Career Development Checklist

For many staff working with students to find paid work, the first question they may have is "Where do I start?". The following checklist is offered as a guide to not only assist students to find jobs but to teach them job seeking skills they can use in the future.

  1. Identify Career Interests
  2. Follow up on the Person Centered Plan
  3. Develop a Career Plan
  4. Support Job Development and the Job Search
  5. Prepare for Job Success
  6. Follow up on Career Planning

I Identify Career Interests

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    To begin, find out from students what careers or jobs they are interested in. Ask them about their aspirations, their preferences and interests, and their talents. There are a number of ways to do this with students, but the most effective method is a one-to-one, person-centered approach. This can be a departure for IEP team members, who are accustomed to making decisions based on their expertise and knowledge about students. Beginning no later than age 14, it is time to involve students in transition decisions that are based on their preferences and goals.

    Person-centered planning: Numerous person-centered planning models can be found online by doing a search for "person-centered planning." Selected resources are included later in this section under "Resources." Key features of person-centered planning (PCP) include the following steps:

    Invite student to plan for future: The first step is inviting a student to meet to discuss life after high school. The facilitator should be prepared to explain the purpose of a PCP meeting, who is typically invited to these meetings (family, friends, trusted professionals), how long the meeting will take, and what kinds of questions are typically posed to generate discussion and ideas.

    Plan a meeting away from school: Make an effort to hold a person-centered planning meeting away from school and during non-school hours. Holding the meeting offsite will immediately make it clear to everyone that the meeting is not an IEP meeting, even though some of the same people might be there. Holding it during non-school hours will also make it possible for more people to attend. PCP facilitators (who may be agency personnel, college staff, community providers, or teachers) have facilitated meetings at libraries, restaurants, and most commonly at the student's home.

    Ask student to invite people to meeting who he or she believes can contribute information about student's strengths and preferences: The student creates the guest list for a PCP meeting. One of the best ways to assist students with this is to ask them a few questions like, " Who are the people you rely on to help with big and small decisions?", " Who knows you best?" and " Who are the people you turn to when you need help with a problem?".  Explain to the student that these people are often the best people to invite to a PCP meeting.

    Facilitate meeting: At the meeting, the facilitator should review some ground rules with the group. These include making sure that all statements about the student are positive or neutral, that everyone's input is valued, and that the intent of the meeting is to gather as much information as possible from the student and the invited guests about the student's strengths, preferences, and aspirations. The goal is to create an action plan that will assist the student and the school team to effectively plan for transition.

PCP meeting agenda: At the meeting, the facilitator should ask the student (with contributions from others) about routines and preferences at home, at school, in work settings, and through social and community experiences. The facilitator also asks the group to help develop a personal profile of the student. From there the student will be asked to describe what aspirations they have for the next five years, or for life after high school. These can include where they see themselves working and what they'll do at that job, what training or further education they anticipate needing, where they see themselves living, what they'll be doing with their free time, and with whom they will be doing those activities. After this, the facilitator will ask the student and group to identify key resources that might be available to pursue these dreams, to discuss any potential barriers, and finally to develop an action plan that addresses these plans for the future.

PCP Resources:

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II Follow up on PCP

As a result of person-centered planning, staff have some idea of a student's career interests. A next step is to help students to learn more about these interests through career interest surveys, informational interviews, a job shadowing experience, or a job tour. Each of these activities can inform students about the knowledge, skills, and further education and training that will be required to pursue their career goals as well as to research other career interests.

Career interest surveys: A number of career interest surveys are available online, either through a district membership or free online access. One resource available to Massachusetts students is the Department of Elementary and Secondary Educations's Your Plan for College

Other career interest survey sites include:

Exploring Career Information, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Key

Mapping your Future/Careership

Career OneStop

Career Zone

O*NET Online

O*NET version for youth

Informational interviews: Informational interviews are a good way for students to learn first- hand what a job is really like from someone who has that job. It's also a good way for students to learn about the education or training needed for a job, and how people enter a specific field of work. Below are examples of actual students' experiences with informational interviews:

  • Clara: Clara's dream was to own her own dance studio, similar to the one where she had recently begun dance lessons. With help from her transition coach, she arranged an informational interview with the owner of dance studio where she was taking lessons. Clara learned from the owner that anyone who wants to open a dance studio first has to take many dance classes. This ensures that, as a studio owner, they are able to offer the kinds of classes people want to take and to hire good instructors. Clara also learned that an owner spends less time on dancing instruction and more time on the business end of the job such as advertising the studio classes and managing the money. Clara was inspired by the interview. She enrolled in another dance class and talked to her transition coach about taking an Introduction to Business class at the local community college.
  •  Liz: Liz dreamed of being a massage therapist, because family members said she gave them good massages. Her teacher was friends with a massage therapist, and arranged for Liz to do an informational interview with her. Liz asked Sonia, the massage therapist, about her work. She learned that to be a massage therapist you have to take a lot of classes, including a few anatomy and physiology classes. Liz told Sonia that she was just interested in doing the massages, not studying bones and muscles. Sonia explained to Liz that it was necessary to take those classes if she wanted to be a certified massage therapist. Liz decided that she would keep doing massages for family members but would think about other careers.

