HOW are you intelligent? An introduction to the Holland Codes (RIASEC)

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The question may not be “are you intelligent” but rather “HOW are you intelligent”. This is a question that is asked, and answered by the “Holland Occupational Themes” theory, aka the RIASEC work-personality types model.

Holland’s 6 Unique Types

The Holland Occupational Themes theory and its “Holland Codes” were introduced by American psychologist John L. Holland in the 1970’s. It is a type theory of personality that looks specifically at careers and vocational choice. Holland proposed that there are six unique personality types, which are determined by our interests and how we approach life situations. These six types are:

  • Realistic types (doers) are those who like to work with “things”. They tend to adopt a concrete approach to problem solving and can often be assertive, competitive and interested in activities that require motor coordination, skill and strength.
  • Investigative types (thinkers) are those who like to solve complex problems. The investigative type tends to be very analytical and prefers to work with data and logic.
  • Artistic types (creators) are those who think outside the box they do not tend to just accept and follow rules. Artistic types tend to have the natural ability to see things from different perspectives and to come up with new, creative and innovative, ideas.
  • Social types (helpers) are the type that like people the most. They tend to be welcoming, sociable and very much like to serve and help others, o= finding great joy in it.
  • Enterprising types (persuaders) are the types of people who have the natural ability to lead others. Often, these types are very persuasive and with this comes the natural ability to sell things.
  • Conventional types (organizers) tend to like structure, rules and order. They are often very organized and methodical, and like to get things done on time to a very high standard.

Holland Codes: 6 types but 720 combinations


What I like most about the Holland Codes is that Dr. Holland highlighted that we are not simply just one of these personality types, as that would mean that there are only six types of people in the world.

Instead, Holland proposed that, by the time we reach the end of our adolescences, most people’s interests resemble a combination of the six personality types, meaning our personality is a composite of several types.

Our personality, the combination of our preference towards each type, is shown by a unique code (hence the name ‘Holland codes’), which is written in the order of which our interests correspond to each personality type. For example, your full code might be ‘IRCAES’, which suggests that your interests align most with the investigative type, then the realistic type, then the conventional type and so on.

There are actually a huge 720 possible type combinations. However, when applying or interpreting the model for assessment and intervention, attention is normally only paid to the first three letters (and the types that they correspond to).

The types are displayed on a hexagon, which shows the relationship between each of the personality types. They type’s closest to each other are more alike than those further away. For instance, realistic and social types are represented as completely opposite to each other in the diagram as the two types are very different. However, social and artistic types are not that far apart so they are next to each other in the Hexagon.

HollandHow does the Holland Code (RIASEC) model relate to us at work?

Holland proposed that our career choice and occupational preference is an expression of our personality. The theory proposes that we will find different environments more to our liking, and that we will work best in environments that match our personality and preference.

Once we have identified our unique personality type, we can find a career to match them. As we can show similarities to two or three areas, it is a useful tool to narrow down our career search. Finding the ideal environment to match our personality types means we are more likely to be satisfied and successful.

Most career counselors will recommend that you give primary consideration to careers that most closely align with your top two or three codes, as this will result in a better fit and less friction between your personality/interests and the nature of the career you have chosen.

For example, realistic personality types are likely to excel in careers in architecture, athletics, carpentry, surgeon or dentists, to name a few. Those with investigative personalities are likely to excel in actuarial careers, as engineers or as professors.

Those with artistic personalities will excel in careers in the arts (as the name suggests), but also in careers as entrepreneurs, product designers or architects. The social personalities find pure joy in helping others, meaning they will most likely be successful in careers as nurses, counsellors, teachers, therapists or even in customer services.

Enterprising people tend to succeed in careers as politicians, real estate agents, actuaries, fundraisers or human resources. Finally, conventional personality types tend to work well as accountants or event planners due to their accurate and methodical approach.

Every industry and every company has a need for each personality type. However, knowing what you’re good at, or how you’re intelligent, can help you decide what career to go into in that industry.

But, is it any good?

Well, in short – yes.

In all honesty, I didn’t know much about the Holland codes before researching it. But, the theory behind it is one I like and what is more, it is backed by empirical support both on the existence of the personality types across gender and cultures, the arrangement of the hexagon shape and its application to the workplace.

Hollands early work did, indeed, find the existence and validity of the six personality types in large high school and college student samples. What is more, is that multiple studies have found evidence to suggest that these six types are applicable to occupational environments.

Using the RIASEC Model (Holland Code) to pick a career

So, there you have it: a type-based model of personality that recognizes that there are a lot of different combinations of human personality (over 700 in fact!).

The model goes one step further and applies it to our career preferences, highlighting that as our career is an expression of our personality, we will be the most satisfied and successful in careers that match our personalities.

The model also has empirical exploration and backing to support the six personality types, and their application to the occupational environment. It does need a bit more exploration on matching the types in the correct career to satisfaction, but the interest in the model is growing and this will come.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments section below. Had you heard of the Holland Codes before? Do you think your personality type is suited for your occupational environment and that it enhances your strengths?

Related Questions:

  • What is the Holland Code?
  • What is the RIASEC Model?
Holland Codes

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