Audience: Youth & Family

There are many ways to get work experience or to start a career, but it helps to have a plan. Career planning—the process of making decisions and choices about careers based on solid information and understanding what those choices will mean in your life—is an important part of becoming an adult. These decisions and choices should be based on who you are, what you like, and what you are good at. There are a lot of assessments that can help you identify your interests and strengths in order to make these decisions, some of which are available online. There are also adults in your community who can help you with career planning. Click here [Table 1.3 Formal Testing Areas] for a list of the different types of assessments that can help you learn about your talents, interests, and values or measure your knowledge, skills, and aptitudes.

You and your family or guardian should learn as much as you can about assessments and the information they can provide. A good assessment focuses on you as an individual and looks at the educational, vocational, psychological, and medical issues that may help or hurt your success in the work world. Testing, a major part of assessment activities, measures things like your academic performance, how you act and feel, your work-related interests and abilities, and your physical abilities, among others.

Testing causes anxiety in a lot of people, and for good reason. “Bad” test results in school can lead to being held back a grade or delay high school graduation. Being tested for a disability sometimes changes the way people treat you. And then there are the tests that you take for no apparent reason since no one tells you what the tests mean or how they relate to planning or life after school. It is no wonder that tests and test results are often distrusted.

Tests used in career planning are usually not designed to compare one person to another but rather to help you learn more about yourself. Most of these tests have no right or wrong answers and are rarely used as part of report cards or grades. Practice tests and clear explanations of test purposes may make taking these tests less stressful. Many tests are given in places outside of school classrooms, which may also help. Click here [Settings list from Chapter 1 of Guide] for a list of common settings for career-related testing.

Remember, assessment results should be viewed with some amount of caution. The results may tell you about yourself and some of your skills. Yet the outcomes do not determine if you are going to be happy or successful in life that is up to you.


1. I am in the tenth grade and have a disability, but I haven’t started thinking about what happens after high school. What are some things I can do now to plan for my future?

If you are receiving special education services, you should have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting at least once every school year. In this meeting, part of the discussion should focus on short- and long-term goals related to education and work after you leave high school. If you haven’t discussed this, you and your family can request that a meeting be held to discuss your future. If you don’t receive special education services, visit your school counselor and find out what resources and services your school may offer.

Every young person, whether they are in school or not, should do some career planning with the assistance of adults such as teachers or counselors (in school) or vocational specialists (out of school). Vocational specialists may also work with young people and adults in Workforce Centers (often called One-Stops), in Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) offices, and in community rehabilitation programs. See this chart [Table 1.2: Selected Transition Components of Federal Programs] for more information.
Career planning is the process used to make decisions about training, education, and work, based on solid information about the talents, knowledge, skills, interests, values, and aptitudes of each person. This information is collected over time through assessment activities and through work-based experiences. Vocational specialists and other staff people can work with you on assessment activities and can provide you with resources to help you make good decisions about your future.
Career planning should also give you experiences that add to your understanding of the work world. These experiences should include

  • opportunities to engage in several kinds of work-based exploration activities, such as site visits and job shadowing;
  • on-the-job training experiences, including community service (paid or unpaid) that is specifically linked to the content of a program of study;
  • instruction and guidance about requesting, locating, and securing needed supports and accommodations (see below) at the workplace;
  • mentoring activities designed to establish strong relationships with adults in formal and informal settings;
  • exposure to role models in a variety of contexts;
  • training in skills such as self-advocacy (speaking up for yourself) and conflict resolution (finding solutions when you disagree with someone); and
  • opportunities to practice leadership and participate in youth development activities, such as community service.

Row of orange dots.

2. I’ve been out of high school for a while, and so far I’ve only been able to get dead-end jobs. My academic skills aren’t very good, and I don’t really know what kind of potential I may have or what job options might suit me. Where can I go to get some help?

There are a number of places that can help you determine your interests, strengths, and aptitudes and learn what kind of jobs might be a good match. Your choices will depend on your age, whether you have a high school diploma, and where you live. Job Corps, One-Stop Centers, job service offices, trade associations, unions, community and technical colleges, independent postsecondary schools, the military, and, if you have a disability, vocational rehabilitation agencies are some options. Your community may also have youth programs that are available. You’ll probably want to contact several of these places to decide which one makes you feel comfortable; has good career assessment, training, and placement services; and can provide data documenting successful career advancement for the people they serve.

You will have to qualify for all or some of the services provided by the Job Corps, One-Stop Centers, youth service providers, and vocational rehabilitation agencies, so the first step is usually an interview that asks a lot of questions about your interests, job experiences, financial situation, transportation needs, support systems (like your family), and so forth. One-Stop Centers offer universal services (meaning that they’re available without having to qualify for them) for things like basic career information, interest inventories, and other types of assessment. If you qualify for additional “intensive” services, more in-depth career assessments, academic tests, and other job-related services are provided at One-Stops. All of that information will be used to make a plan to identify careers that match your interests and fill in the gaps in your knowledge and skills needed for those careers. If you don’t have a high school diploma, for example, you will want to investigate such possibilities as evening high school or GED programs. Classes or training, preferably leading to some kind of certification, is usually the next step. Once you complete your training, assistance should be provided in finding a job.