Job shadowing and job tours: Another way for students to get some first-hand knowledge about a career interest is to follow someone doing the desired job for a day. This experience not only gives students an opportunity to see what the person's job actually entails throughout the day, but also gives the student an opportunity to see the environment in which the job is done and to see other people doing jobs related to the one being observed.

Additional resource: The High Schools/High Tech Program Guide, Chapter 3 (Career Preparation and Work-based Learning Experiences) has some excellent resources for PCP follow-up activities. 

III Develop a Career Plan

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Matt using an electric screwdriver

Matt learning to use an electric screwdriver

The next step transition staff can take is to help a student reflect on what he or she has learned from the person-centered planning process and the follow-up research, and then develop a career plan. This process includes four activities:

Review PCP and career research results: Once the student has identified some career interests and has researched them, plan to meet to discuss the results. Decide if the goals determined in the person-centered planning meeting have changed at all and make any necessary adjustments.

Develop a career plan: Help the student to develop a career plan that includes (a) courses to take in high school or college, (b) work experiences that will allow them to develop knowledge or skills connected to career or job interests, and (c) extracurricular activities or service learning activities. All of these plans should be determined based on the student's goals.

Create a career portfolio: A career portfolio allows individuals to showcase the talents and contributions they can bring to a job. Some transition staff tap into career portfolio templates that are offered through the school district. Others help students to develop digital portfolios where students can include digital images and videos as well as other documents. Below is a list of recommended websites to organize ideas for portfolios as well as to create digital portfolios:
Anna working on her career portfolioDigication 

Identify necessary accommodations: Developing a portfolio is a good opportunity to ask students to think about the accommodations they may need to pursue education and work goals. The information does not necessarily need to be included in the portfolio, but it may be useful for the student to think about how they will discuss their disability and/or preferred accommodations should they choose to disclose their disability.

IV Support Job Development and the Job Search

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Adam working on a guitar

Adam works at a local music store. He has a goal of working in the music industry. He detail cleans guitars and has learned to tune them.

Schools use a number of methods to create paid job opportunities for students and most transition staff agree that it takes dedicated time each week to develop jobs for students. After allocating resources for a position, some school systems hire their own job developers to help students match their work interests with paid jobs. Other schools contract with outside community providers to support students through job development and job support. In either case, certain practices have been proven to result in paid work for students with disabilities. The following is an outline of strategies that effective job developers recommend:

Know what employers want: According to Luecking (2009), employers who have successfully brought youth with disabilities into their workplace cite one or more reasons for doing so: (1) to meet a specific company need, such as filling an opening or addressing a production or service need; (2) to meet an industry-wide need, such as preparing potential new workers in a growing field; or (3) to meet a community need, such as helping youth become productive citizens

Understand your responsibility to employers: Luecking (2009, p. 103) recommends that job developers facilitate effective partnerships with employers by following these guidelines:

  1. Present yourself as a competent professional and make it easy for employers to accept youth referrals. Job developers should arrange informational interviews with employers to learn what their human resource needs are and what they are looking for in new employees. Use business language and avoid special education jargon. Maintain professional connections to the employer by following up as agreed, and thanking them for their time.

  2. Match youth skills and interests to job tasks. Know each student's capabilities and interests and each employer's needs. Customize the assignments as necessary.

  3. Offer support and monitor the youth while being trained. Clarify employer expectations, and respond to their needs through job training, coaching, and follow-up. Solicit the employer's feedback on the work on a regular basis. Adjust support and service based on the employer's feedback.

  4. Provide formal and informal disability-awareness training to colleagues if student self-discloses disability. Deliver information about specific accommodations required by the youth. Ask what further information and help the employer desires. Provide disability-awareness training based on what the employer requests. Model appropriate interactions and support. Provide periodic guidance and information as necessary.

A note about paid vs unpaid work experiences

Many transition specialists and job developers find it challenging to match students with paid work experiences. They have discussed many reasons for this. Sometimes unpaid work is the only way the job developer feels a student can get in the door to a preferred work setting. Sometimes the employer is accustomed to giving students unpaid internship experiences. And sometimes the job developer has yet to develop the skills to discuss paid work with potential employers. There are some legitimate reasons for unpaid work experiences if the work experience is for training purposes only. The Department of Labor has identified just six factors in its Field Operations Handbook that make unpaid work experiences legal for interns:

Laura in office

Laura uses public transportation to get to her internship at an assisted living center at Newton Wellesley Hospital.

  1. The training must be similar to that which would be given in a vocational school
  2. The training must be for the benefit of the student
  3. The students must not displace regular employees
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern
  5. The student is not entitled to a job at the end of the training period
  6. The student and the employer must understand that the student is not entitled to wages

A key understanding about unpaid internships is that they must be connected to students' academic or transition goals, rather than to the employer's actual operations.

