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Career Preparation: Keeping an Eye on the Finish Line

By Elaine Gould, M.Ed.


May/June 2013

In the awareness phase of the career development process, students identify a variety of jobs in which they may be interested and learn about the roles of adults who hold these jobs. Later, in the career exploration phase, they discover careers that match their interests, strengths, and future goals and gain knowledge about the skills required for their career of interest.

Movement through the phases of career development may be viewed as a process of “self-discovery” through which a student identifies a career path and a vision for adult life that encompass not only employment and postsecondary education but also adult environments beyond these domains (i.e., independent living, community participation) (Repetto & Andrews, 2012).

In this final phase, students begin to seriously consider a career path and to align high school coursework and work experiences with their postsecondary goals (Luckner, 2012). Depending on whether these goals include higher education, further training, or employment after high school, students enroll in academic courses, career and technical education, and/or work-study programs that teach the skills and knowledge that prepare them to attain their goals (Repetto & Andrews, 2012). For example, students who choose careers that require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree may take college-level or honors courses that help them meet the demands of the college environment. Other students may choose to participate in work-study programs or career and technical education (CTE) to learn the skills needed for the jobs they will seek after high school.

Career preparation is critical for students of transition age. Thus, when developmentally appropriate career awareness and career exploration opportunities are provided for students, they are better prepared to participate in career preparation and transition planning (Repetto & Andrews, 2012). Upper-middle and high school students, as members of theirs IEP and transition teams, should engage in long-term goal setting and strategically designing high school courses of study.

Sitlington, Neubert, Begun, Lombard, and Leconte (2007) created the Career Development Checklist to determine where a student is in the career development process and to guide the selection of transition assessments that support the student’s movement through the various career development phases. During career preparation, students can pinpoint the courses they want to take in high school, identify the skills and knowledge required for their career of interest, and know where and how to acquire these skills and knowledge. Additionally, they will gain an understanding of the minimum course and job skill requirements as well as the skills and behaviors that enable them to meet the expectations and demands of specific work and academic environments (Sitlington et al., 2007).

Resources to Support Students During Career Preparation 

  1. Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH): This resource describes careers and the skills and knowledge required to obtain them. A reference that is updated on a regular basis, it describes important aspects of hundreds of occupations (e.g., job duties, working conditions, education and training requirements).
  2. America’s Career InfoNet: This website provides numerous user-friendly tools to assist students in learning about career opportunities and making informed employment and education choices (e.g., salary ranges, career videos, education resources, self-assessment tools, and career exploration assistance). 
  3. Virginia Education Wizard: Students access this website to get help with choosing a career, learning about career pathways, finding and paying for college, and getting answers to questions about their future.
  4. I’m Determined: This website provides numerous resources to help educators:
  5. Virginia’s CTE Resource Center: Students can explore jobs by career cluster or by their favorite academic subjects. Promising careers may be saved to a “backpack” and later shared with teachers, parents, and other educational professionals.

Well-orchestrated and intentional experiences in the career preparation phase of the career development process can pave the way for positive postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities. To achieve these outcomes, educators, families, and students must envision the child’s future, create long-term plans in middle school that support future goals, and monitor progress throughout high school. Careful preparation and planning allows students to joyfully anticipate and feel prepared for adult life.


Luckner, J. (2012). Adolescents who are deaf or hard of hearing. In M.Wehmeyer & K. Webb (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent transition education for youth with disabilities (pp. 417-438). New York, NY: Routledge.

Repetto, J., & Andrews, W. (2012). Career development and vocational instruction. In M. Wehmeyer & K. Webb (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent transition education for youth with disabilities (pp. 156-170). New York, NY: Routledge.

Sitlington, P., Neubert, D., Begun, W., Lombard, R., & Leconte, P. (2007).  Assess for success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.