Monday, August 30, 2010

Holland's Theory of Vocational Personalities & Environments - Description written by S. A. Aiken-Wisniewski

The Hexagon Used to Explain Type & Subtype (U of Florida Website)
Overview of Theory

John Holland created this theory based on his work as a vocational counselor. His first iteration of the theory emerged in 1959 and focused on the task of searching for compatibility between personality and environment. Since 1959, Holland’s Theory has evolved through the original creator and other scholars. Noteworthy concepts that have been added include subtypes and identity.

Holland’s theory offers an understanding of people and environments within a vocational context. The first premise is that individuals fit into 6 types that represent distinct interests and values. The second premise is that environments can be divided into six categories that are similar to the types that describe people. The third premise is that people seek out environments that complement their type or subtype. But if the environment does not complement the individual’s type, then change will occur. Either the individual will take on interests or values from the environment or the individual will seek out another environment that is a better fit.

The six types or themes identified by Holland are realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. These six types describe the personality of a person as well as the environment for a vocation or career. Instruments such as the Self Directed Search and Strong Interest Inventory use Holland’s Theory for establishing career compatibility. Holland’s research established that satisfaction and stability occur for an individual when the personality matches the environment. This is congruency. If the personality and the environment do not match, incongruity will lead to change. The individual could try to adapt to the environment, or the individual could leave the environment in search of an environment that is a better fit.

Use in Higher Education

Academic and career advisors & counselors often use Holland’s Theory in career and major exploration. An inventory, such as the Strong Interest Inventory (SII), is part of the exploration process. The SII assists the individual with identification of type or theme or subtheme based on answers to the SII. The items reflect interests and values. It also offers information on careers (environment) that are compatible with the individual’s personality. It is one effective tool within the exploration process.

Annotated Bibliography Entry

Pike, G.R. (2006). Students’ personality types, intended majors, and college expectations: Further evidence concerning psychological and sociological interpretations of Holland’s theory. Research in Higher Education, 47(7), 801-822.

The article examines the sociological aspects (group effect) of Holland’s Theory in relationship to student type, major type, and expectations from the college experience. Pike concludes through previous research and this study that expectations around college experience by students were consistent when the student type and major type were highly congruent. Also, students communicated expectations that were compatible with major but counter to their personality type. Thus, expectations of college often matched the proposed major but not the student’s type. Pike suggests that practitioners should consider the selected major (and type for the major) when trying to identify activities that will meet student’s expectations for college as tools for impacting academic performance and retention. Pike offers appropriate detail for the six Holland’s type for individuals, environments, and provides the dominant type for many majors. The sample for this study is limited to one institution that is research based and the sample lacks diversity in race, ethnicity, gender, as well as first generation college students. Pike is clear that this findings is not generalizable without further research that incorporates diversity of student populations and institutions.


Evans, N.J., Forney, D.S., Guido-DiBrito, F. (1998). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (1st ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Harmon, L.W., Hansen, J.C, Borgen, F.H., Hammer, A.L. (2000). Strong interest inventory: Applications and technical guide. Stanford: Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.

Holland, J.L. (1992). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (2nd ed). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Spokane, A. R. (1996). Holland's theory. In D. Brown, & L. Brooks, Career Choice and Development (pp. 33-74). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


  1. In class, Sharon mentioned that a person who has a conflicted environment will either adapt to or leave the environment. I also think that a person who has personalities from farther points in Holland's hexagonal scale will have conflicts with self.

    For example, my S and C scores were tied from the Holland test. These social and conventional themes are at times at odds with each other in my life. The best example that illustrates this discrepancy is when I'm with a friend who is making me late. I want to avoid confrontation, but at the same time, I just have to be on time.

    Does anyone else feel this way?

  2. My high scores were also S and C, with C only being two points lower. At times, I have felt a discrepancy between these two themes. However, working in the academic field has helpedn to create a balance. I am able to help others while working in a fairly structured environment.

  3. Margaret and Amanda offer interesting comments to make us think about the themes or types and subtypes offered by Holland's Theory. Thanks for posting!

