Implications Career Counseling Based On Hollands Theory

It is John Holland’s view that career choice and career adjustment repre­sent an extension of a person’s personality. People express themselves, their interests and values, through their work choices and experience. In his theory, Holland assumes that people’s impressions and generalizations about work, which he refers to as stereotypes, are generally accurate. By studying and refining these stereotypes, Holland assigns both people and work environments to specific categories.

Holland (1966, 1973, 1992, 1997) has published five books that explain his typological theory. Each book represents an update and a fur­ther-refined version of earlier work in the development of his theory. The -August 1999 issue of The Journal of Vocational Behavior contains 12 arti­cles which describe John Holland’s 40-year contribution to career develop­ment theory. Two psychological inventories were important in the devel­opment of his theory: the Vocational Preference Inventory (Holland, i985b) and the Self-Directed Search (Holland, 1994). These instruments, in differ­ent ways, measure self-perceived competencies and interests, which are an assessment of an individual’s personality. Holland (Holland, 1997) recog­nizes that his theory can account for only a portion of the variables that underlie career selection. He is clear in stating that, his theoretical model can be affected by age, gender, social class, intelligence, and education. with that understood, he goes on to specify how the individual ‘and the en­vironment interact with each other through the development of six types:

Realistic Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. Both individuals and environments consist of a combination of types.

The Six Types


The Realistic Environment The Realistic (R) environment makes physi­cal demands on the person. Such work settings have tools, machines, or animals that the individual manipulates. In such a setting, individuals are re­quired to have technical competencies that will allow them to do such things as fix machines, repair electronic equipment, drive cars or trucks, herd animals, or deal with other physical aspects of their environment. The ability to work with things is more important than the ability to interact with other people. Construction sites, factories, and auto garages are ex­amples of environments that provide machinery or other things for Realistic people to master. Some Realistic environments require a great deal of physical agility or strength, such as roofing, outdoor painting, and pipe fit­ting. These environments may be hazardous and may produce more phys­ical illness or accidents than other work environments.

The Realistic Personality Type Realistic people are likely to enjoy using tools or machines in their hobbies or work. They tend to seek to develop competencies in such areas as plumbing, roofing, electrical and automotive repair, farming, and other technical disciplines. They are apt to like courses that are very practical and teach the use of mechanical or physical skills. Realistic people are likely to have little tolerance of abstract and theoreti­cal description Often, they approach problems, whether mechanical or personal, in a practical or problem-solving manner. They are likely to value


The Investigative Environment The Investigative (I) environment is one in which people search for solutions to problems through mathematical and scientific interests and competencies. In such a situation, people are encouraged to use complex and abstract thinking to solve problems cre­atively. Examples of occupations that offer the opportunity to use analyti­cal thinking skills are computer programmer, physician, mathematician, biologist, science teacher, veterinarian, and research and development man­ager. In each of these environments, cautious and critical thinking is val­ued. Individuals are likely to need to use logic and precise methodical thinking in order to find solutions to problems in these fields. These jobs require that people use their intellect to work independently to solve prob­lems. They are not required or encouraged to use human relations skills to solve problems, nor are they likely to need to use thachines. For example, a computer programmer .uses logic to figure out solutions to problems (an Investigative environment), whereas the computer technician works with machinery and may assemble it or fix it (a Realistic environment).

The Investigative Personality Type The Investigative person is likely to enjoy puzzles and challenges that require the use of intellect Such a per­son is apt to enjoy learning and to feel confident about his or her ability to solve mathematical and scientific problems. Such people often enjoy read­ing about science and discussing scientific issues. They seek to work in­dependently to solve problems such as mathematical or scientific ques­tions. They are likely to enjoy courses in math, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and other physical or biological sciences. They are not likely to enjoy supervising other people or dealing directly with personal problems, but they may enjoy analyzing or searching for solutions to psychological problems.


The Artistic Environment The Aitistic (A) environment is one that is free and open, encouraging creativity and personal expression. Such an envi­ronment offers much freedom in developing products and answers. Exam­ples of occupations in which people can use creative and unconventional ways to express themselves are musician, fine artist, and freelance writer. Such settings allow people to dress the way they wish, keep few.appoint­ments, and structure their own time. These work environments encourage personal and emotional expression rather than logical expression. If tools are used, they are used to express oneself (for example, a clarinet or a paint­brush) rather than as a means to complete a task (for example, an electric

drill or a wrench). –

The Artistic Personality Type The Artistic person likes the opportunity to express himself or herself in a free and unsystematic way, creating mu­sic, art, or writing. Such people may use instruments to do this, such as a violin, the voice, sculpting tools, or a word processor. They are likely to want to improve their ability in language, art, music, or writing. Original­ity and creativity are particularly important in expression. To use a painted by-numbers kit would be deeply offensive to an Artistic type, who needs and desires the opportunity to express herself or himself in a free and open manner. A pure Artistic type would dislike technical writing and would prefer writing fiction or poetry.


