Updated: Aug 1, 2022
In this article, we discuss three tips drawn from Wil’s story that people with ADHD can land their ideal jobs:
1. Find a non-traditional training program or bootcamp to learn your special interest
2. Search for well aligned mentors by finding the right keywords
3. Be willing to say yes and follow through on oppurtunities that comes your way
Wil discusses how his journey led him to finding his passion for web development and eventually join an ideal job with Mentra working alongside other passionate neurodivergents.
Bartender. Graphic Designer. Engineer. Take these three seemingly separate professions and you’d be hard pressed to find a direct connection. But for Wil Gerard, Mentra’s newest team member and a fellow #ADHDer, these three seemingly separate careers were roles he found himself successfully filling all in the span of 10 years.
After graduating with his Associates Degree in Graphic Design in 2013, Wil found himself ready to take on the world. Launching his own independent business as a freelancer, he took on any gig that came his way. From photography to copy writing to project management, he tried not to say no; instead he used each opportunity that came his way as just that, an opportunity. And in a large way, Wil credits his ADHD to helping with his career changes. His propensity to want to focus on something new has fueled the growth he's seen and felt working across industries and exploring new skills, talents and opportunities.
And just as it sounds - starting out on your own with your own business isn’t quite that easy.
Wil found himself having to continually educate and upgrade his skill sets. His design degree hadn’t necessarily taught him marketing, or how to write legal contracts, but those are just some of the countless things he needed to learn and create when handling business with clients. Self-education became more than a pastime, and Google was as much of a teacher as his professors back in college.
“There’s a ton of resources out there for just about anything. It just takes the right amount of Googling and the dedication to sift through the good resources from the bad resources. A part of it also is the drive to blaze my own trail and the dream of running my own business and discovering what that meant.” - Wil
An Unexpected Shift due to the Pandemic
While Wil worked on developing his business, on the side, he picked up another job working as a bartender and in music venues. While his graphic design work played into his personality as a natural introvert, bartending required the exact opposite, more extroverted skill set. Wil saw the benefits of being able to improve his ability to network and form connections that this side hustle would offer him. Over the years working there, Wil was able to level-up his social skills through pure practice to be comfortable engaging in conversations of all sorts. And he saw the direct benefits play out of those conversations with new contacts and potential business opportunities for his independent freelance practice.
Devoted to his growth, for a while, things were looking good as Wil continued finding new work.
And then COVID happened.
At the time Wil was freelancing for a non-profit art school. However, once the pandemic hit, the school was forced to close, taking his job with it. Then the bar he worked at, closed. Within a year he went from 2 jobs to zero. Wil admits the pandemic wasn't easy for anybody… and it definitely wasn't for him.
But for Wil what came out of it was yet another opportunity to keep pushing himself. Rather than choosing to continue with the track he had been on, he instead “knew I wanted something more, something next level. I wanted something different, and I’m glad that I did.” Instead he used the extra space to enter a new field - web development.
Through his journey to finding his ideal workplace, we can learn three key lessons for neurodivergents looking to follow their dreams:
Tip #1: Find a non-traditional training program / bootcamp to learn your special interest
There is usually a prompt of inspiration that leads individuals to partake in the journey of a non-traditional career path. For Wil it was a combination of situational factors and a love for bringing together a community that saw the value in “the power for technology to create new tools”. Wil was able to enroll in a free training program called 100Devs which played a massive role in shaping his outlook and fueling his ability. Founded by Leon Noel the program is specifically designed to equip individuals affected by the pandemic and those underrepresented in tech (e.g. individuals of color, individuals with disabilities, LGBQ+, females etc) with the necessary skills needed to gain employment in technology.
For Wil, Leon became an inspirational figure in his life. On top of a full-time job, Leon would live stream classes and put hours into moderating the discord channels, ensuring positive talk even as the discord channel continued to grow from a couple of hundred individuals to over thirty-thousand. That display of commitment to ensuring the space remained inclusive resonated with Wil. Currently, Wil is now a moderator, offers 1-on-1 mentorship for bootcamp cohort members, and is working on the side to create a hub to connect the 100Devs community across social media platforms. 100Devs still serves as a vital part of Wil’s network that he continues to grow and develop from and in the same way Leon was able to deliberately create a positive impact, Wil’s following closely in his footsteps to do the same at Mentra.
