Getting Information, Training, and Experience

As you think about a long-term career goal, you’ll realize that the careers that interest you probably require more education or training than you currently have. And once you get a job, you will need to learn more new skills so that you can advance in your career, accept new responsibilities, get promotions, and earn more money.

There are many different ways of getting training and experience and which ones are appropriate depend on you and the career you hope to develop. There are also lots of ways to learn about your options, such as:

  • Talking to friends and family
  • Doing research online or in the library
  • Going on informational interviews
  • Attending career fairs in your area

Once you know what you need, you can get training and experience that can help you get the job you want. You could try:

Then, when you start working, there are even more chances to learn new skills, for example:

  • You could receive on-the-job training.
  • You could learn from a mentor, either in your company or outside of it.
  • You could have a job coach.

We discuss some of the things in the pages that follow.

Informational Interviews

A great way to learn more about a career option is to talk to somebody who works in that field. Talking to somebody to learn about a profession is called an “informational interview.” If you already know somebody who works in the field that you’re interested in, talk to that person. If you don't know anybody, you can ask your friends or family if they know people who work in that field.

When you find somebody to talk to, dress nicely and be polite. Even though this is an informal conversation, you want to make a good impression because this person may be able to help you get a job later. By talking to somebody who actually has the job you are interested in, you will get a much better idea about how to get that job and what it is like. Here are a few questions to ask in an informational interview.

  • What steps did you take to get your job?
  • What kind of training was needed?
  • How long did it take for you to get to your current level at work?
  • Do you have any suggestions for how I could get started?

As you discuss your interests with more people, you will learn a lot about how to develop them into a career. You will also make valuable contacts who may be able to help you get an internship, do job-shadowing, or be your mentor. If you are lucky, the person you do your informational interview with may even be able to help you find a job!

Career Fairs

Career fairs are events where many employers are present and want to talk with potential employees. At a career fair employers gather to tell you about what sorts of work are available at their companies. They are a great chance for you to learn about different industries. Take copies of your resume to the fair in case you learn about a job that you want to apply for. Click here to find a job or career fair near you.

Dress nicely and act professionally when you go to a career fair. Don’t chew gum, use inappropriate language, or do anything you wouldn't do at a job. This is a chance for you to show potential employers that you would be a good employee.

College Career Fairs and Employment Programs

If you are going to a community college, technical school, or four-year college, your school will have career days and events where you can talk to potential employers. College students also have other resources that can help. For example, Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD) is a national association that helps college students and recent graduates with disabilities find jobs.

Volunteering

When you volunteer you work for an organization without getting paid. Volunteering is a great way to do important work, get experience, learn new skills, and make contacts who might be able to help you get a paying job in the future.

Another good thing about doing volunteer work is that you can put it on your resume. If you look for a job in the same field as the volunteer work that you did, potential employers will see that you are experienced. Even if you apply for a job in a different field, the potential employer will see that you are a hard-working, dedicated person.

One good place online to look for volunteer possibilities is Volunteer Match. Another option is to simply contact an organization that does work that you think is important and see whether they need volunteers to help them with their work.

Internships

An internship is a program designed to provide you with experience in a company. As an intern, you work at a job for a limited amount of time, anywhere from a few months up to a year, depending on the program. You get experience that can help you decide if you like the work, learn new skills, and make new friends. There are three big differences between an internship and a normal job:

  1. Internships are designed to give you training while you work, meaning that you often get exposed to a wide variety of activities.
  2. Not all internships pay.
  3. Many internships are only available to students.

There’s a lot more information about internships and how to find them in the Getting a Higher Education article.

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are basically a type of on-the-job training. They are structured programs that teach you a skilled occupation, craft, or trade. Apprenticeship programs can help you learn how to become a carpenter, plumber, electrician, or get another skilled job. There are also apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing, health care services, agriculture, and information technology. To learn more about the types of work that offer apprenticeships, see the Minnesota Pipline Program handout.

During the apprenticeship, you gain skills through a combination of on-the-job training and classroom instruction. Once you complete your apprenticeship, you will receive a certificate for the field in which you have specialized. You may also be offered a job at the company where you did the apprenticeship.

To do an apprenticeship, you must be at least 16 years old and have a high school diploma or be pursuing a GED. Click here for more information about apprenticeship programs in Minnesota.

On-the-Job Training

A lot of jobs that require specialized training offer on-the-job training, because the knowledge you need is specific to that workplace. On-the-job training means that your employer teaches you the skills you need to do your job. In this way, you’ll actually get paid to learn! On-the-job training can be structured or informal. For example, your employer may want you to complete a training program, or may just have one of your co-workers show you what you need to do.

Learning from a Mentor

Mentors are people who provide you with guidance and support. If you have a career goal, it is great to have a mentor who works in that field show you exactly what his or her work is like and help you figure out how to get a job.

A mentor:

  • Helps you understand what it takes to enter a field
  • Provides support while you gain training and search for a position
  • May be able to help you get a foot in the door at a company in the future
  • Serves as a personal reference when you apply for jobs, and
  • Once you get a job, can give you ongoing support and advice.

Mentorships can be in person or can be done over the phone or email. You may be able to find a mentor through family or friends, but there are also many programs that can help you find a mentor. Here are some of their websites:

  • The University of Minnesota has a mentoring program for students with disabilities called Connecting to Success. Other universities may have similar programs.

Job Coach

When you get a job, a job coach can help you learn how to do your job and make sure you adapt well to the work environment. This person can also help you with work-related concerns such as how to talk to your boss about questions you have and what accommodations you may need. You might have a job coach through your Ticket to Work program, Vocational Rehabilitation Services, or through another one of the agencies described later in this article.