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Four Strategies to Find a Good Job: Advice from Job Seekers with Disabilities

Tools for Inclusion 18


Originally published: 5/2003

Suggested audiences:


Finding a job is hard work. Even though there are a lot of agencies out there that can provide help, it can still be a difficult process. The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) talked to adults with disabilities who used a state or local agency to find a job. ICI asked these individuals about their experience using an agency. ICI also asked them to explain other things that were helpful while they searched for a job. These nineteen job seekers told ICI that the following strategies helped them to find jobs that they liked.

Four strategies

Strategy #1: Explore new opportunities

Exploring new opportunities meant being open to new ideas, being flexible in the type of jobs they wanted, and thinking that each new job was an opportunity to learn something new. It also meant being flexible about the way that they looked for jobs.

Strategy #2: Make sure services meet your needs

The job seekers in our study knew what help they wanted from an agency. This help could be either job listings, or contacts to employers, or some other kind of information. In addition, they made sure that they got that help in a way that was useful to them.

Strategy #3: Use personal job search strategies

The job seekers in our study searched for jobs either on their own or with the help of their family and friends. They also used more than one agency to meet their job search needs.

Strategy #4: Take control of your job search

Taking control meant helping themselves, and not only depending on help from agencies. It meant taking matters into their own hands, instead of thinking that someone else knew what kind of job they would like or should have. Taking control of their job search also meant being "the leader" as they searched for jobs.

Using these strategies:

What does this mean for you?

Did you know that even though you may be getting help from an agency to find a job, there are additional things you can do? Just like the people ICI interviewed, you can use these four strategies as you look for your job. Hopefully, these ideas will help you find a job you like, in the same way they helped the people ICI interviewed.

What do we mean by an "agency"?

There are many different types of agencies that help people with disabilities find jobs. These include both public (government) and private organizations that provide direct employment support.

There are public government agencies specifically for people with disabilities. These include Departments of Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities (MR/DD), Mental Health (MH), or Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), and Agencies or Commissions for the Blind and Visually impaired (BVI). Other agencies provide employment-related services to a variety of people, including people with disabilities but also other individuals as well. An example is each state's TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) agency.

Private agencies are also called community rehabilitation providers, supported employment agencies, and private providers. Sometimes private agencies get funds to help people find jobs.

In addition, there are One-Stop Career Centers that are not actually agencies but instead consist of a variety of agencies and programs delivering services at one location. One-Stops have basic services that are available to anyone, and other services you may be eligible for as well. One-Stops are operated by both government and private agencies.

Strategy #1: Explore New Opportunities

There are many ways to explore new ideas as you look for a job. You may need to be a little creative and think about things in a different way to get the job you want. Here is what we mean:

- Try different job search strategies and don't wait for a job to come to you. For example, you can:

- Read the books What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles or The Job Search Handbook for People with Disabilities by Daniel Ryan. The first is a very practical manual for people who are job hunting or thinking about changing their careers. It offers very good strategies, techniques, and useful exercises. The second is specifically for people with disabilities.

- Try volunteering. If you are volunteering, you are working without pay to help an organization. Look for volunteer opportunities that have to do with your skills and interests. Spend time as a volunteer to see whether you are interested enough to find paid work doing something similar.

- Learn about yourself. Think about your interests and the things you do well (your skills). This way you can be as clear as possible about the job you want. Ask yourself:

You can also fill out a prepared self-assessment exercise in a book or on the Web. These assessments are lists of statements or questions that will uncover your skills and interests. Some websites to explore are:

- Learn new skills. Sometimes there are specific areas you might realize you need more skills in. You could:

- Experiment with job shadowing. Job shadowing means watching someone at work to see if you would enjoy doing his or her job. As you observe a person at work, notice whether you think that person's duties and responsibilities fit with the kind of work you would like to do.

- Consider all the possibilities. You may find something you have not done before, but that you may also really enjoy.

- Keep actively searching. Stay alert to types of jobs and places to work that look interesting to you. If you are unsatisfied in your current position, try looking for a job while you are still working.

Keisha's story

Keisha is a young woman with a physical disability who decided to get a new job. She called the Vocational Rehabilitation agency (VR) for help. While looking for a job, she decided it was important to take some computer classes to gain more skills. She discussed this with her counselor who was able to help. Together they found a training program where Keisha could learn computer, filing, and phone answering skills. VR also helped her with applications, reviewed her resume, and arranged for job interviews. In the meantime, while Keisha was receiving help from her agency, she decided to volunteer at places where she thought she might enjoy working. Keisha had several volunteer opportunities but it was the third one that offered great office experience. This volunteer opportunity eventually led to a job.

Keisha explored new opportunities. She:

Strategy #2: Make Sure Services Meet Your Needs

It is important to think about what you need and what your agency provides! Different agencies have different ways of helping. Some work one-on-one with you until you get a job. At others, you may look for a job more on your own. Either way, you have to make sure your agency is helpful to you.

First, figure out what you need from your agency. Ask yourself the following questions:

Second, ask questions. Go to your agency with a list of questions to learn about the type of help the agency provides. For example, ask if they provide:

What is an informational interview?

The goal of this type of interview is to learn about a type of job or a certain company, not to get a job. Informational interviews are an excellent way to explore different interests and jobs while making new contacts. They are also easier to arrange because you only want a little time to talk.

