Step 5 – Career Guidance and Management


Holland’s Personality- Job Fit Theory (RIASEC Structural Model)

Personality-Job Fit Theory (see parents resource) was developed by John Holland in 1985. Since then, the model has come to be regarded as the best known and most researched theory of career choice used by professionals and academics alike. This widely used and respected formula can help individuals choose career paths, majors, and training programs that best suit their personality. Holland’s personality-job fit model into theory started with six foundational principles, which were later collapsed into four assumptions:


  1. People fall into one of six personality types discussed below.
  2. Occupational environments can also be categorised by the same types.
  3. Individuals tend to look for environments suited to their personality.
  4. Behaviour, productivity, and work relationships are determined by congruence or lack thereof.


Holland’s Six Vocational Personality Types

Holland theorised that a person’s personality can be affected by a variety of factors: heredity, primary and secondary socialisation, positive reinforcement, culture, social class, and environment. (Holland 1985b, 1997) As a result of these internal and external forces, his first assumption states that an individual will develop traits which make them fall into any one of the six categories: Realistic (R), Investigative (I), Artistic (A), Social (S), Enterprising (E), and Conventional (C).



Realistic (R)

Realistic types prefer to work on things rather than with people. These mechanically inclined individuals love to work with their hands, tools, machines, and things that are practical. They prefer engaging in physical activity and being outdoors in nature or around animals. People with a realistic personality type prefer to work through a problem rather than talk about it or think about it. Consequently, a classroom setting is not the best type of learning environment. Realistic types tend to be candid and direct communicators. They are also assertive and competitive. Persons dominant in this personality trait will flourish in careers such as agriculture, architecture, gardening, landscaping, mechanics, athletics, culinary arts, driving, civil engineering, construction, physical therapy, sports, the armed forces, fire-fighting, etc.


Investigative (I)

These are the thinkers. The name of the typology suggests that these individuals are naturally academic. They place high values on science, logic, and learning. They also enjoy solving highly complex and abstract problems. They take pride in their analytical and intellectual abilities. In their need to understand, explain, and predict the things that go on around them, they take a scholarly or scientific approach. Investigatives prefer autonomous work with data, rather than people activities. Persons with this dominant personality trait will flourish in careers as an economist, an engineer, journalist, clinical and school psychology, physicists, market research analysis, medicine, political science, soil and water conservationists, zoologists and wildlife biologists, etc.

Artistic (A)

Persons in this typology value aesthetics. They are very creative, insightful, original and individualistic. They are always seeking ways to express themselves through art. The beauty and mystery of life is captured in their work – be it in the form of music, dance, painting, sculptures, poems, or productions. Artistic types have difficulty functioning in highly structured and methodical environments. They dislike conventionality. Thus, they are liberal, eccentric and nonconformist. They can be perceived as impulsive or emotional. Artistic types tend to be expressive and open communicators. Persons with this dominant trait flourish in careers such as broadcast news analysts, choreographers, commercial and industrial designers, dancers, fashion/floral/graphic/interior designers, hairstylists, cosmetologists, music composers and arrangers, musicians, photographers, poets/lyricists/creative writers, radio and television announcers, etc.

Social (S)

Social types are dynamic and gregarious. They enjoy working with and being around people. As a result, they are perceptive when it comes to people’s feelings and problems. These humanists are also passionate about helping others in life. Because they understand and genuinely like people, they communicate in a manner that is convivial and diplomatic. The preferred work environment of the social type encourages teamwork and allows them to solve problems utilizing their interpersonal skills. Some careers within which persons with a social typology will flourish as teachers, arbitrators/mediators and conciliators, child care workers, chiropractors, coaches, waiters/waitresses, customer service representatives, fitness trainers and aerobics instructors, therapists, nursing aides, tour guides, ushers, lobby attendants etc.

Enterprising (E)

Enterprising types organise resources, people, and time in order to achieve set goals and objectives. They are optimistic, proactive, ambitious and self-assured. They also have a tendency to automatically fill leadership positions. The enterprising individual is all about setting targets, strategy creation, and implementation. Enterprising types have strong oratory skills and make effective public speakers. They are clear-cut and ‘to-the-point.’ They are also very good at selling ideas. They enjoy making things happen by using their leadership, persuasive and interpersonal skills. Whilst they may be skilled in leadership, they lack scientific abilities. Persons with an enterprising typology will flourish as businessmen, managers, chief executives, insurance/sales agents, lawyers, logisticians, etc.



