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Holland's Hexagon Choice

Holland's Hexagon Choice

People often identified themselves by what they do for a living. The relationships that people have to work is often defined by whether they consider themselves as having a job or a career. The concept of career development has enabled vocational theorists to develop new approaches to understanding the world of work and how peoples innate characteristics guide their career choices. John Holland's theory of vocational choice is one of the theories that has stood the test of time for many years and has influenced career counseling and guidance for numerous individuals. Holland's theory, as illustrated in Making Vocational Choices (Holland, 1997), is presently one of the most prevalent in career counseling. However, as time passes will this theory and relevance be considered outdated? Holland's model emphasis is based on congruence between individuals with like interest based on six personality types in a hexagonal format. In simpler terms Holland's theory explains how career choices influence work related behavior and the satisfaction one experiences doing something that is an appropriate fit based on certain characteristics.

A scholarly review was developed utilizing various literature and electronic resources to substantiate the purpose and rational taken pertaining to this document. Thus, the following paper will seek to explore and describe the foundation of Holland's theory. General history and background information of the theory's founder will be addressed first. Discipline behind the theory will be discussed next. An explanation of the six personality types will be covered: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. After that, the applicability the theory has towards rehabilitation counseling will be covered. Various formats of Holland's theory will be described: Self-Directed Search, My Vocational Situation, Vocational Preference Inventory, Career Attitudes and Strategies Inventory, and Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory. Limitations of the theory will be followed by current research pertaining the Holland's theory. Finally, personal perspective of Holland's theory.


In order to understand the Holland theory it is important to recognize the man behind the theory, John L. Holland, born October 21, 1919 in Omaha, Nebraska. Holland began his interest in the field of psychology at the Municipal University of Omaha. After graduating in 1942 he joined the armed forces and served in many positions ranging from interviewer, test proctor, psychological assistant, and Wechsler administrator (Ruff, Reardon, and Bertoch, 2007). His early interest in assessment development and personality compelled him during his studies at the University of Minnesota helped him begin to formulate his typology theory. In 1953, while working as a career counselor, Holland became dissatisfied with delayed assessment options and substandard occupational information causing him to develop the Vocational Preference Inventory (VPI; Holland, 1973). Next, he started to construe the foundation for his six personality typology that later developed into his theory of careers. Holland's later worked helped him create stronger empirical support such as the Self-Directed Search among other formats of assessment tools that continue to influence numerous other aspects of career counseling. Holland's body of work has undoubtedly influenced the practice of career counseling since 1952 (Ruff, et al., 2007).


Holland's Theory

Holland's theory states there are six personality types and that all people fit into one or more of the six types: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. Sometimes also known as RIASEC theory. Holland's approach to career counseling applied the six characteristics to how satisfied people would be based on how congruent their occupational choices resembled their particular type. His approach surmised that people of same likeness tend to associate better with people most like them in their career choices (Feldman, Smart, and Ethington, 2004; Miller, 1994). For example, when realistic people are joined together they tend to gravitate to the same types of occupations. Therefore, creating an environment based on the same types of rewards they garner from doing like occupations. Thus, Holland's theory also has the same six types of work environments: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. His theory infers that people choose work environments that closely match their personality typology. The closer the match the more job satisfaction and success the person will achieve in their occupation (Alvi, Khan, Hussain, and Baig, 1998; Cowger, Chauvin, and Miller, 2009; Miller, 1994). For instance, realistic types will choose career environments that are realistic in nature (e.g. mechanical abilities).

There are two basic assumptions to Holland's theory (a) persons are inclined to select the same vocations based on the similarities of their personalities and (b) persons match their personality types with their occupational environments (Feldman et al., 2004; Miller, 1994; Miller and Bass, 2003; Miller, O'Rear, Cowger, and Livingston, 2005; Miller and Miller, 2005). Miller and Bass (2003, p.17) add that Holland's theory is based on a fundamental assumption that "vocational satisfaction, stability, and achievement depends on the congruence between one's personality and environment in which one works" (as cited in Holland, 1985, p. 10). In other words, Holland's theory proposes that people are motivated by their personalities to seek out appropriate occupational environments. Thus, allowing them to utilize their skills and abilities, while at the same time expressing their attitudes and values.