The Social Environment The Social (5) environment is one that encour­ages people to be flexible and understanding of each other, where people can work with others through helping with personal or career problems,

others, affecting others spiritually, and being socially responsible. The Social environment emphasizes human values such as being idealis­tic, kind, friendly, and generous. These ideals most commonly exist in the education, social service, and mental health professions. Examples of these occupations are elementary school teacher, special education teacher, high school teacher, marriage counselor, counseling psychologist, speech thera­pist, school superintendent, and psychiatrist.

The Social Personality Type The Social person is interested in helping people through teaching, helping with personal or vocational problems, or providing personal services. Social people enjoy solving problems through discussion and teamwork rather than through delegation. Preferring to talk and resolve complex problems that may be ethical or idealistic in nature, they often choose to avoid working with machines. They seek out envi­ronments where they can use verbal and social skills, such as in education, welfare, and mental health.


The Enterprising Environment The Enterprising (E) environment is one where people manage and persuade others in order to attain organizational or personal goals. These are situations where finance and economic issues are of prime importance and risks may be taken to achieve rewards. In such an environment,- people tend to be self-confident, sociable, and assertive.

It’s an environment where promotion and power are important, and per­suasion and selling take place. Examples of Enterprising environments are sales work, buying, business management, restaurant management, poli­tics, real estate, the stock market, insurance, and lobbying. All of these en­vironments provide the opportunity for power, status, and wealth.

The Enterprising Personality Type The acquisition of wealth is particu­larly important for Enterprising people. They enjoy being with others and like to use verbal skills in order to sell, persuade, or lead. They tend to be assertive and popular, trying to take on leadership positions. They enjoy working with people but prefer to persuade and manage rather than to help.


The Conventional Environment Organization and planning best describe the Conventional (C) environment. Much of the Conventional environ­ment is an office environment, where one needs to keep records, file pa­pers, copy materials, and organize reports. In addition to written material, the Conventional environment includes mathematical materials, such as bookkeeping and accounting records. Word processing, calculating, and copy machines are the type of equipment that is found in a Conventional environment. Competencies that are ‘needed to work well in a Conven­tional environment are clerical skills, an ability to organize, dependability, and an ability to follow directions.

The Conventional Personality Type. The Conventional person is one who values money, being dependable, and the ability to follow rules and orders. These people prefer being in control of situations and not dealing with am­biguous requests. They enjoy an office environment where their values of earning money and following rules, regulations, and guidelines can be met. Their strengths are their clerical and numerical ability, which they use to solve straightforward problems in their environment; Their relationships

they tend to be directed toward accomplishing tasks and establish­ approach to problems.

Holland’s Theory and Implications for Career Counseling

John Holland’s typological theory of persons and environments is regarded as the most influential in the field of career counseling (Brown, 2002), but this has not carried over to the field of higher education and academic advising (Smart, Feldman, & Ethington, 2000). This conundrum led us to explore whether or not Holland’s theory and research were relevant and could shed light on the behavior and organization of college faculty and students, which could ultimately improve the effectiveness of academic advising and career counseling. This article summarizes the results of our exploration.

As colleges and universities have grown in size, scope, and organizational complexity, some students have found it difficult to find a “home” (Astin, 1984). While students may identify with a student organization, residence hall, or activity program, we believe that the academic department is the entity where students are likely to find important mentors, peers, involvement, direction, and inspiration. Academic departments have an inherent, varied mixture of characteristics that are created by the interests and behaviors of the faculty. If students can recognize, differentiate, and understand these diverse academic environments and the faculty who dominate them with respect to Holland’s theoretical model, we believe they are more likely to find a place within the university that will increase their satisfaction, involvement, and persistence.

Holland’s person-environment interaction theory is especially important to scholars and practitioners in education and psychology. “John Holland pioneered in assessing the environments of colleges and universities and their influence on students. His research has been central in the development of knowledge about nonacademic accomplishments.

Holland’s Theoretical Contributions

Many inventories and career assessment tools use the typology to enable individuals to categorize their interests and personal characteristics in terms of combinations of the six types: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, or Conventional. Holland’s typological theory (Holland, 1997) specifies a theoretical connection between personality and environment that makes it possible to use the same RIASEC classification system for both persons and fields of study or occupations.

