John Holland’s Theory of Career Choice

It is John Holland’s view that career choice and career adjustment represent an extension of a person’s personality. People express themselves, their interests and values, through their work choices and experience. In his theory, Holland assumes that people’s impressions and generalizations about work, which he refers to as stereotypes, are generally accurate. By studying and refining these stereotypes, Holland assigns both people and work environments to specific categories.

John Holland (1966, 1973, 1992, 1997) has published five books that explain his typological theory. Each book represents an update and a further-refined version of earlier work in the development of his theory. The -August 1999 issue of the book – The Journal of Vocational Behavior – contains 12 articles which describe John Holland’s 40-year contribution to career development theory. Two psychological inventories were important in the development of his theory: the Vocational Preference Inventory (Holland, 1985) and the Self-Directed Search (Holland, 1994). These instruments, in different ways, measure self-perceived competencies and interests, which are an assessment of an individual’s personality. Holland recognizes that his theory can account for only a portion of the variables that underlie career selection. He is clear in stating that, his theoretical model can be affected by age, gender, social class, intelligence, and education. With that understood, he goes on to specify how the individual and the environment interact with each other through the development of six personality types namely; Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. Both individuals and environments consist of a combination of types.

Holland’s Theory of Career Choice – The Six Types of Environment and Personality

According to Holland, people fall into either one of the six categories where they can fit best with their environment to best use their abilities, values, attitudes and skills. He explained his theory by using a hexagon model to help define these categories. A person would be more inclined towards any three sections which can help when making career choices. Holland (1992, 1997) describes the concept of social, environmental and biological factors affecting people’s preferences for particular activities. These preferred activities soon become interests which develop into competencies. Holland himself has revised his theory and there have been many psychometric assessment tools developed on the basis of Holland’s theory. One example of such tools is the Self-Directed Search (SDS) which evaluates the six personality types defined by Holland. These types in the hexagonal model are then matched with suitable professions considering the possible relationships between and within the individual and the environment. Types that are next to each other on the model have more in common than the ones that are opposite. People whose profile suggests their types are opposite would find difficulty finding jobs/professions that cover all aspects of their personality. The focal point of Holland’s findings is that people who have similar personalities would avail similar employment opportunities.

John Holland's Theory of Career Choice

1. Realistic

  • The Realistic Environment – The Realistic (R) environment makes physical demands on the person. Such work settings have tools, machines, or animals that the individual manipulates. In such a setting, individuals are required to have technical competencies that will allow them to do such things as fix machines, repair electronic equipment, drive cars or trucks, herd animals, or deal with other physical aspects of their environment. The ability to work with things is more important than the ability to interact with other people. Construction sites, factories, and auto garages are examples of environments that provide machinery or other things for Realistic people to master. Some Realistic environments require a great deal of physical agility or strength, such as roofing, outdoor painting, and pipe fitting. These environments may be hazardous and may produce more physical illness or accidents than other work environments.
  • The Realistic Personality Type – Realistic people are likely to enjoy using tools or machines in their hobbies or work. They tend to seek to develop competencies in such areas as plumbing, roofing, electrical and automotive repair, farming, and other technical disciplines. They are apt to like courses that are very practical and teach the use of mechanical or physical skills. Realistic people are likely to have little tolerance of abstract and theoretical description. Often, they approach problems, whether mechanical or personal, in a practical or problem-solving manner.

2. Investigative

  • The Investigative Environment – The Investigative (I) environment is one in which people search for solutions to problems through mathematical and scientific interests and competencies. In such a situation, people are encouraged to use complex and abstract thinking to solve problems creatively. Examples of occupations that offer the opportunity to use analytical thinking skills are computer programmer, physician, mathematician, biologist, science teacher, veterinarian, and research and development manager. In each of these environments, cautious and critical thinking is valued. Individuals are likely to need to use logic and precise methodical thinking in order to find solutions to problems in these fields. These jobs require that people use their intellect to work independently to solve problems. They are not required or encouraged to use human relations skills to solve problems, nor are they likely to need to use machines. For example, a computer programmer uses logic to figure out solutions to problems (an Investigative environment), whereas the computer technician works with machinery and may assemble it or fix it (a Realistic environment).
  • The Investigative Personality Type – The Investigative person is likely to enjoy puzzles and challenges that require the use of intellect. Such a person is apt to enjoy learning and to feel confident about his or her ability to solve mathematical and scientific problems. Such people often enjoy reading about science and discussing scientific issues. They seek to work independently to solve problems such as mathematical or scientific questions. They are likely to enjoy courses in math, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and other physical or biological sciences. They are not likely to enjoy supervising other people or dealing directly with personal problems, but they may enjoy analyzing or searching for solutions to psychological problems.

