This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website:

08 June, 2010

Navigating Your First Job in the Field

Having started off on my own journey into the field not long ago I believe it is my duty to pull in a few lessons learned you might want to keep in your own pocket once you have finished your coursework and it’s time to take a flying leap out into the world of full-time employment.

  • Ask lots of questions and be curious; this is not a field that tends to attract overwhelmingly angry or mean-spirited individuals so don't hesitate to speak up if you want to learn a new skill or get involved in a project.
  • Know that you will mis-step from time to time. Own your mistakes, be reflective about them, and move along.
  • Get to know your coworkers; it will provide context in helping to understand their workstyle and motivations as well as make collaborations that much easier.
  • Be open to learning new things. Employers appreciate a “can do” attitude. If you don’t know how to do something you are asked to do, be willing to acquire the new skills required to complete the task.
  • Network every chance you get; start shaking hands like you’re running for elected office and get comfortable talking about what your organization does, why their work is important, what role you play in their work, and how the position fits into your long term career goals. The networking is not over because you have found a job, this is your chance to expand and enrich the professional network you are a part of.
  • Seek out professional development opportunities that are relevant to your work and will enrich the organization you are a part of. Someday you will want to take a step up in your career and you want to equip yourself now for that day.
  • Actively seek out mentors to provide their honest and critical appraisal when you need it. Remember to thank these people who have helped you and are helping you along the way.
  • Finally, a positive attitude can make an enormous difference. People will notice your positive attitude and the contribution it makes to the overall workplace enviroment.

A Few Important Resource to Tap:
  • Professional Associations

    Why? Professional associations may seem expensive but they often offer discounts, produce regular publications, and hold conferences which can provide valuable networking time. Find out which associations are out there that support people in your field and join one or two.

  • LinkedIn

    Why? LinkedIn is not only a great resource for job hunting, it’s a great resource for understanding the power that lies in your professional and social networks. It is also an opportunity to expand this network with your new work contacts.

  • The Community You Live In

    Why? It is likely that volunteer opportunities exist in local organizations that could provide you great community service experiences. It is also likely that universities may be sponsoring events of personal or professional interest to you. Many communities also have social networking groups that will afford you the opportunity to expand your network even more and meet people doing similar work. Notice what is going on in the community you head home to each night after work and play an active role in these activities.


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