Overall, unpaid work experiences are not recommended. Employers typically do not hold the same work expectations for interns as they do for paid employees and, as a result, students do not learn to meet appropriate work expectations. Additionally, critics of unpaid work experiences say that employers with interns either have the unpaid interns doing work just like their employees or they have them doing simple tasks in between lots of downtime (Crawford, 2012)

Among the reasons to pursue paid work for students: everyone should be paid for working, federal and state laws stipulate fair labor standards, and having paid work experience is highly valued when pursuing postschool education and employment goals.

Link to Department of Labor guidelines on Unpaid Internships

Social Security and Work Incentives

Some students and their families who receive Social Security benefits worry that paid work will impact their benefits. It is highly recommended that students and family members contact a benefits planning counselor through BenePLAN or Project IMPACT. These free programs, available to those who receive SSI, SSDI and/or Child Disability Benefits (CDB), are funded through the Social Security Administration's Work Incentives Planning and Assistance (WIPA) program.

Project IMPACT
Statewide Employment Services
Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission
Voice: 617-204-3854/800-734-7475
TTY: 617-204-3834 (then click "Benefit Programs")
Serves the counties of Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Nantucket, Plymouth, Suffolk, Essex, and Norfolk.

Center for Health Policy and Research
University of Massachusetts Medical School
Voice: 508-856-2659/
877-937-9675 (877-YES-WORK)
Serves the counties of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, and Worcester.

For more information on Social Security and Work Incentives, check out these two resources:

WorkWithoutLimits: Putting abilities to work in Massachusetts

Going to Work: A Guide to Social Security Benefits and Employment for Young People with Disabilities (2011)

Student engagement in job development activities

There are a number of ways to support students in job development. The more engaged they are in the steps taken to find a job, they more they learn how to pursue and advocate for work when they exit school. In addition to encouraging their participation in all the steps above, students should also be involved in the following activities:

Preparing resumes: Students should prepare a resume that highlights all their paid and unpaid work experiences, especially those that demonstrate their job skills and career interests. Students may find it easiest to use a one-page resume in interviews that they can refer to to answer questions about their skills.

Requesting references: Review with students how important references are when interviewing for a job. One place to discuss this is during the person-centered planning meeting when reviewing work experiences. The facilitator can use that time to ask if any of the supervisors from that job would be able to provide a reference. If so, the student might benefit from a script to rehearse asking for a reference. Transition staff might also discuss references when assisting students with their portfolios.

Preparing a 30-day placement plan: Engaging students in job development will help them to set goals and stay on track to get a job. The Insitute for Community Inclusion's 30-day placement plan: A Roadmap to Employment can be a useful tool to use with students.

Preparing for interviews:
Many transition staff try to spend sufficient time preparing students for interviews. Especially for students who are unaccustomed to speaking up for themselves. One popular strategy a youth workforce group developed to illustrate for young adults how to dress for interviews was to find photographs of people (celebrities are a popular choice) attending different kinds of events. Then they ask the students to look at the photographs and compare how people dress differently for different events. For example, dressing for parties is different from dressing for work. Students may also benefit from mock interviews where they have time to rehearse talking about themselves and answering questions.

Completing applications: Students should be encouraged to complete paper and online job applications. For some students, it may be the first time they are completing these forms. In addition, if called in for an interview, it will help that they completed the application that interviewers often refer to when they are asking questions in the interview.

Interview follow-up: Students should thank the interviewer for their time within a day of the interview, either via a paper thank-you note or a thank-you email.

Real People, Real Jobs: Stories from the Front Line showcases the stories of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are working in paid jobs in their communities

V Prepare for Job Success

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Anthony transplanting shrubs

Anthony transplanting shrubs at a landscape job

Transition specialists and job developers must establish a way for the student, supervisor, and job coach to meet regularly to discuss the student's work goals and performance. This is also an opportunity for students to discuss their disability, if they so choose, and any job accommodations that would improve their performance. A number of online resources support these activities:

Massachusetts Work-based Learning Plan (WBLP): A diagnostic, goal-setting, and assessment tool designed to drive learning and productivity on the job. The WBLP is designed to help a student, a work supervisor, and a coach discuss the student's foundational work skills as well as specific career skills two times over the course of the experience. Both assessment and goal setting can be completed in this meeting.

Disability Disclosure: When a student is offered a job, it is up to him or her to decide whether or not to disclose a disability. the 411 on Disability Disclosure is a favorite resource of teachers, transition specialists and coaches in preparing students for this decision.

Job accommodations: An excellent resource to refer to when talking to students about workplace accommodations is the Job Accommodations Network (JAN)

MassWorks: Is a comprehensive online resource from the Institute for Community Inclusion focusing on the integration of disability, workforce development, & employment services.

VI Follow up on Career Planning

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Supporting students' career development is an ongoing process throughout their transition years. It is important to help students to keep their education team and adult agency staff aware of their progress. The team will be able to better support students with academic and vocational goals if they are aware of how students perceive their career development activities. Adult agency staff will benefit from understanding how students are pursuing their postschool goals, and from familiarity with the most effective supports and accommodations for each student.