Tenets of Holland's Theory

The foundation of Holland's theory is based on a hexagonal model utilizing both personalities and environments grouped into six categories. The model was developed to illustrate the relationship between personality and occupational environment. The website Career Key provides an example of Holland's hexagonal model (

Both personality and environment can be grouped in a three-letter codes. For example, someone with a three-letter code of ECR suggests that a persons dominate characteristic is Enterprising, but also possesses Conventional and Realistic attributes too. According to Holland (1985), Realistic types are inclined to choose occupations that utilize working with objects, such as tools or machines and they tend to value practical things. Investigative types lean more towards math and science for occupational choices and value activities that are scholarly and intellectual. Artistic types are more interested in creative outlets and values others with aesthetic abilities and are geared more towards expressing themselves. Social generally choose a helping profession and values helping people and solving societal problems. Enterprising gravitate towards leadership roles or occupations to where they can persuade people. Finally, Conventional people gravitate towards professions involving numbers and are typically inclined to like things in an orderly way.

Five Secondary Constructs

Holland (1985) imparts five important constructs: "consistency, differentiation, identity, congruence, and calculus" (p. 4). Holland (1985) defines consistency as the extent of correlation between personality and environment. In other words, a person will have a stronger connection to a predictable vocational behavior if their three-letter codes are adjacent to one another on the hexagonal model (e.g., ECR) opposed to someone who has a code not in sequenced order (e.g., ERS). Alvi et al. (1998) explain "differentiation measures how clearly some persons and environments are distinguishable" (p. 451). To simplify, a person may closely resemble only one of their codes within their three-letter code and have very little relation to their other two code types. Holland introduced the concept of identity as how well a person recognizes their goals, interest, and talents (Holland, 1985; Szymanski, Enright, Hershenson, and Ettiger, 2003). Holland (1985) also proposed that people identified not only with their own personal identities but their environments too. In other words, realistic types thrive in realistic environments, just as conventional flourish in conventional settings. The concept of congruence relates to how well types and environments match (Alvi et al., 1998). Lastly, Holland (1985) proposed that calculus according to the hexagonal model purports that the less distance between the codes the more likely they will be harmonious. Thus, if a person's three-letter code proposed that they were Conventional and Artistic the results would most likely be out of sync because of the opposition to one another concerning the hexagonal model.

John Holland's theory of career choice evolved out of his understanding that helping people discover what constitutes a "good fit" will equal job stability, stable career paths, and achievement. The goal of his theory is to "fit" the individual's personality with the personality of the work environment based off his six personality and environment types. For the purpose of this paper consideration has been made in order to present a logical evaluation of the key concepts relating to Holland's theory. The applicability of Holland's theory regarding rehabilitation counseling will be explored next.

Applicability to Rehabilitation Counseling

A common goal for rehabilitation counseling is assisting consumers with the exploration of vocational choices. Holland's theoretical approach enables counselors the ability to help consumers consider the wide range of possibilities consistent with their personality profile concerning occupations (Miller and Bass, 2003). Counselors who utilize Holland's theory help undecided consumers eliminate occupation clusters they find undesirable, therefore narrowing the search and allowing the consumer to focus on appropriate options (Cowger et al., 2009; Miller, 1994). Rehabilitation counselors may choose to use Holland's theoretical approach because most of its assessments provide a quick and straightforward approach to assessing an individuals' interest. Counselors can help consumers identify and explore possible occupational choices they may have never considered. The benefit of utilizing various instruments that rely on Holland's theoretical approach is that it gives counselors insight into what consumers like and dislike (Weinrach, 1996). Many of the assessment instruments that employ Holland's theoretical approach reveal his belief "that interests reflect personality and that a career choice depends on a person's orientation to the environment" (Power, p. 144). Miller, Springer, Tobacyk, and Wells (2004) suggest counselors should consider consumers occupational daydreams when considering an individual's orientation to the world work. Holland (1994) also proposed in the Self-Directed Search that occupational daydreams are significant in foretelling occupational preference. Rehabilitation counselors who employ Holland's theoretical approach engage consumers in career exploration and education by helping them arrive at appropriate vocational choices. Next, by focusing on the some of the various assessment instruments that utilize Holland's theory a better understanding of how the applicability towards rehabilitation counseling will be covered.

Instruments Utilizing Holland's Theory

Self-Directed Search

The Self-Directed Search (SDS; Holland, 1994) can be administered, scored, and interpreted by the individual taking the assessment. It is viewed as a tool that has two purposes. First, SDS can provide vocational counseling to those unable to have contact with professional counselors. And second, increase the numbers of people the assessment is able to serve. The SDS is considered a career interest inventory and comes in several different forms. Form R is the original and is available in printed form or in a computer version. Form E is a shorter, easier-to-understand version of the SDS designed for people who have reading disabilities or those for whom English is a second language. Form CP is designed for adult professionals or adults in career transition (Fouad, Smothers, Kantamneni, and Guillen, 2007; Power, 2006).

