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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:

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:

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.

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:

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

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!

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

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