Conventional (C)

Conventional individuals are meticulous, organised and task-oriented. These conscientious individuals need rules and structure to govern their work and their lives. Once they have clear roles and responsibilities by which to abide, they are efficient and dependable. They tend to gravitate towards tall organisations where there is centralisation and an established chain of command. Conventional types place high values on conformity and compliance. They shy away from leadership roles and environments which demand creative type thinking. The preferred work environment of the conventional type is rigid, well-ordered, and fosters administrative competencies. Some career paths include accounting, banking, administration, data entry keyers, file clerks, cashiers, telephone operators, etc.

Holland’s main argument

Holland’s main theoretical argument was that people find their jobs more satisfying when the environment matches their personality. For example, a conventional person working in a bank. He referred to this as congruence (meaning “compatibility, agreement, or harmony”). Congruence boosts morale and intrinsic motivation. This leads to increased productivity and a reduction in staff turnover because people are doing what they love. When employees are not in the correct career field, according to Holland’s model, they are in a state of incongruence. It causes them to change jobs, reform the environment so that it conforms to their personality, or they may even change themselves to become more congruent in their behaviour and perceptions.


Holland’s four secondary constructs

Congruence is one of Holland’s four secondary constructs which he introduces in his 1997 work to further enhance his main theoretical argument. The other three constructs are coherence, consistency, and differentiation. Some people may fall predominantly into one type. Holland termed this differentiation.


One would be mistaken to think, however, that Holland’s theory presumes there are only six types of people in the world. Holland knew that people cannot be oversimplified by pigeon-holing them into one of six categories. Most people in reality are a combination of types, possessing strengths and skills in several areas. Holland acknowledged this complexity of the human personality and designed a test which provides persons with their own personal three-letter code to describe who they are. Based on years of research, Holland argued that persons were usually found to have two or three dominant traits that make up their personality. (Holland, 1985)


Personality types that are closest to each other on the hexagon are most alike. Types opposite each other are least alike.When the first two letters of a person’s code line up with adjacent typologies on the hexagon, there is said to be consistency. When a person’s career aspirations equate with their code, there is coherence. Ideally, when there is a complete match between an individual’s type and the occupational environment, there is congruence. The next best degree of congruence would be when a personality type works in an environment that is next to their main environmental type on the hexagon. As the environment moves further away from the dominant one, there is lesser congruence.


Holland’s Hexagon

This is why the visual representation of Holland’s (1985) model was particularly drawn as a hexagon; to illustrate the relationships between the personality types and environments.The six types were arranged clockwise and follow an established order – R-I-A-S-E-C – because Holland wanted to show the relationships between the typologies. If you examine the hexagon closely, the personality types closest to each other are similar, whilst the types furthest apart are not. For example, someone who is artistic is not expected to be conventional. But someone who is artistic is expected to be social. They may even be investigative. The same dynamic holds true, according to Holland, for work environments. The model is illustrated in Figure 1.0 below.



Figure 1.0 – Holland’s R-I-A-S-E-C Structural Model. Source: The Crossroads (2014)



Example of Holland’s Theory in action

Let’s do an example. After taking the test the writer got the code AEI, which according to Holland’s model are Artistic, Enterprising and Investigative. Therefore, according to Holland’s typology, she will be most congruent in an artistic environment. This is true since it is her dream to be a musician by profession. But, she also has other facets to her personality that makes her eligible for other careers. She can be an entrepreneur, or she can go into investigative type jobs since she has a knack for economics and political science.



Is Holland’s Theory still relevant?

Some have questioned the theory’s relevance in a post-modern world. However, when it comes to career psychology, Holland’s model is still one of the most respected theories that help individuals make quality career-related decisions. (Campbell and Borgen, 1999; Watson and Stead, 1999) While there are some theorists like Schwartz (1992) and Tinsley (2000) have provided evidence rejecting the view that congruence always leads to job satisfaction, there is strong evidence supporting Holland’s congruence hypothesis. (Aranya, Barak and Amernic 1981; Spokane, Meir, and Catalano, 2000; Einarsdottir, Rounds, and Aegisdottir, 2002)




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