Finding Your Career With the Holland Code

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, and the initials stand for the first letter of each of the following personality types: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. If you use a self-assessment tool called the Strong Interest Inventory, your Holland Code is included in the results.

This code could be the key, or at least one of the keys, to finding a compatible career.

The Theory Behind the Code

According to Dr. Holland, an individual's interests and how they approach life situations determines their type. Since human beings are multi-faceted, Holland realized that people would fall into multiple categories. Each letter of someone's Holland Code represents the top three types in which they could be categorized.

In addition to being able to categorize individuals by personality types, Dr. Holland believed occupations could be classified in the same way, and that if he could classify people and occupations, he could then make matches between the two.

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 U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, is also based on Holland's theory.

RIASEC: The Six Types

The following defines each personality type in RIASEC, along with a list of some compatible occupations.

  • Realistic: A realistic person prefers concrete tasks. They like 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: Someone who is investigative likes to use their abstract or analytical skills to figure things out. They are 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.
  • Artistic: Artistic people like to create things and are imaginative. Artistic occupations include creative writer, performing artist (including actor, singer, and dancer), photographer, and fashion designer.
  • Social: A social person prefers interacting with people. They tend to be concerned with social problems and want to help others. Social occupations include home health aide, certified nurse's aide, RN, licensed practical nurse, social worker, occupational therapist assistant or aide, teacher, and clergy member.
  • Enterprising: Those who are enterprising lean toward leadership roles. They are willing to take on challenges and are extroverted, as well as aggressive. Enterprising occupations include restaurant host or hostess, retail salesperson, attorney, chief executive, chef, and wholesale or retail buyer.
  • Conventional: Someone who is conventional prefers structured tasks and tending to details, and is often conservative. Conventional occupations include accountant, bookkeeper, actuary, cost estimator, human resources assistant, and loan officer.

Finding a Career

It sounds simple, but in reality, there is more to finding an appropriate career than simply matching types. A complete self-assessment, including 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 particular 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.