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I was recently looking for something in my stacks of files, and I came across my notes and course work from the Career Development Theory course I did at Dalhousie University years ago. There were notes on Parsons’ Trait and Factor Theory, Krumboltz’s Planned Happenstance, Super’s Career Development Theory, and some less traditional ones like Pryor and Bright’s Chaos Theory of Careers. But the one that has always stood out to me is Holland’s Theory of Career Choice; probably because it lends itself so well to an assessment.

John Holland’s Theory of Career Choice, says that people look for work that matches who they are. People try to find jobs where they can use their skills and show what’s important to them, and prefer work with tasks they enjoy doing. Holland believed that how someone behaves at work is a result of both their personality and the place they work. His theory uses the acronym RIASEC (also known widely as the Holland Code), which stands for the six personality types identified: Realistic (Doers), Investigative (Thinkers), Artistic (Creators), Social (Helpers), Enterprising (Persuaders), and Conventional (Organizers). Each person’s personality is thought to be a combination of these types, usually with two or three dominant ones.

So, why is it useful in career development? First and the most important, the Holland Code helps match individuals with careers that align with their personality traits and preferences. This alignment can lead to greater job satisfaction and career success. Which, as we know, makes people genuinely happier.  It also provides clients with a framework for understanding their own interests and strengths, which is crucial for making informed career decisions.

With a little bit of knowledge, RIASEC can introduce clients to career paths they might not have considered before, broadening their horizons and opening up new possibilities. As a standardized tool, it offers an objective starting point for career discussions, reducing the influence of personal biases or limited knowledge. Its versatility allows it to be applied at various stages of career development – from students choosing a major to professionals considering a career change.

RIASEC Inventory

So, how do you use the Holland Code in your practice? It’s actually pretty simple, start by having your client take a Holland Code assessment. There are many available, and you have to determine which one is best for your client, but a good one to start with is the RIASEC Inventory. This assessment is a staple with many career development professionals because It’s user-friendly, comprehensive, and provides clear results that are easy for clients to understand. It not only identifies a person’s Holland Code but also suggests specific occupations that align with their results.

Once you have the results, explore careers that match your client’s dominant types. For example, someone with “SA” (Social-Artistic) might be well-suited for roles like art therapist, drama teacher, or counsellor. Discuss the results with your client. Do they feel the description fits them? Are they surprised by any aspects? This discussion can lead to valuable insights.

Use these insights to create an action plan. This might involve researching specific careers, arranging informational interviews, or identifying skills to develop. Remember, while powerful, the Holland Code shouldn’t be used in isolation. Combine it with other assessments and tools like a values and/or abilities assessment for a more comprehensive view of your client’s potential career paths.

When using Holland Code assessments like the RIASEC Inventory, it’s important to set the stage properly. Before administering the assessment, discuss its purpose and limitations with your client. This sets realistic expectations and prepares them to engage meaningfully with the results. Don’t just hand over the results – walk your client through their Holland Code, explaining what each letter means and how their unique combination might translate to career preferences.

Use the occupation suggestions provided by the assessment are just a starting point for exploration. Discuss how these align with your client’s interests, and encourage clients to research suggested occupations further. They could look up job descriptions, required qualifications, and even reach out to professionals in those fields. OaSIS from Employment and Social Development Canada is a great place to start.

As you use the Holland Code in your practice, keep a few tips in mind. Remember that context is key – always consider the client’s full context, including their values, skills, life circumstances, and goals. Use the results to encourage exploration rather than to limit options. A career assessment should always open up opportunities, not put them in a box.  A client might have untapped potential in areas outside their dominant types.

It’s also a good idea to update regularly. Interests and personalities can evolve, so encourage clients to retake the assessment periodically, especially if they’re feeling unsatisfied in their current role. Be upfront about what the Holland Code can and can’t do. It’s a tool for insight and exploration, not a crystal ball for predicting career success.

Holland’s Theory of Career Choice, especially when used through validated assessments like the RIASEC Inventory, is a valuable tool in our career development toolkit. It provides a structured way to help clients understand themselves and explore career options that could be a great fit. By using it thoughtfully and in combination with other approaches, we can guide our clients towards more fulfilling and successful careers. Remember, at the end of the day, our job is to empower our clients to make informed decisions about their career paths. I never did find what I was looking for, but it still gave me an opportunity to review some career development theory.