My Vocational Situation

My Vocational Situation (MVS) intent is to screen and assess difficulties in vocational decision making for people who identify specific problems with their vocational identity. The MVS consists of three scales - vocational identity, occupational information, and barriers. Counselors utilizing the MVS help disabled consumers who lack information about occupations and training. The MVS is a quick (5-10 minutes) instrument that can either be self-administered, individual or by group (Holland, Daiger, and Power, 1980).

Vocational Preference Inventory

Holland (1973) Vocational Preference Inventory (VPI) assesses career interest utilizing psychological inventories, whereas the SDS is similar to vocational counseling experience. The VPI is scored by clinicians, whereas, the SDS is self scored. The VPI has five additional dimensions: Self-Control, Status, Masculinity/Femininity, Infrequency, and Acquiescence. The VPI takes approximately 15-30 minutes to administer and best suited for high school and college students, plus adults.

Career Attitudes and Strategies Inventory

The Career Attitudes and Strategies Inventory (CASI) purpose is to assess career attitudes and behaviors. The CASI can be self-administered in addition to individual or by group. Blackwell, Leierer, and Strohmer (2007) explain the CASI involve nine scales: "Job Satisfaction, Work Involvement, Skill Development, Dominant Style, Career Worries, Interpersonal Abuse, Family Commitment, Risk-Taking Style, and Geographic Barriers" (p. 419). Blackwell et al. (2007) suggests that counselors exercise caution when using the CASI to people with special needs, although, it is more appropriate for individuals needing to explore possible careers and how their attitudes and behaviors might influence their results.

Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory

Exploring consumers' interests is the purpose of the Strong Interest Inventory (SII), not their abilities or skills. SII is an interest inventory that compares the test takers preferences to set of questions and responses, and then compares their responses to the responses of people in different occupations and backgrounds (Bolton & Parker, 2007). The SII is administered with the intent to develop an interest inventory that provides information to the consumer about themselves and their relationship to different occupational settings. Additionally, the Strong provides evaluators (e.g., counselors) the ability to help consumers make decisions about their futures based on the qualities the interest inventory presents (Harmon, Hansen, Borgen, & Hammer, 1994). Power (2006) adds that "interest exploration can also stimulate counseling by suggesting occupations that had not been previously considered by the consumer or rehabilitation professional" (p. 143). The Strong is based on the theory that consumers who are fulfilled and productive in their occupations usually work in careers they find interesting (Harmon et al., 1994).

All of the above mentioned assessments utilize Holland's theory of vocational interest and choice and are based on his conceptual framework of his six personality and environmental types. The various assessments discussed allow counselors the ability to help consumers with or without disabilities engage in career planning.

Limitations of Holland's Theory

One of the limitations a counselor faces using assessments based on Holland's theoretical approach concerns whether consumers' abilities match their personalities. People have preconceived impressions of what they are capable of accomplishing. This can be troublesome for people with disabilities because what they or society thinks of them may be very different from reality. Nonetheless, rehabilitation counselors need to be aware of what limitations do exist. Holland's theory is a good measurement of possible vocational directions based on consumers' interest, personality, and environment without regard to their actual abilities. Power (2006) adds "a consumer may have a high degree of ability to do something but not be interested in it. Strong interests do not guarantee occupational success" (p. 145). Many people with disabilities and limited work experience may have little knowledge of the world of work and therefore, have unrealistic expectations. Some of the vocational inventories that utilize Holland's typology are inappropriate for people with cognitive disabilities or people with limited reading comprehension.

Holland's theory has been in use for many years and, therefore, has garnered many supporters along with various critics. Arnold (2004) has proposed that Holland's theory is too simplistic, "this idea of matching is so fundamental that it could be described as common sense" (p. 96). Furnham (2001) explains that the tenet of Holland's typology is to direct people towards satisfying career choices. Furnham points out jobs within the same clusters are often extremely varied and that Holland's theory does not make distinctions between occupational specialties. Another distinction Furnham adds is Holland's congruence approach is flawed because all of the effort spent finding a "good fit" can easily change due to "every promotion, restructuring or reengineering change can have a profound effect on employees and actual jobs they do" (p. 23). Nevertheless, all vocational theories have their limitations and considerations should be made to accommodate people of diverse backgrounds. The subsequent section will explore various studies corroborating or contesting Holland's theory.