According to RIASEC theory, if a person and an environment have the same or similar codes, e.g., Investigative person in an Investigative environment, then the person will likely be satisfied and persist in that environment (Holland, 1997). This satisfaction will result from individuals being able to express their personality in an environment that is supportive and includes other persons who have the same or similar personality traits. It should be noted that neither people nor environments are exclusively one type but rather combinations of all six types. Their dominant type is an approximation of an ideal, modal type. The profile of the six types can be described in terms of the degree of differentiation (flat or uneven profile), consistency (level of similarity of interests or characteristics on the RIASEC hexagon for the first two letters of a three-letter Holland code), or identity (stability characteristics of the type). Each of these factors moderates predictions about the behavior related to the congruence level between a person and an environment. Persons and environments are typically described proportionally in terms of the most highly weighted three of the six Holland types, e.g., Lawyer, ESI; Accounting, CEI.

The environments of college campuses, fields of study, work positions, and occupations can also be classified using the RIASEC system (G. Gottfredson & Holland, 1996). Holland’s early efforts with the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) and the American College Testing Program enabled him to look at colleges and academic disciplines as environments. It is important to note that RIASEC theory had its roots in higher education and later focused on occupations. However, almost any social setting, e.g., a family-owned business, a classroom, or a work group, might be characterized in terms of a RIASEC environment. Every aspect of the theory can be applied to different kinds of environments.

L. S. Gottfredson and Richards (1999) traced the history of Holland’s efforts to classify educational and occupational environments. Holland initially studied the numbers of incumbents in a particular environment to classify occupations or colleges, but he later moved to study the characteristics of the environment independent of the persons in it. College catalogs and descriptions of academic disciplines were among the public records used to study institutional environments. Astin and Holland (1961) developed the Environmental Assessment Technique (EAT) while at the NMSC as a method for measuring college environments.

Success in measuring faculty and the curriculum led Richards to explore differences in environments in Japanese (Richards, 1973) and British Commonwealth universities (Richards, 1974), U. S. law schools (Richards, 1987b), and Historically Black colleges (Richards, 1987a). For example, Richards found that Japanese universities placed less emphasis on the Artistic area and more on the Realistic area than U.S. universities. The most recent instruments for measuring environments are the Position Classification Inventory (PCI; G. Gottfredson & Holland, 1991), a direct theory-based measure of occupational environments, and the Environmental Identity Scale (EIS; Holland, 1997). These instruments make it possible to study college faculty directly and thus advance the study of academic disciplines and their effects on college students.

Those who study or provide services to college students need to understand the importance of Holland’s RIASEC theory. For example, Day and Rounds (1998) reported that the RIASEC typology was used similarly by ethnically diverse groups of U.S. students to organize information about their interests and options. This means that varied cultural subgroups in the United States have a sufficiently common social and educational experience that RIASEC theory and related practical applications can be applied to almost everyone. More recently, Tracey and Darcy (2002) found that college students whose schema for organizing information about interests and occupations differed from Holland’s RIASEC structure had less career certainty and more career indecision. This finding suggests that the RIASEC hexagon may have a normative benefit regarding the classification of occupations and fields of study.


Although the terms academic advising and career counseling are familiar, it is important to define them as they are used in this article. Ender, Winston, and Miller (1984) defined developmental academic advising as “a systematic process based on a close student-advisor relationship intended to aid students in achieving educational, career, and personal goals through the utilization of the full range of institutional and community resources”. The distinctions between academic advising and career counseling are primarily a matter of scope and emphasis. Career counseling is a broader, more comprehensive term not limited to educational settings. However, both functions involve a process of individual or small group interventions to help persons use information to make educational and occupational decisions that are consistent with their personal goals, values, interests, and skills. We believe that a theory that informs career counseling, such as John Holland’s RIASEC theory, can also inform academic advising.

Academic advising is more narrowly focused on college and university students and life/career decision making related to curricular and co-curricular activities. Creamer (2000) defined it as “an educational activity that depends on valid explanations of complex student behaviors and institutional conditions to assist college students in making and executing educational and life plans”.

