Holland's Codes

Shaping a Career That Suits Your Personality

Holland's Codes - Shaping a Career That Suits Your Personality

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Use Holland's Career Codes to find a career that is likely to bring you the most satisfaction.

You know when you are in a job you like. You also know when the task you're doing just isn't right for you.

What lies behind our feelings of work satisfaction or dissatisfaction are our fundamental work interests: These are the things that we enjoy doing, whatever the industry or the job title. The trick to finding career satisfaction can be to identify those core interests and match your job to them.

For example, if you're a science person, you may not be happy working in a job that needs quick decisions, or where you need to use your "gut" to guide you. Likewise, artistic people would be driven mad in a profession that has lots of rules and procedures, or which demands a lot of number crunching.

In a perfect world, we would all choose careers that suit our core interests. However this is not a perfect world: For all sorts of reasons, we can find ourselves in positions where what we're doing just doesn't suit our natural interests and abilities. This is where understanding how job and personality fit together can help you change the situation for the better.

Ability and personality are the two main things contribute towards job satisfaction. You're likely to find that jobs that suit your ability and personality are much more rewarding than those that don't. Here we look at your work interests – an important part of your work personality.

Understanding the Theory: Holland's Codes

In the 1970s John Holland developed a popular theory of interest development based around these six personality types:

1. Realistic (R)

These are people who like well-ordered activities, or enjoy working with objects, tools, and machines.

Realistic people:

  • See themselves as mechanically or athletically talented, but may not be good with people.
  • Value concrete and tangible things like – money, power, and status.
  • Avoid "social" activities, those that need interaction with other people.

Common traits:

  • Hard-headed, inflexible, persistent, materialistic, practical, and genuine.

2. Investigative (I)

Investigative people like activities that involve creative investigation of the world or nature.

Investigative people:

  • See themselves as highly intelligent, but often lack leadership skills.
  • Value scientific endeavors.
  • Avoid activities that seem mundane, commercial or "enterprising".

Common traits:

  • Analytical, curious, pessimistic, intellectual, precise, and reserved.

3. Artistic (A)

Artistic people like unstructured activities, and enjoy using materials to create art.

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Artistic people:

  • See themselves as talented artists.
  • Value aesthetics.
  • Avoid "conventional" occupations or situations.

Common traits:

  • Idealistic, complicated , introspective, sensitive, impractical and nonconformist.

4. Social (S)

Social people enjoy informing, training, developing, curing and enlightening others.

Social people:

  • Perceive themselves as helpful, understanding and able to teach others.
  • Value social activities.
  • Avoid activities demanded by "realistic" occupations and situations.

Common traits:

  • Generous, patient, emphatic, tactful, persuasive, and cooperative.

5. Enterprising (E)

These people enjoy reaching organizational goals or achieving economic gain.

Enterprising people:

  • See themselves as aggressive, popular, great leaders and speakers, but may lack scientific ability.
  • Value political and economic achievement.
  • Avoid activities demanded by "investigative" occupations and situations.

Common traits:

  • Extroverted, adventurous, optimistic, ambitious, sociable, and exhibitionistic.

6. Conventional (C)

Conventional people enjoy manipulating data, record keeping, filing, reproducing materials, and organizing written or numerical data.

Conventional people:

  • See themselves as having clerical and numerical ability.
  • Value business and economic achievement.
  • Avoid unstructured or "artistic" activities.

Common traits:

  • Efficient, practical, conscientious, inflexible, defensive, and methodical.

Reproduced by special permission of the Publisher, Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc., 16204 North Florida Avenue, Lutz, FL 33549, from Making Vocational Choices, Third Edition, Copyright 1973, 1985, 1992, 1997 by Psychological Resources, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Model

Holland then arranged these six personality types into a hexagon (see figure 1, below) organized according to people's preference for working with different stimuli at work: people, data, things, and ideas. Holland's theory is that people with different personality types prefer working with different work stimuli, and that the distance between work personalities indicates the degree of difference in interests between them. For example Artistic people are least like Conventional people and most like Social and Investigative people.

Holland's Codes Diagram

Holland's conclusion was that for any personality type, the career most aligned with that type is most likely to be enjoyable and satisfying. For example, a Realistic person would be best suited for a Technical job and least suited for Social job. Jobs with Conventional or Operational characteristics would be the next best choices.