Current Research

Holland's theory of vocational choice has influenced career counseling like no other theory. But is the foundation of his theory, congruence, and its relevance deemed outdated? Holland (1997) defined congruence as the compatibility one has towards work or environment and how those choices match an individual's personality. Spokane, Meir, and Catalano (2000) add "congruence is generally measured as a comparison between one's score on an interest inventory and one's chosen occupational field" (p. 141). Spokane et al. (2000) believe the concept of congruence is useful in various settings and aid counselors in guiding consumers to appropriate occupations. Chartrand and Walsh (1999) agree that Holland's concept of congruence has attracted the most scrutiny and question if it is related to satisfaction. They preformed a meta-analysis of Tranberg, Slane, and Ekberg (1993) congruence-satisfaction study and were unsuccessful in identifying significant relations (mean r = .17). Chartrand and Walsh (1999) conclude congruence in Holland's theory has been poorly tested. They believe

Most tests are flawed because they are cross-sectional, use samples in which most persons have migrated to congruent environments, classify the environment in casual ways, fail to focus on congruence with relevant aspects of the work environment, or have not used accurate assessments of the environment. (p. 136)

There are numerous studies that question the congruence-satisfaction relation; conversely, Spokane (2000) suggests researchers should not invalidate the theory due to instances where congruence is not applicable. Chartrand and Walsh (1999) highlights congruence research typically "measure people, obtain an estimate of the environment's classification, calculate congruence, and relate it to the level of job satisfaction or some other outcome variable" (p. 137). In spite of this, many studies are susceptible to an assortment of bias and limitations of range, consequently leading to low congruence estimates (Chartrand and Walsh, 1999; Tinsley, 2000).

Other researchers suggest that it is the actual congruence factor of Holland's theory that is flawed. In Tinsley (2000) meta-analysis article The Congruence Myth: An Analysis of the Efficacy of the Person-Environment Fit Model studies done by Assouline and Meir (1987) and Tranberg, Slane, and Ekeberg (1993) suggest that there is evidence that supports a theory the Holland's RIASEC dimensions do not predict the satisfaction, stability, achievement, persistence, and job performance aspects of vocational outcomes. However, Tinsley (2000) explains there are flaws in their studies. For instance, none of the above mentioned authors studies were significantly greater than zero in their correlations. Tinsley (2000) state that they used large sample sizes and the small amount of variance (2.25 and 0.36%) demonstrates little practical importance. Tinsley further states that Assouline and Meir study concluded with positive results, but their meta-analysis came from un-peer reviews and unpublished studies which show bias results.

Although there are opinions for and against Holland's theory where both sides demonstrate conflicting results. Holland's theory is the most widely used vocational theory currently in existence and offers a wise choice for vocational counselors when working with a variety of consumers.

Personal Perspective

Holland's theory of vocational choice has all the makings of a good career theory. His theory has enabled counselors in promoting consumers decision making concerning career choices. Holland's work has been unprecedented and has profoundly shape the practice of career counseling. His theory has been tested empirically from numerous perspectives and is still invaluable because of its usefulness and ease of application. In fact, many of Holland's critics claim his theory is too simplistic. Holland's theory consists of six personality types. During the entire process of writing this paper I have tried to think of why there are not more than six types. And the simple answer is that I could not think of a seventh type. Holland's theory is easily understood not only by professional but also everyday people. Whether people are following their genetic predispositions or influenced as a result of their environments they can be categorized into six personality types based on the RIASEC model. The various assessment instruments that utilize Holland's typology confer that people of like interest due to their work environments and personality characteristics will probably accumulate together. His theory is based on the concept of congruence based on personality and environmental types, which results in individuals' likelihood of being satisfied in the career direction they choose. Yes, Holland's theory of vocational choice is simplistic sometimes it is not necessary to complicate life when something makes sense.

The typology itself is easy to understand which adds to its ease of use for both counselors and individuals who choose to utilize various self administered assessments. Holland's theory has wide use validity (face, construct, empirical) that easily predicts vocational behaviors. The RIASEC hexagonal model provides a logical framework that identifies six personality and environmental types that has become a standard within the career counseling profession.

Holland's theory has been a major force in the career counseling arena and should not be underestimated. I have personally taken the Strong Interest Inventory (SII) on three separate occasions and have found it beneficial in guiding my future. Many people in society just have a job and not a career. The SII can help direct people to explore education options and identify potentially satisfying vocational goals they may have never considered. The SII should be a mandatory assessment tool used on every educational campus. I believe the SII will help assist consumers to see beyond their frame of reference and possibly open up their futures. I particularly like that the SII assesses your interest and is not a test of your abilities, which is also a characteristic of the SDS, MVS, VPI, and CASI. Nevertheless, this is a point of contention in my opinion. Consumers can have all the interest in a profession, but without realistic expectations, abilities, and intellect consumers may be setting themselves up for failure.

Assessments that rely on Holland's theoretical approach assist rehabilitation counselors in guiding consumers. I believe from a vocational rehabilitation standpoint the Holland's model is invaluable in assisting consumers in their quest to be satisfied vocationally.


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