Traditional Application of Holland’s Theory in College Settings

The most prevalent strategy used by scholars is to define “achievement” in terms of the further acquisition, growth, or development of individuals’ initially prominent characteristics; that is, the competencies, values, interests, and attitudes associated with their dominant or primary personality type. For example, in our recent book (Smart, Feldman, & Ethington, 2000), Academic Disciplines: Holland’s Theory and the Study of College Students and Faculty, we tested the validity of the congruence assumption by examining the extent to which college students with dominant Investigative, Artistic, Social, and Enterprising personality types who entered congruent and incongruent academic environments differed on their development of Investigative, Artistic, Social, and Enterprising abilities and interests, respectively. Separate analyses were conducted for each of the four personality types. Our findings provided rather clear support for the congruence assumption, though the evidence was decidedly stronger for students with Artistic and Investigative personality types than for those with Enterprising or Social personality types.

The logic that flows from the traditional definition of “achievement” illustrated in our and others’ findings is that students who enter congruent academic environments are more likely to be “successful” and to exhibit higher levels of “achievement.” Conversely, students who select academic environments that are incongruent with their personality types are likely to be “less successful” or to manifest lower levels of “achievement” than would be expected.

Education is of course a nurturing profession, and our task, especially as teachers and counselors, is to assist students in their efforts to be “successful” throughout their college experiences. Given the conceptual appeal of Holland’s theory and the accumulative evidence in support of the congruence assumption–though often of modest magnitude–counselors and others have embraced the theory in their efforts to assist students in their efforts to successfully navigate the complexities and challenges of their college experiences. In so doing, the typical advice given students is to select academic majors (i.e., environments) that are congruent with their personality types. The strategy is simple and straightforward given the exemplary instruments developed by Holland and his colleagues to assess students’ personality and academic environment types: simply (1) assess students’ personality types using such established instruments as the SDS or the SCII, (2) look up academic majors that are similar to the students’ personality types using such reputable references as the Dictionary of Holland Occupational Codes (Gottfredson & Holland, 1996) or The Educational Opportunities Finder (Rosen, Holmberg, & Holland, 1994), and (3) advise students to select academic majors that are congruent with their personality types. This has been, in my opinion, the typical or traditional approach to research on the validity of the congruence assumption of Holland’s theory and the use of his theory by counselors and others to assist students in the selection of academic majors in which they have the greatest likelihood of being successful and satisfied.

All this is predicated on the selection of academic majors that are congruent with students’ initially prominent characteristics (i.e., their dominant personality types). The vision of a “college education” that evolves from this strategy is one characterized by assisting students to further develop their primary or dominant interests and abilities they had as freshmen. To venture from this “tried and true” path was assumed to lead to dissatisfaction, failure, and dropout.

An Alternative Application of Holland’s Theory in College Settings

Something seemed amiss or disquieting to me as a result of such investigations of the congruence assumption in this manner. Our definition of “achievement” and the research strategies we employ are essentially silent as to what students who entered incongruent academic environments learned in those environments because our definition and strategy of “learning” or “achievement” focused only on students’ further development of their initially prominent characteristics; again, that is, the competencies, values, interests, and attitudes associated with their dominant personality type.

This conceptual and analytical approach seems unfulfilling and problematic in college settings given that American higher education has historically sought to promote student growth and learning in a broad repertoire of competencies and interests. This repertoire is evident in the various taxonomies of college student outcomes developed by Bowen (1977), Lenning, Lee, Micek, and Service (1977), Ewell (1984), the Association of American Colleges (1985), and others. In addition, one need only examine the professed intent of higher education as manifested in their catalogues and in the growing use of performance indicators proposed by statewide coordinating agencies to assess the effectiveness of those institutions (Nedwick, 1996). Are students who enter incongruent academic environments really “less successful” and, as a consequence, their institutions “less successful” as well?

My sense of discomfort led to two recent articles (Feldman, Smart, & Ethington, 2001, in press) that are grounded in that portion of Holland’s theory that is sociological in perspective and implicitly postulates a homogeneous pattern of reinforcement and reward by the respective academic environments irrespective of students’ levels of congruence with those environments. The approach is referred to as the “socialization assumption or hypothesis” of Holland’s theory.

Most important to remember here is that students’ “success” or “achievement” within the parameters of the socialization perspective is judged by the extent to which they grow in terms of the abilities and interests resistent and rewarded by their chosen environments (i.e., their academic majors) rather than enhancing their initially prominent characteristics. That is to say, for example, that while students who select academic majors that are incongruent with their personality types may remain the same or decline in their initially prominent characteristics, they may gain or grow in the abilities and interests reinforced and rewarded by their chosen academic major. This is a very different definition of students’ “success” or “achievement” within the parameters of Holland’s theory than the typical or traditional approach discussed earlier (i.e., students’ ultimate satisfaction and success in college is dependent on their choice of an academic environment that is congruent with their personality type).

