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Career Exploration

Peoples interests are strongly influenced by what they have experienced in life. The reality for many people with disabilities is that their life experiences have been very limited. As a result, a good planning process will need to include real opportunities for the individual to explore the world of work and develop preferences and interests. Good career exploration gathers information not only on specific interests and skills, but also on the personal characteristics and other attributes that the job seeker has to offer, and the work environments and culture that will be the best and most supportive fit.

Have you ever had a certain impression about what a certain field of work was like, only to have that impression change significantly once you worked in that field or explored it more closely? Like anyone else, people with disabilities may express an interest in a field, but have a limited understanding about what it entails. Additionally, they may have a finite view of the types of jobs that are available. The following are methods for helping people with disabilities (or any job seeker) determine what direction to go with their job search.

Assessment and Career Exploration Tools

Americas Labor Market Information System and Americas Career Kit has a number of excellent resources:

  • Americas Career InfoNet (, which includes a wealth of information on job trends, wages and national and local labor markets.
  • O*NET Online (, is a database that describes a wide variety of occupations, their requisite skills, and earnings potential.
  • O*NET Career Assessment and Exploration Tools, which include:
    • Interest Profiler - A self-assessment career exploration tool, where participants identify and learn about broad interest areas most relevant to their-related interests.
    • Work Importance Locator - A self-assessment career exploration tool which helps clarify what an individual finds most important in jobs.
    • Ability Profiler - An ability assessment developed for counseling and career exploration which measure nine job-relevant abilities.
      [Additional information on these O*NET tools is available at]

As with any other customer, One-Stop staff should help customers with disabilities use these and similar tools, for career assessment and exploration.


Like any other job seekers, business and community research can help an individual with a disability learn what types of jobs are available (and not available), areas of growth, and who the areas biggest employers are. Research on specific professions and employers can help to plan a job search and identify business contacts. The tools of Americas Workforce Network available at One-Stop Centers, and online, can be an excellent starting point including Americas Career InfoNet, and O*NET Online, described above.

Besides the tools of Americas Workforce Network, One-Stop Center are likely to have other information sources in their resource library. Sources for information include:

  • annual reports
  • business publications
  • newspapers
  • directly contacting the employer for an information packet.

The advent of the internet has made collecting such information much easier, and its recommended that the world wide web be used as the starting point for such research. The Career Resource Library of Americas Career InfoNet provides links to other internet based resources.

Experiential Methods

While these can be good starting points, activities that expose individuals to the realities, dynamics, and idiosyncrasies of real work environments can be invaluable. Also, due to a variety of issues (limited life experience, cognitive limitations, etc.), standard assessment tools do not always fully or accurately reflect the interests and capabilities of many people with disabilities.

The following experiential methods can help determine the types of positions to explore in the actual job development process. The connections that the One-Stop system has with the employer community should make it relatively simple to arrange those activities that involve direct employer contact. The One-Stop system will find these methods useful not only for customers with disabilities, but for all job seekers. In fact, many local One-Stop systems may already have many of these and similar services available to assist job seekers.

  • Informational Interviewing: Informational interviewing involves meeting with an employer, not for a job interview, but simply to gather information about the business. It is a wonderful way to increase job seekers knowledge of a field; it also provides the opportunity to gain experience interacting with employers without the pressure of a hiring decision.
  • Job Tours: Similar to informational interviewing, touring various businesses exposes the job seeker and One-Stop staff to a variety of jobs and work environments.
  • Job Shadowing: Job shadowing involves spending time observing an individual as he/she performs a job. This can last for an hour, an entire work day, or a series of days, depending on the nature of the job and the level of interest of the job seeker.
  • Volunteer Work: Doing volunteer work can be a helpful step for some individuals and for certain fields. For example, many people enter the human service and radio/television production fields through volunteer work and internships. Certain cautions apply:
    • From a values standpoint, it is important to recognize that volunteer work is not a substitute for paid employment. As part of the career development process, keep volunteering brief, and make sure that the goal remains employment.
    • For both legal and ethical reasons, people with disabilities should only do volunteer work that is similar to what other members of the community are doing as volunteers.
    • It can sometimes take enormous effort to find a volunteer job for a person with a significant disability. Such effort may be better spent on finding paid employment!
    • A final word: Volunteer work is an option for some people in specific situations, but it is not for everyone.
  • Temporary Work Assignments: A short-term, temporary work assignment can help an individual determine whether or not a job or setting suits them, and adds experience to a resume.
  • Situational Assessment: Situational assessment means trying out a job in the community, for a few hours up to a few days, so the job seeker can determine if they are well-suited for that type of work. Individuals are often paid by a non-employer source for situational assessments. State Vocational Rehabilitation (a One-Stop partner) or local community rehabilitation providers may be able to assist in arranging situational assessment. For a detailed explanation of situational assessment, see the book Demystifying Job Development (reference at the end of this article).

