking a personal inventory like this usually gives me some actionable steps to take. This is especially important in the days leading up to important, stressful events like interviews. If I'm struggling—and especially if my meds don't seem to be working as well as they used to—I talk to my doctor immediately.

Prepare for the interview.

I'm not going to give you advice about technical interviewing. There's lots of such advice out there, and frankly I'm not much of an expert. I do, however, have some more holistic advice about preparing for any demanding day when you have ADD and/or anxiety:

  • Set up in advance. Two days ahead of time (i.e. not the night before), choose where you're going to take the call. If you're going to be at home, give everyone you live with a heads-up. Tidy up the space a little. Find anything you need—notebook and pen, your headset if you use one. Pick out your clothes. Preparation and decision-making take mental energy—do as much of them as you can ahead of time.

  • Get some sleep. Apart from taking my meds on time, sleep is by far the most important factor for both my anxiety and ADD. If you have poor sleep habits like me (and a lot of ADD people), try really hard to get on a good schedule in the week leading up to the interview and, the night before, go to bed on time. If your anxiety or ADD makes it difficult for you to sleep before an interview, ask your doctor. They might prescribe you something or suggest herbal supplements.

  • Eat well. Don't eat a huge breakfast if you usually don't, but get some nutrition. If you have ADD and/or anxiety, concentrating on a phone call for an hour can take a tremendous amount of energy. Imagine what you'd eat before, say, a long hike. If the interview is late in the day, have a healthy afternoon snack. I like smoothies.

    If you drink caffeine, drink the same amount you usually do. Caffeine is great for attention, but too much caffeine causes anxiety, so don't give your body any surprises. If you got a good night's sleep and ate a healthy meal you won't need extra caffeine to be alert in the interview.

    And don't drink alcohol the night before.

TL;DR

By far the two most important takeaways here are:

  1. Talk to your doctor about your anxiety.
  2. Get enough sleep.

This stuff is hard, but you're already on the right track and I sincerely believe you can succeed.


I'm not a doctor or psychologist. Nothing I've written should be taken as medical advice to be followed without a doctor's consultation.

  • I also have ADD, and am a developer, but I've never had a problem with interviews (other than having to make sure I don't go off on a tangent), so it sounds like a combination with the anxiety that's at the root of the problems. Really dislike the meds, so I just try to deal with it as best as I can, without. Like the answer, in any case. – PoloHoleSet Jun 20 '17 at 21:17
  • I think this is a very good answer. To clarify, I don't have anxiety issues during daily life, nor have I had any at work. I'm speculating, but it seems to be more about the unknown aspect of the interview mixed with the "do or die"-type of situation (e.g. what will they ask?, have I prepared enough or will I embarrass myself?, etc). I've been under stressful situations at work b4, which I've managed just fine. (I just need more time to solve problems than allocated for interviews; makes me think I'm more likely to fail.) Like PoloHoleSet, I try to manage it as best I can w/o meds. – code_dredd Jun 20 '17 at 22:16
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    @ray That certainly sounds like situational anxiety. I'm not sure how that's usually treated, but I'm certain it's very treatable or even curable (I am not a doctor), so definitely talk to your doctor. As for meds (for either anxiety or ADD) I strongly recommend giving them a try if a doctor thinks they're right for you. When your vision is bad you don't "try to deal with it"—you get glasses. Mental health is the same, and you have nothing to lose by trying it. – Jordan Jun 21 '17 at 14:50
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I will cover one aspect of your question: yes, some interviewers will be willing to collaborate with you to interview you in a fairer format. Now I will talk about why they might do this, how to prime them to do this while establishing your talent, and how to collaborate to design a good format for you and them. ADD is a disorder so interviewers have at least some moral (even legal?) impetus to accommodate.

Part of why interviewers may be sympathetic to your interview distress is, even among people without relevant disorders, the disconnect between job and interview is something everyone always complains about. Your claim that the interview does not reflect your ability on the job has part of its argument established.

So, now what? It's the case that good employees are in demand. Just by being a potential good employee, which is something you begin establishing ahead of formal or technical interviewing through your soft skills, you have some leverage to seek a fair interview format even if this is some work for the employer.

It is very important to be collaborative in constructing an interview format. Offer an alternative that you have good reason to believe is fair to them and you, and gives them full opportunity to evaluate your talent and even reject you. I will offer some concrete suggestions but please think this through yourself:

  • Ask that technical and behavioral be separated.
  • Ask for a much more difficult technical question with much more time to achieve it, while working alone instead of interviewing dynamically.
  • Ask for separate behavioral questions that challenge you about your experience and ability to think on the spot.
  • Ask for a breadth, systems design question, that challenges a wealth of technical knowledge but avoids your stress point of in depth analytical work.
  • Offer a strong portfolio.
  • Offer to review or improve their code or find errors in "bad" code.
  • Offer to give them a lecture on a technical topic of their choice, where you have time to prepare and answer their questions.
  • Furthermore, suggest your technical lecture will be truly informative: offer to give it to your future coworkers where each such coworker leaves with the impression they can really work and learn from you.

Please note that it is not easy to design good interview questions on the fly. Interviewers need ample time to prepare. Also please note that your "performance" in setting up this interview is part of how you are proving yourself to them. Ideally you are well-spoken, prepared and engaged, and resoundingly someone who has proven their disorder is not in their way of success. Avoid suggestions that trigger your ADD, but do not necessarily avoid suggestions because you are bad at the format. Remember, you are trying to give them a fair chance to evaluate you. Else, why would they agree to this deal?

If you open up about your disorder, you certainly will be exposed to stigma. I cannot tell you what fraction of employers will want to hear no more word from you. But I can tell you that you do have some control over this. You will be best served by moving swiftly and certainly to establish your talent, of which you are very confident, via your experience and on the job despite your disorder. You may want to prepare to discuss it confidently. Be able to discuss your disorder as a narrative against which you have set your life accomplishments. Note this is broadening the interview to showcase more of your talents. This can be good.

Note your status quo is setting yourself up for risky, and even physically painful interview. It may be worth taking a chance with sharing your disorder to learn how a potential employer or interviewer may react. This is of course a very personal decision for you.

What I cannot counsel you on is any extant HR practice for this or any legal side to proper accommodations. I am curious for more experience in this topic but I did share how I would (and have) manage such a disorder interpersonally and as part of creating a positive impression.

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