The way that this works in practice is that people use a personality test to identify their three top personality types. This gives their Holland's code (for example, ESA). This is then matched against the Holland's codes of people typically found within particular careers.

How to Use Holland Codes Career Model

There are two good ways of using this model – either in helping you choose a career that suits you, or in helping you shape your existing job so that you maximize your fulfillment. To find your ideal career according to this approach, just complete steps i and ii below. To shape your job, use our complete process.

Using Holland's Codes is a straightforward process, which is made all the easier by some useful online interest evaluation sites.

Part One: Identify Your Work Personality

Step i: Read through the brief descriptions given above and find the one you most identify with. You may want to take an official Holland Code Assessment – you can do this by taking the Self-Directed-Search.

Try it: Does the assessment say what you thought it would? If it doesn't, ask yourself why: Often we choose a personality type that reflects who we want to be, not who we really are. (If so, learn from this!)

Tip 1:

Do try the online test – it will show you the careers and professions that most suit your code once you've completed it. This can save you a huge amount of painstaking research!

Step ii: To further explore your "true" work personality, ask yourself, "How would my spouse, family, and friends categorize me?" Show some of your friends and co-workers descriptions of the types and ask them to categorize you. Here again, explore any differences between your assessment of yourself and theirs.

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Part Two: Analyze Your Job in Terms of Your Interests

Step iii: Look at your main tasks and responsibilities. Are they aligned with your work personality?

Step iv: List those responsibilities that are aligned in one column and those that are not in another. Use this to decide whether your job is a good fit for your interests or not.

Step v: For each of the job roles where your interests are not well matched, work out at least one way of bringing the two sides together. For instance, if you are a "Conventional" person working in an administrative position, many of your roles will be in-line with your interests. However, if you were asked to organize the Christmas party, you might be very uncomfortable about deciding about decorations, entertainment, and so on. These are more Artistic responsibilities, which are directly opposite to your Conventional ways. One strategy to deal with this is to delegate the Artistic tasks and assume responsibility for making sure the tasks get done. You maintain the Administrative duties and get rid of the Artistic ones.

Part Three: Set Goals to Bring Your Interests and Responsibilities in Line

Step vi: The best way of making sure that something gets done is to set a specific, time limited goal. Identify two or three of the most important problem areas, and set realistic goals to change things.

Tip 2:

Remember that this is a model – it's a useful way of looking at things, but it can't possibly capture all of the complexities of the ways that people behave at work. Make sure that you interpret any conclusions with common sense.

Tip 3:

Also bear in mind that as you develop in your career you'll need to extend your skills into new areas. In particular, as you take responsibility for people and then move upwards within an organization, you need to develop the "Social" ability to work with other people, as well as other skills that normally go with other personality types (if you're going to be a CEO, there's a lot of "Conventional" work that you just have to do, and do well.)

Key Points

Holland's Career Codes provides a useful framework for exploring your personal interests and the careers most likely to suit you.

Every occupation requires a particular set of characteristics. By identifying your particular interests you can quickly uncover the parts of your job that give your satisfaction. Likewise, you can identify areas of dissatisfaction and help you plan how to address these. This helps you develop your career in the right direction – one that will be a source of long-term fulfillment.

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Comments (5)
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi svaneck,

    I agree that Holland's Codes are a really strong tool for identifying career pathing. Used in conjunction with a skills inventory, they can help someone who is perhaps ambivalent about a career choice to move in a direction that will allow them to make smart choices.

    The challenge that I have experienced in my work is that in order for the codes to work well for a positive career choice, the individual needs to be motivated - something not all career seekers share.
  • Over a month ago svaneck wrote
    I think everyone should read this article so they can start the process of better understanding themselves, what they want and the career that best suits them.

    As a manager, I have had the opportunity to interview a number of people and have at times after an interview scratched my head wondering why a particular person had applied for the position. I have seen employees quickly burn out or struggle because they said the right things in an interview to get hired, but did not self-assess themselves to the jobs they were applying for.

    I understand that many people just need a job to get by, but I truly believe that if you do the work necessary to develop yourself and understand who you are and what brings you happiness, you will avoid the pain of working in a job that you don't want.
  • Over a month ago Dianna wrote
    Hi annlewan,
    We try to provide as much information as we can to people who are interested in the tools we cover. This overview of Holland's Codes provides a starting place for members to think about their career interests. If people are interested in taking the actual inventory they are able to do so and we've provided a link to an online source for that.

    Hope that helps to clarify.
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