Socialization Effects of Disciplines

The research of Smart et al. (2000) was based on two ideas. First, “faculty create academic environments inclined to require, reinforce, and reward the distinctive patterns of abilities and interests of students in a manner consistent with Holland’s theory” (p. 96). Second, ” students are not passive participants in the search for academic majors and careers; rather, they actively search for and select academic environments that encourage them to develop further their characteristic interests and abilities and to enter (and be successful in) their chosen career fields” (p. 52). In the following paragraphs, we summarize findings relevant to these two ideas.

Smart et al. (2000) sought to discover whether or not changes in students over four years were the result of their experiences in their major fields of study (academic discipline). They reasoned that faculty chose to be in academic environments, e.g., academic departments, because of their preferences and values regarding the goals of undergraduate education and their preferred ways of socializing students. Smart et al. held that faculty are the primary representatives of academic environments and the primary contributors to behavior patterns of students who choose those environments as majors.

Students and Major Change

Thus far, we have concentrated our analysis on the impact of four disciplines in socializing students toward the development of interests and skills predicted by Holland’s (1997) typological theory. But what about the personal choices made by students in selecting a discipline? In order to study this phenomenon, Smart et al. (2000) classified students as primary or secondary recruits. Primary recruits were defined as students initially selecting a discipline and staying in that field over four years. Secondary recruits were those in a different major in the fourth year.

When environments (percentage of seniors in each of the four areas) rather than entering students were examined, Smart et al. (2000) found that from 1/3 to 1/2 of the four environments were composed of primary recruits, and about half of the sample were secondary recruits, e.g., the seniors who had changed their majors. This means that almost half the seniors ended up in a discipline that was different from their initial choice. This was most notable in the Artistic environment where 2/3 of the students were secondary recruits from one of the other areas and did not intend to major in the Artistic area in their freshman year. About 1/3 of the students migrating into the Social area came from Investigative, Enterprising, or undecided areas. Students moving into the Investigative area were most likely to come from the Enterprising area, and vice versa. These data reveal the fluid nature of students’ major selections and the heterogeneous nature of the four environments with respect to the students’ initial major preferences.

Socialization in Relation to Student Characteristics

The specific findings of Smart et al. (2000) regarding the impact of socialization for the four discipline environments with respect to student personality characteristics are summarized below. The variability in the socialization styles and the effects of the environments, as well as how socialization effected the student’s congruence with the environments are described. It will be recalled that a high level match between the person and the environment, e.g., Investigative person in Investigative major, indicates high congruence.

Faculty in Investigative environments place primary attention on developing analytical, mathematical, and scientific competencies, with little attention given to character and career development. They rely more than other faculty on formal and structured teaching-learning, they are subject-matter centered, and they have specific course requirements. They focus on examinations and grades. This environment has the highest percentage of primary recruits. All students in Investigative environments increased their abilities and interests in this area, and this was even stronger if they were Investigative students at entry (primary recruits). Investigative students in disciplines outside of the Investigative environment did not increase their abilities and skills in the Investigative area.

Artistic environments focus on aesthetics and an emphasis on emotions, sensations, and the mind. The curriculum stresses learning about literature and the arts, as well as becoming a creative thinker. Faculty also emphasize character development, along with student freedom and independence in learning. Varied instructional strategies are used. About two-thirds of students in the Artistic environment did not anticipate majoring in the Artistic environment when they entered college. Artistic type students were not more likely to initially select a major in this environment. On the other hand, Artistic students majoring in Artistic environments did have stronger interests and abilities in this area. Students majoring in Artistic environments did show large increases in Artistic abilities and interests, and this was true for both primary and secondary recruits. Artistic personalities not majoring in Artistic environments did not increase their self-rated interests and abilities over four years.

Social environments have a strong community orientation characterized by friendliness and warmth. Like the Artistic environment, faculty place value on developing a historical perspective of the field and an emphasis on student values and character development. Unlike the Artistic environment, faculty also place value on humanitarian, teaching, and interpersonal competencies. Colleagueship and student independence and freedom are supported, and informal small group teaching is employed. The socialization effect of the environment was the smallest of the four areas studied and the effects were muddled by gender. Small increases were recorded for Social students in Social environments, but these were not much different from those for Social students in other environments. Social disciplines seem to have the least impact and Social students reported the least gains in related interests and abilities. Stated another way, the Social environments appear to be the most accepting and least demanding of the four environments studied by Smart et al. (2000).

The Enterprising environment has a strong orientation to career preparation and status acquisition. Faculty focus on leadership development, the acquisition and use of power to attain career goals, and striving for common indicators of org

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