Trade associations, unions, community and technical colleges, and other similar organizations provide different levels of career assessment or planning. These organizations often require tests to qualify for training or to decide if remediation is needed before serious study can begin. Community and technical colleges provide very different services and educational choices depending on where they are, so you will need to investigate them carefully.

The Internet also provides a variety of websites that may be helpful in career exploration and job searching. Some contain career assessment tools and career interest inventories, while others provide job-matching software programs for job seekers and employers. Other sites allow you to post your resumé and respond to specific job postings. See the Resource section below for information on some of these sites.

Row of orange dots.

3. My son is graduating from high school next spring and doesn’t want to go to a four-year college. I am worried that he will never reach his full potential. What can we do to help him?

Encourage your son to begin investigating a broad range of career and employment options, including those for college graduates as a comparison, as soon as possible. A variety of assessments and websites exist that will help. For example, many websites (see the Resource list below) offer information on employment trends, skill and credential requirements, and wage and salary projections that will help him compare the options and make an informed choice. While he is investigating career opportunities, he can take a variety of tests that will help him determine which careers would be a good match for his interests, aptitudes, skills, and knowledge. This information will help him determine which careers are a good match and what gaps he needs to fill via education or training. He should then visit at least one employer for each career option he has identified to see first hand what working conditions are like and what the qualifications for entry-level employment are. An internship or work experience with an employer would give him an even better idea of whether he could see himself performing the duties of a particular career.

He can also talk to his high school teachers, guidance counselor, or transition coordinator for information on standardized tests and assessments he may have taken and career assessments and resources he can access. He can visit the local Workforce Center/One-Stop for information and assistance or contact Vocational Rehabilitation, if he has a disability, to find out if he is eligible for services.

If your son decides that he doesn’t want a career requiring a four-year degree, remember that there are a variety of rewarding careers that require technical training or certification and are offered by community colleges or technical schools. Community colleges have become very focused on work training and generally have services for young people with disabilities and students who have struggled in traditional classroom settings.

Once your son has weighed the pros and cons of the options he has identified and made his selection, he should develop a plan for reaching his career goal. This may include enrolling in training, applying to an apprenticeship program, or applying directly to an employer for an entry-level position. These goals and plans should be incorporated into his transition plan as part of his IEP, if he has one.

Row of orange dots.


America’s Job Bank
Contains job postings searchable by type or location. Users can also post a resume online, create a cover letter for a job, and set up an automated job search.

Career Builder
Contains job postings searchable by company, industry, or location, including international locations. Users can search in Spanish, and post a resume online.

Contains job market trends for different education levels, wage and occupational trends by state and occupation, state demographic and economic information, and knowledge, skills, and abilities required for different occupations. Also contains a skills profiler, scholarship information, and links to education, cultural, and recreation resources.

Career One-Stop
Contains resources for job seekers and workers, students and learners, businesses and human resource professionals, and workforce professionals. Also contains a special section on testing and assessments.

Career Voyages
Provides resources for students, parents, career changers, and career advisors, including career assessments, skills assessments, training information, and funding options.

Heath Resource Center
National Clearinghouse on Postsecondary Education for Individuals with Disabilities. Contains information for prospective college students on topics such as accommodations, scholarships, assistive technology, learning disabilities, brain injuries, and more.

Contains resources for job seekers including career assessments, credit reports, background checks, salary and benefit calculations, interview tips, educational opportunities, relocation tips, and more.

Job Accommodation Network
A free consulting service designed to increase the employability of people with disabilities by providing individualized worksite accommodations solutions and technical assistance regarding the ADA and other disability related legislation, and by educating callers about self-employment options.

Monster Board
Contains searchable job postings, networking contacts, career tips, and resume writing assistance.

National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
Provides publications and resources on a variety of transition topics for youth and families, including accommodations, assessments, and career guidance and exploration, plus an events calendar and an e-newsletter.

U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
Contains publications, products, research, statistics, and other information and resources for
Special education teachers, administrators, policymakers, researchers, parents, students, and others.

U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Investment Act One-Stop Partners
Provides information on 15 partner agencies and programs required under the Workforce Investment Act including Job Corps, apprenticeship programs, postsecondary vocational education, and vocational rehabilitation.

Vocational Rehabilitation State Offices
Provides links to state vocational rehabilitation offices, commissions for the blind, and other client assistance programs that vary by state including self-employment options.

Row of orange dots.


Flexer, R., Simmons, T., Luft, P., & Baer, R. (2001). Transition Planning for Secondary Students with Disabilities. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Thurlow, M., House, A., Boys, C., Scott, D., & Ysseldyke, J. (2000). State participation and accommodation policies for students with disabilities: 1999 update (Synthesis Report No. 33). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. Retrieved July 16, 2004, from

Need help viewing a document? View our document help page.

Have a comment or suggestion in regard to our site? Please send us your feedback.