Tip #2: Search for well aligned mentors by using the right keywords
Wil expressed his thanks to his network for providing him support along his journey, from past internships to the unfailing support of his cat. However, Wil also expressed the importance of expanding those networks.
As a whole, the idea of networking, especially online, can feel intimidating from understanding who to speak to or where to go to ask for help, especially when you often know very little about the person on the other side of the screen. But Wil has a slightly different perspective in thinking about the networking process that’s more focused on simply creating a connection.
“Networking is tough but more often than not a lot can come from just reaching out. I approach it as just making friends and if it turns into more than that, like a business project, that’s great, but as much as I possibly can I try to be open to what happens.” Being genuinely interested in the conversation and the person’s interests and passions leads to more authentic conversations because at the end of the day, Wil shares that he “likes learning what other people are excited about.” Wil admits he’s spent quite a bit of time himself networking online in order to initially break into tech, find new clients and jobs. You shouldn’t “expect everyone to message back, but a good number do.”
Wil’s platform of choice to connect with others is Twitter, sharing that that’s where he’s found the most success in the past. He said he felt strange cold DMing individuals so he would instead reply to posts regarding topics he found interesting and relevant to what he was trying to accomplish.
For example if he was looking for a software engineering role, he would search for companies or individuals speaking about software engineering. This does take some time having to play around with the keywords to find the content that is most relevant to what he’s looking for. But once he’s found it, he’ll comment on the post allowing him to “engage with what the company or person is posting while still learning about them.” Leaving genuine comments about the topic can easily turn into a coffee chat which breeds an even better opportunity to create a stronger connection and network. “I’ve never had an awful coffee chat that I regretted, at the worst, I might have had a few boring ones.”
Walking into each coffee chat, WIl tries to go into it with low expectations. He’s not necessarily expecting to get a new position or job although Wil does note that it’s easier to not get lost in the sea of resumes when potential employers are able to put a face to a name. Rather he focuses on the conversation and the shared interest to see what he can learn from the other individual.
Regardless of who he is speaking to, Wil recommends to always go in prepared. Do your homework by looking up the background and interests of the person you’re interviewing and the company they work for. As Wil said “the good thing about social media is that it’s all out there.” Additionally showing up on time and having questions to ask are all good things to keep in mind when you’re just starting out.
Tip #3: Be willing to say yes and follow through on oppurtunities that comes your way
When Wil was able to say yes to everything that came his way, he was able to experience and learn so many more skill sets which, by the end of the day, makes him a more desirable employee. His growth wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t been willing to take the risk and the leap of faith. And although it wasn’t completely easy, his perspective to view each encounter with another individual as a connection and every task as an opportunity all in all made him a stronger individual.
Although these learnings are applicable across everyone's journey, Wil’s story and path is of course unique to him and his interests, passions, and opportunities.
Fast forward a couple years from this initial transition to Web Design and Development, all those experiences led Wil to find his ideal job as a UX Engineer. At Mentra he has found an oppurtunity that aligns with his own purpose as he can continue building a tech powered community based solution that is a force of positive good.
His nontraditional path has made him a more well rounded employee and a more inclusive one. Wil says he's excited to be building an online community similar to what gave him so much direction and belonging in his own life. Jokingly, he added that if something outside of his job role comes up, with all the roles he’s played he can probably still take a chance at handling that too.
To others that are looking to find their own path based on their own passions, know the story of following a non-traditional path doesn't have to be done alone. Instead, there is space to build your networks and find inclusive employers like Mentra that encourage everyone to follow the path that feels most authentic to each individual and their goals. In addition to the benefits this has for the employee and their satisfaction, this leads to stronger candidates for employers.
At Mentra, Wil works alongside a team of neurodivergents to bring together so many individuals from different walks of life to form that sense of community that Wil latched onto and depended on from 100Devs when he was just beginning his career in tech.
To continue doing this, Mentra believes diversity of experience is just as important as diversity of identity as the two often go hand in hand. To learn more about what it means to be a part of the Mentra community, please go here. We believe that workplace happiness comes from the freedom to be authentically yourself and live and learn from the experiences that you enjoy.