Preparing for a Career: An Online Tutorial

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A guide for students and their advocates

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D., Sara Lopez, and Scott Bellman

Today's competitive job market demands that students possess knowledge, skills, and relevant job experiences that will set them apart from other applicants. Career preparation activities can increase their chances of obtaining employment upon completion of high school or college. Like most high school students, teens with disabilities may think that they have plenty of time to decide on a career and acquire the skills they will need to move down that path. However, they can start exploring their career interests and developing their job skills now! Career planning and preparation should be an ongoing process throughout high school and postsecondary studies. Teenagers do not need to settle on one area to pursue right away, and they may change directions as they discover new interests.

Hundreds of websites provide information about job duties and academic requirements for specific positions, career preparation strategies, and legal issues. Most of the examples listed in this publication are geared toward secondary students who will be completing high school with a standard diploma and pursuing studies at a technical school, community college, or university. To be cautious, parents and teachers should always check out websites before recommending them to a child. They might even find that the content of a website changes over time; even if it was once a great resource for a teenager, it may no longer appropriate. Adults may enjoy exploring the sites side-by-side with children.

If website visitors find resources that are inaccessible to someone who has a disability (for example, sites that include graphics without text descriptions or video clips without captions), they can do something about it. Adults can work with students to send email to webmasters, ask for an alternate format of site content, and encourage website sponsors to make their pages accessible to everyone. Look at these situations as opportunities for a child to practice skills in self-advocacy, as well as advocacy for others.

The following sections include advice to a career-bound teenager or young adult. They also include examples of web resources for further exploration of the topics.

Identify role models.

Learn about successful adults with disabilities. Role models will help you set expectations for yourself.

Career Scientists who are Disabled: Role Models

Chemists with Disabilities (CWD)

Develop a career plan.

Make plans to consider your skills and interests, explore career options, consider academic requirements, gain relevant practical experiences, and complete a job search. Consider the advice at the following websites to help you develop a plan for success.

Career Planning Process

The Career Planning Process: Taking It Step by Step

Explore Careers

Search for occupations that are compatible with your skills and interests.

Consult the following websites to explore a wide variety of careers that might interest you. Learn about physical demands and skills needed for different kinds of jobs. Know whether jobs of interest are growing (e.g., computer software engineers) or shrinking (e.g., farmers, ranchers).

Career Briefs

ISEEK Skills Assessment

National Institute of Health Office of Science Education Career Finder (LifeWorks)

O*NET OnLine Skills Search

Occupational Outlook Handbook

Occupation Profile

Explore job accommodations you might need.

Consider disability-related accommodations you may need in order to successfully complete the assignments of a job. They may involve a change in the work environment, a modification to the way a specific job function is performed, or the use of assistive technology. Consult the following websites for information about job accommodations for people with disabilities.

JAN: For Individuals

O*NET Online Job Accommodations

Research government resources for workers with disabilities.

Find out what local, state, and regional resources are available to you. The following websites are examples of government resources for employees with disabilities.

Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for People with Disabilities Seeking Employment

Social Security Disability Programs

Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies

Participate in work-based learning activities.

Work-based learning opportunities can help you clarify academic and career interests, practice work-related skills, develop communication and collaboration skills through interaction with coworkers, and network with potential employers. They can also provide opportunities to determine if you can perform the essential functions of specific jobs, to practice disclosing your disability and requesting accommodations from an employer, to use assistive technology in a work setting, and to test which accommodations work best for you. Work-based learning opportunities include informational interviews, job shadows, service learning, and internships. Consult the career services office or counseling center at your school for information about work-based learning opportunities. Following are resources that describe types of work-based learning options and examples of work-based learning programs that might be available to you.

AccessCAREERS Projects
(See Learn and Earn: Tips for Teens and Learn and Earn: Supporting Teens videos and their correspond brochures, which can be freely viewed at or purchased in DVD format.

Bridges from School to Work

Career Guidance & Exploration

High School/High Tech

Youth Leadership Forums

Draft a résumé.

To begin building a résumé, make a list of all relevant work experiences (paid and volunteer), academic experiences, and other activities. Consult the following resources for information about résumé content and style.

Develop interviewing skills.

It's important to make a good impression during an interview. Practice interviewing skills, perhaps with a parent or sibling. Consult the following resources for interviewing guidance.

Disability Disclosure and Interviewing Techniques for Persons with Disabilities

Interview Tips and Advice


The following general resources are good places for students with disabilities and their families and advocates to start to explore career options.


American Association of People with Disabilities

ADA Document Portal

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Disability Information's Job Bank


Career Planning

ILR School on Employment and Disability Institute

ISEEK Solutions

Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

Mapping Your Future


National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

National Youth Employment Coalition

O*NET Resource Center

Parents and the School-to-Work Transition of Special Needs Youth

World Institute on Disability (WID)

Yahoo! HotJobs

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

To order free publications or newsletters use the DO-IT Publications Order Form; to order videos and training materials use the Videos, Books and Comprehensive Training Materials Order Form.

For further information, to be placed on the DO-IT mailing list, request materials in an alternate format, or to make comments or suggestions about DO-IT publications or web pages contact:

University of Washington
Box 354842
Seattle, WA 98195-4842
206-685-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
888-972-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
206-221-4171 (fax)
509-328-9331 (voice/TTY) Spokane

Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners

An earlier version of this content appeared in: Burgstahler, S. (2004). Preparing for a career...on the internet. Closing the Gap,23 (3).


The contents of this publication were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, #H324M990010. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Copyright © 2012, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2005, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.