    Please remember, the exercise used the Personality Mosiac Inventory, which is very basic in identifying Holland's Types. My first point is that this is not a test to find the right answer but an inventory to add information about self. Thus, there is no right answer. Second, other inventories such as the Strong Interest Inventory can offer more insight due to computer scoring. Regardless of which inventory a student might use, it is important to have dialogue on the results to identify what information is key as major and career selection takes place.

  4. My results from the Holland's test focused mainly on Artistic. This was no surprise to me because I had taken the Holland's test before and it yielded the same result. I do believe the Artistic personality describes me, because I enjoy being creative, spontaneous, and having freedom to solve problems without constraints.

  5. My results from Holland's test was C. Being in the conventional theme. I believe I am a C because before I do anything with hanging out with my friends or figuring out what accomplishments I need to make with school or work I always plan ahead so I know what I need to accomplish.

  6. I've been thinking about Chickering's stage autonomy leading into interdependence. This seems mainly about balance, and in application it makes perfect sense. For instance, a student needs to learn how to work autonomously on final exams, but they also need to obtain the interpersonal and interaction skills necessary to complete group projects. However, the student cannot contribute value to the group unless he/she has established some level of autonomy and independent thinking. Therefore, Chickering's theory that autonomy leads to interdependence is logical and practical.

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  8. I'm Social, Artistic, and Conventional (S.A.C.) Conventional is on the other side of the hexagon model.Weird?!?, but I agree with the results. Sometimes I am frustrated in situations when there is no access to information, it's hard for me to be social. I have to adapt to the environment so sometimes I can see myself realistic or enterprising in order to get what I need or want. I love new ideas and it means I embrace investigative. I know there are dominate values then sub values.

  9. Last night, it was interesting to note that although Chickering, Perry and Holland's theories have distinct differences, we all responded to the scenario with similar proposed outcomes. In my group's discussion about Holland, we also found that his theory has application beyond just identifying vocations but can be used to help a student identify preferred learning styles and find resources that can reinforce these styles.

  10. I think this tool is really useful because it focuses on your employment interests. I had high scores in all categories but the most in R and I. In general I think of myself as realistic and practical but not any more than I would think of myself as creative. i know I am rational and structured in my approach to work but more creative and impulsive in my free time. At work I am more focused on goal attainment and often times, in my experience, people don't want you to be creative at's all about what you are contracted to do. If my rationality is a function of work or of the requirements of work, you could say I may be in the wrong field. I tend to think the field impacts your personality and you impact the field or people sometimes go into a field in order to impact it.

  11. I have enjoyed learning over the semester how typology theory can be applied to higher education. Plus knowing about myself, helps me to relate and appreciate the differences of others. I gave my mom and sister Holland's inventory over Thanksgiving. They loved comparing the three of us and maybe why we behave the way we do. Is funny how we have brought this into our class as well as we relate to each other. Discussing how we learn on on Tues. was also eye opening and adds another layer on understanding ourselves and one another. It makes issues you might have with someone else less personal. I believe the thing to be cautious of is stereotyping people according to these theories. Because one INFP is not going to be exactly like another INFP.

  12. Part of this theory involves the need for congruency between the an individual's personality and the environment. If there isn't congruency change will occur--either the individual adapts to the environment or leaves the environment in search of a better fit. I see this as highly important in helping students find a major, living environment or even other school that fosters a more congruent environment to that individual. In addition, I see how this applies to us, as student affairs professionals. We need to make sure we are working in environments that match our personalities, and institutions need to make a concerted efforts to seek out individuals with personalities that match their environment.

  13. To expand on Emily's point I would like to point out how students are sometimes blinded by the desire to go into a specific field. I was guilty of that during my undergrad. I was never truly comfortable with major that I had chosen, but adapted myself to the business environment. While this was the path that I ended up taking, it probably was not the right path for me. Holland's inventory would be a great tool for academic advising and even orientation. As student affairs professionals it is important that we are helping our students as they find the path that is right for them.