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The Holland Code

How To Use it to Choose a Career


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Do you know what your Holland Code is? Do you even know what a Holland Code is? Most importantly, do you know why you should care about this at all? If you took the Strong Interest Inventory, a self assessment tool, your Holland Code was included in your results. It is a combination of three letters that could be the key, or at least one of the keys, to finding a compatible career. First, let's take a look at the theory behind this seemingly mysterious combination of letters.

The Theory Behind the Code

Dr. John Holland, a psychologist, theorized that there were six personality types into which people could be categorized: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional. According to Dr. Holland, an individual's interests and how he or she approaches life situations would determine his or her type. More about each type later. Since individuals are multi-faceted, Holland realized that one wouldn't simply fall into a single category. Most people would fall into multiple categories. Each letter of your Holland Code represents the top three types into which you could be categorized, based on each one's first letter. For example, your code may be CES (Conventional, Enterprising, Social).

So now that you know what a Holland Code is, you must be wondering how it could possibly have anything to do with finding a compatible career. Well, there's a second part to Dr. Holland's theory. He thought that, in addition to being able to categorize individuals into six distinct types, occupations could be classified in the same way. So, if we can classify people and classify occupations, we can then make matches between the two. For example a person who is realistic would be happy in a career that is the same. An artistic individual would find success in an artistic career. 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. You must also thoroughly research an occupation before you make a decision to pursue it. Although it 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 in order to become qualified to get a job.

In addition to the Strong Interest Inventory utilizing Holland's theory, as mentioned previously, Holland developed a self assessment instrument called the Self Directed Search which also uses it. You can take it online for a very low fee. My Next Move, 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.

More About RIASEC: The Six Types

The six types described by Holland are collectively referred to as RIASEC. Here is a definition of each one along with a list of compatible occupations.
  • Realistic [R]: A realistic person prefers concrete tasks. He or she likes working alone or with other realistic people. Some of the occupations 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, political scientist, psychologist and economist.
  • Artistic [A]: The artistic members of our society like to create things. They are imaginative and usually extroverted. Artistic occupations include reporter, creative writer, performing artist (including actor, singer and dancer) and fashion designer.
  • Social [S]: A social person prefers interacting with people. He or she tends to be concerned with social problems and wants to help others. Here are some social occupations: home health aide, certified nurse's aide, occupational therapist assistant or aide, teacher and clergy member.
  • 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, human resources assistant and loan interviewer.

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.

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