How to go about doing an informational interview

You only want to do an informational interview with the actual people who are doing the work that interests you. You can start by getting the names of such workers from any personal or professional contacts that you already have. Once you have the names, call them and ask for a chance to talk to them for twenty minutes. You should make a list ahead of time of all the questions you want answers to. Some questions might be:

Nina's story

Nina, a woman with a psychiatric disability, enjoyed working in the human services field. She was returning to work after a short period of unemployment. Nina went to the One-Stop Career Center because she knew it had computers and fax machines and everything she would need to do a professional job search. Nina knew that any time she wanted to use a computer or send out a resume, she would have access to that at the One-Stop. Nina did not work with the staff that much because she already knew how to search for a job on her own. She didn't really use the agency's career counseling services, because she knew the type of job she wanted. In the end, Nina got a position in the human services field where she is able to directly work with clients.

Nina made sure services met her needs. She knew:

Strategy #3: Use Personal Job Search Strategies

It is okay to look for a job on your own while you are getting help from an agency. It can keep you busy and help you to find the best job.

For example, you can:

- Get help from family members and friends. Family members and friends are helpful because they know you well. In addition, their job leads create new options for you that you might not hear about from your agency. Getting help from family members or friends can often lead to better jobs for you too! Tell family members and friends about:

Ask family and friends if:

- Do your own research. You can always search on your own while you get help from an agency. You can do your own research by:

- Use more than one agency. Getting help from more than one agency is good because one agency may not have all the services you are looking for. The more you reach out to different agencies, the more help you will have in your job search. Using just one agency might even cause some roadblocks during your job search. For example, one agency:

Remember, however, that the more agencies you use, the more confusing it can get. Dealing with numerous counselors and agencies can be overwhelming to some people. It takes responsibility on your part to keep organized. Some people may like this responsibility, and others may not.

Jorge's story

Jorge is a man who came to the U.S. with his wife and children. He has a visual disability, and began working with the state's Commission for the Blind. His counselor at the Commission for the Blind helped Jorge get all the adaptive equipment he needed to find and keep a job. Jorge knew, however, that this counselor, working alone, could not find him a good job as quickly as he needed one. He decided to look for jobs himself and follow any leads from other people he knew. He told all his family members, friends, and professional associates that he was looking for a job. His wife helped him with his job search by following up with job listings in the newspaper and on the Internet. It was his wife who found out about the One-Stop Career Center and told him to use it. When he went to the One-Stop, he discovered that it offered career counseling, workshops, and many different resources to look for jobs. Staff at the One-Stop helped him call companies, answer ads, prepare for interviews, and follow up with jobs. He also found out from his counselor at the Commission for the Blind that the two agencies could work together through a contract. He told each counselor about the steps he was taking to speed up his job search and kept track of the help he was getting from each agency. Jorge found an office job in the field of his choice.

Jorge used three personal job search strategies. He:

Strategy #4: Take Control of Your Job Search

Taking control of the job search means understanding that your success in finding a job is up to you! Avoid sitting back and waiting for someone else to do the work for you! Do your homework and you can find out more about the newest opportunities that are available. Even though other people can help you in reaching your goals, remember that ultimately they are your goals alone!

Here are five steps to take during the job search with an emphasis on making sure the plan is yours.

Step One:

Write a personal vision statement. This will help you determine what type of job you want, your goals, and the steps you need to take to get your dream job.

Answer the following questions and write a personal vision statement!

Step Two:

Develop a plan for achieving your goals. Make decisions and choices about what you will need to find your job. Ask yourself:
In order to get my next job,

Step Three:

Ask for input and support from others. You can get support from people in your life or you can work with a professional such as a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor or a career counselor. Divide out tasks to those who are involved in helping you.

Step Four:

Control and direct the services you receive. You should decide what type of services you need. You should also decide where you want to receive services from. Tell your counselor what is important to you, but listen as the counselor gives you support, advice, or recommendations. Be open to listening to suggestions, but you should also make all choices and decisions.

Step Five:

Learn about job opportunities that are out there. By using the personal job search strategies we offered earlier, you can learn important information to find the right job. Also, exploring new opportunities will assist you in discovering ideas, types of jobs, and types of strategies you may not have thought about before. All of this contributes to the control you will have over your job search.

If you don't take control of your job search, you run the risk of others making decisions for you. You sell yourself short by not learning the skills you need to find and keep a job. By taking control of your job search, the process becomes yours. In addition, it is more likely that the job you get will make you happy in the end!

Communicating with Your Counselor

Talk to your counselor about your goals and needs. Tell him/her if you need more or less attention. Tell him/her if you need a different type of help completely. Make sure that you are not doing the same work as your counselor. It is important that you and your counselor are communicating and working toward the same goal without doing the same work twice!

Where this brief came from

This brief is based on interviews with nineteen adults with disabilities. These people used different state or local agencies to help them find jobs, such as:

The people who participated in this study had varying racial/ethnic backgrounds, ages, and educational backgrounds. They had a wide range of disabilities including physical, cognitive, learning, psychiatric, and sensory impairments. Some of the adults lived in suburban locations while others lived in cities.


The authors would like to thank the individuals who participated in this research project. We also thank colleagues John Butterworth, Sheila Fesko, Melanie Jordan, and Lara Enein-Donovan at ICI.

For more information, contact:
Doris Hamner, Ph.D.
Institute for Community Inclusion
UMass Boston
100 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, Massachusetts 02125
(617) 287-4364 (v)
(617) 287-4350 (TTY)

This is a publication of the Center on State Systems and Employment (RRTC) at the Institute for Community Inclusion. The center is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) of the US Department of Education (grant #H133B980037). The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantees and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Department of Education.

This publication will be made available in alternate formats upon request.

ICI: promoting inclusion for people with disabilities