What Method to Use

There is no one right way to go about career exploration; methods will vary depending on the needs and abilities of each individual. To determine which methods will be the most useful, consider the following points:

  • Choose methods that are appropriate to the individual. For example, someone who has limited interpersonal communication skills and abilities will probably not benefit from an informational interview, and might be better off doing a situational assessment.
  • Use the methods that provide the most information in the shortest time so the individual can move ahead with the actual job search.

No matter what methods are used as part of the career exploration process, its important to gather certain information:

  • What types of work are available in the fields that interest the job seeker?
  • What skills do these jobs require?
  • In what types of work cultures and environments is the individual comfortable?
  • What types of jobs meet the specific requirements of the job seeker?

Placement Planning and Career Exploration: Areas to Look At

When determining the types of employment opportunities to pursue, the focus is often on the individuals job skills and where these can be applied. Yet many people (with and without disabilities) succeed or fail on a job based on how well they fit into the social environment of the workplace. When developing successful employment opportunities, consider: where would an individuals personality be considered a real asset? (For instance, a friendly, outgoing personality is an important attribute for a customer service job.) A list of possible criteria to examine as part of the career exploration process are listed below under Placement Planning and Career Exploration: Areas to Look At

As the career exploration process progresses, the job developer and job seeker should be looking for common themes among areas of interest. For example, an individual may have explored several different fields. While the person may have had interest in a variety of jobs, the ones where he/she is most intrigued may be jobs where there is a great deal of interaction with others, where there is a low level of supervision, which have an informal work atmosphere, which have a variety of tasks, or which focus on a specific area.

The following lists some areas for consideration when undertaking career exploration and planning. This information can be used as part of a job search profile, and also in evaluating a career exploration experience. Use these criteria to examine two perspectives:

  1. the requirements of a field or specific job
  2. the degree of importance that a job seeker places on each requirement

In no way is this list exhaustive. Add your own ideas!

  • Types of jobs and businesses that are of interest
  • Geographic area for job search
  • Minimal salary and benefit requirements
  • Number of hours of work per day/week
  • Time of day and week requirements (mornings, evenings, overnights, weekends, holidays)
  • Access to public transit
  • Connection with seekers past education and training
  • Personal attributes of job seeker that could be an asset within a job setting (e.g., friendly, helpful, neat, attention to detail, quiet)
  • Formality or informality of workplace
  • Amount of supervision desired/required
  • Level of interaction with co-workers and supervisors
  • Camaraderie and sociability of employees
  • Level of worker autonomy
  • Repetitiveness of tasks
  • Variety of tasks
  • Flexibility and opportunity for changes in routine
  • Availability of training
  • Opportunities for career advancement
  • Stamina and endurance requirements
  • Mobility requirements (i.e., need to move around in an area or within a work facility)
  • Communication requirements
  • Production rate/speed requirements
  • Strength: lifting and carrying
  • Manual dexterity
  • Reading requirements
  • Mathematics/counting
  • Level of independence required
  • Customer contact
  • Dress requirements
  • Need to work independently
  • Complexity of tasks
  • Amount of self-initiative required
  • Need/ability to tell time and time awareness
  • Stress and pressure of position
  • Need to ask for assistance
  • Area orientation requirements (small work area, large work area, entire building, several buildings, etc.)
  • Environment: noise, temperature, indoors/outdoors

Based in part on material from:
Hoff, D., Gandolfo, C., Gold, M., Jordan, M., (2000). Demystifying Job Development, TRN, St. Augustine, FL. Web site:; e-mail:; voice: (800) 280-7010

Written by:

Institute for Community Inclusion