Learn About the Holland Code

What Is It and How Can You Use It to Choose a Career?

A pile of various white block letters from the alphabet
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A Holland Code is a three-letter code that is made up of an individual's three dominant personality types out of six possible choices, according to a theory developed by Dr. John Holland, a psychologist.

The six types Dr. Holland identified are collectively referred to as RIASEC, the initials standing for the first letter of each of the following personality types: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. If you took the Strong Interest Inventory, a self-assessment tool, your Holland Code was included in the results.

This code could be the key, or at least one of the keys, to finding a compatible career. First, take a look at the theory behind this seemingly mysterious combination of letters.

The Theory Behind the Code

According to Dr. Holland, an individual's interests and how he or she approaches life situations determines his or her type. Since human beings are multi-faceted, Holland realized that one wouldn't only fall into a single category.

Most people would fall into multiple interest categories. Each letter of your Holland Code represents the top three types in which you could be categorized.

So now that you know what a Holland Code is, you might be wondering how it could have anything to do with finding a compatible career. Well, there's a second part of Dr. Holland's theory. He thought that, in addition to being able to categorize individuals by personality types, occupations could be classified in the same way. In other words, if he could classify people and classify occupations, he could then make matches between the two.

It sounds simple, but in reality, there is more to finding an appropriate career than simply matching types. A complete self-assessment, which will probably include learning your Holland Code among other things, can help you choose a career, or at least get a feel for which types of work best suit your personality.

Once you narrow it down to a group of potential career choices, you can more thoroughly research occupations before you make a decision about which to pursue. Although a certain career may seem like a good fit based on your personality or other characteristics, there are additional things to consider including the amount of training you are willing to go through to become qualified to get a job.

Holland developed a self-assessment instrument called the Self Directed Search which uses the Holland Code. You can take it online for a relatively small fee. The O*Net Interest Profiler, a free online tool developed by O*Net for the US Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, is based on Holland's theory as well. As mentioned earlier, The Strong Interest Inventory also uses Holland Codes.

More About RIASEC: The Six Types

Now for a look at RIASEC. The following provides a definition of each type along with a list of some compatible occupations.

  • Realistic [R]: A realistic person prefers concrete tasks. He or she likes working alone or with other real people. Some of the careers included in this category are engineer, plumber, audio and video equipment technician, chemist, dentist, furniture finisher, and rail car repairer.
  • Investigative [I]: Someone who is investigative likes to use his or her abstract or analytical skills to figure things out. He or she is a "thinker" who strives to complete tasks and often prefers to do so independently. These are a few investigative occupations: sociologist, scientist, psychologist, and economist.
  • Enterprising [E]: Those who are enterprising lean toward leadership roles. They are willing to take on challenges and are extroverted. They can be aggressive as well. Enterprising occupations include restaurant host or hostess, retail salesperson, attorney, chief executive, chef, and wholesale or retail buyer.
  • Conventional [C]: Someone who is conventional prefers structured tasks and tending to details. He or she is often conservative. These are some conventional occupations: accountant, bookkeeper, actuary, cost estimatorhuman resources assistant, and loan officer.

    O*Net. My Next Move. Created for the US Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.
    Zunker, Vernon G., and Norris, Debra S. Using Assessment Results for Career Development. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company. 1997.