3. Artistic

  • The Artistic Environment – The Artistic (A) environment is one that is free and open, encouraging creativity and personal expression. Such an environment offers much freedom in developing products and answers. Examples of occupations in which people can use creative and unconventional ways to express themselves are musician, fine artist, and freelance writer. Such settings allow people to dress the way they wish, keep few appointments, and structure their own time. These work environments encourage personal and emotional expression rather than logical expression. If tools are used, they are used to express oneself (for example, a clarinet or a paintbrush) rather than as a means to complete a task (for example, an electric drill or a wrench).
  • The Artistic Personality Type – The Artistic person likes the opportunity to express himself or herself in a free and unsystematic way, creating music, art, or writing. Such people may use instruments to do this, such as a violin, the voice, sculpting tools, or a word processor. They are likely to want to improve their ability in language, art, music, or writing. Originality and creativity are particularly important in expression. To use a painted by-numbers kit would be deeply offensive to an Artistic type, who needs and desires the opportunity to express herself or himself in a free and open manner. A pure Artistic type would dislike technical writing and would prefer writing fiction or poetry.

4. Social

  • The Social Environment – The Social (S) environment is one that encourages people to be flexible and understanding of each other, where people can work with others through helping with personal or career problems, affecting others spiritually, and being socially responsible. The Social environment emphasizes human values such as being idealistic, kind, friendly, and generous. These ideals most commonly exist in the education, social service, and mental health professions. Examples of these occupations are elementary school teacher, special education teacher, high school teacher, marriage counselor, counseling psychologist, speech therapist, school superintendent, and psychiatrist.
  • The Social Personality Type – The Social person is interested in helping people through teaching, helping with personal or vocational problems, or providing personal services. Social people enjoy solving problems through discussion and teamwork rather than through delegation. Preferring to talk and resolve complex problems that may be ethical or idealistic in nature, they often choose to avoid working with machines. They seek out environments where they can use verbal and social skills, such as in education, welfare, and mental health.

5. Enterprising

  • The Enterprising Environment – The Enterprising (E) environment is one where people manage and persuade others in order to attain organizational or personal goals. These are situations where finance and economic issues are of prime importance and risks may be taken to achieve rewards. In such an environment people tend to be self-confident, sociable, and assertive. It’s an environment where promotion and power are important, and persuasion and selling take place. Examples of Enterprising environments are sales work, buying, business management, restaurant management, politics, real estate, the stock market, insurance, and lobbying. All of these environments provide the opportunity for power, status, and wealth.
  • The Enterprising Personality Type – The acquisition of wealth is particularly important for Enterprising people. They enjoy being with others and like to use verbal skills in order to sell, persuade, or lead. They tend to be assertive and popular, trying to take on leadership positions. They enjoy working with people but prefer to persuade and manage rather than to help.

6. Conventional

  • The Conventional Environment – Organization and planning best describe the Conventional (C) environment. Much of the Conventional environment is an office environment, where one needs to keep records, file papers, copy materials, and organize reports. In addition to written material, the Conventional environment includes mathematical materials, such as bookkeeping and accounting records. Word processing, calculating, and copy machines are the type of equipment that is found in a Conventional environment. Competencies that are ‘needed to work well in a Conventional environment are clerical skills, an ability to organize, dependability, and an ability to follow directions.
  • The Conventional Personality Type – The Conventional person is one who values money, being dependable, and the ability to follow rules and orders. These people prefer being in control of situations and not dealing with ambiguous requests. They enjoy an office environment where their values of earning money and following rules, regulations, and guidelines can be met. Their strengths are their clerical and numerical ability, which they use to solve straightforward problems in their environment; Their relationships they tend to be directed toward accomplishing tasks and establish approach to problems.

Many inventories and career assessment tools use the typology to enable individuals to categorize their interests and personal characteristics in terms of combinations of the six types: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, or Conventional(RIASEC). Holland’s typological theory specifies a theoretical connection between personality and environment that makes it possible to use the same RIASEC classification system for both persons and fields of study or occupations.

According to RIASEC theory, if a person and an environment have the same or similar codes, e.g., Investigative person in an Investigative environment, then the person will likely be satisfied and persist in that environment. This satisfaction will result from individuals being able to express their personality in an environment that is supportive and includes other persons who have the same or similar personality traits. It should be noted that neither people nor environments are exclusively one type but rather combinations of all six types. Their dominant type is an approximation of an ideal, modal type. The profile of the six types can be described in terms of the degree of differentiation (flat or uneven profile), consistency (level of similarity of interests or characteristics on the RIASEC hexagon for the first two letters of a three-letter Holland code), or identity (stability characteristics of the type). Each of these factors moderates predictions about the behavior related to the congruence level between a person and an environment. Persons and environments are typically described proportionally in terms of the most highly weighted three of the six Holland types, e.g., Lawyer, ESI; Accounting, CEI.

Almost any social setting, e.g., a family-owned business, a classroom, or a work group, might be characterized in terms of a RIASEC environment. Every aspect of Holland’s Theory of Career Choice can be applied to different kinds of environments.

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