Career Interests Inventory

Career Interests Inventory, popularly known as Holland Codes (or Holland’s Occupational Themes) is used commonly for career counseling and guidance at various stages of career. It is based on the research of Dr. John Lewis Holland, who was an American psychologist and Professor at Johns Hopkins University. In my earlier article How to choose your career, I had emphasized on exploring who you are and what you love doing. Along with personality inventories, Career Interests Inventory is quite useful.

The RIASEC Model

Career Interests Inventory shows six major classifications based on occupational interests, which form the acronym – RIASEC and they are explained below –

  1. Realistic (R) – They are doers, hands-on people who prefer to work with objects, machines, tools, plants or animals, or to be outdoors. They are concrete, practical and realistic.
  2. Investigative (I) – They are thinkers, they observe, analyze, learn, assess, and find solutions. They are abstract thinkers, who explore different ideas.
  3. Artistic (A) – They are creators, they innovate, imagine, express and prefer to work in environment that nurture their creative abilities.
  4. Social (S) – They are helpers, they often work with other people to inform, teach, inspire or cure them. They are interactive individuals who manage, lead or help people.
  5. Enterprising (E) – They are persuaders,  they also work with other people to lead, influence or manage them.
  6. Conventional (C) – They are organizers, they like to work with data, structure and details. They are conformist who carry out tasks methodically.

The diagram below shows the six RIASEC types pictorially.

Holland Codes – RIASEC (PC: Pintrest) )

These six types broadly categorize occupational interests based on who you are, your abilities and what you like to do. In real life however, one is often a combination of 2 or 3 of these basic six types called primary interests. The remaining interests are called secondary interests. A career around one’s primary interests is more fulfilling. The initial letters of the primary interests, such as RA, IAR, SAE are called Holland Code and indicate your dominant interests. For example, a person with Holland Code SAI would be Social, Artistic and Investigative and might enjoy helping professions such as counselor/psychologist or they could be teachers of arts or some kind of therapist. Moreover, even most jobs are best represented by of two or three of the Holland’s occupational interests. In the current scenario, there are multitude of possibilities and opportunities that one can explore, or even develop based on his/her personal preferences.

Based on Holland’s original research, the related Wikipedia article quotes this about his theory –

Personalities seek out and flourish in career environments they fit and that jobs and career environments are classifiable by the personalities that flourish in them.
The choice of a vocation is an expression of personality.
Furthermore, while Holland suggests that people can be “categorized as one of six types,” he also argues that “a six-category scheme built on the assumption that there are only six kinds of people in the world is unacceptable on the strength of common sense alone. But a six category scheme that allows a simple ordering of a person’s resemblance to each of the six models provides the possibility of 720 different personality patterns.”

~ From Wikipedia article on Holland’s Codes

So it is not about pigeonholing people but more about finding patterns in interests and figuring out a good match for their combinations. For younger individuals finding career interests  could help them to build skills and acquire qualifications matching their interests. As for older individuals, it helps them choosing roles that align well with their own occupational interests. Obviously, their existing skills and qualifications do play a role, but it is always possible to acquire newer skills or earn different qualifications with keen interest. I can’t help mentioning Dr. Sharda Bapat’s story here who started her journey to become a doctor after 35 years of age, making a switch from entirely different career.

Understanding the RIASEC Hexagon

The diagram below shows hexagon representing Holland Codes. The six categories show some correlation with each other. They can be viewed along the axes of Things-People, Data-Ideas etc.

Holland Codes - RIASEC
Holland Codes – RIASEC  (Image credit: Tim bates [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons)
The interests represented by any two adjacent letters in the hexagon (or in the acronym RIASEC) have greater affinity or stronger link. So individuals with dominant artistic interest are more likely to have investigative interest or social interest among their primary interests as well. Similarly, ones with dominant conventional interest are likely to have realistic and/or enterprising among their primary interests. Also, one can see that conventional type and artistic type are the opposite poles, so to speak. Likewise, realistic ones work with things/objects or machines whereas social ones work with other people.

It is fascinating to see how various combinations (720 possibilities) with these RIASEC letters from Holland Codes interact with each other. Usually, an individual’s preferences are related to each other and they together form more or less harmonious combination and associated professions. For example, investigative and enterprising people are at the opposite ends – and often (but not always) we find that investigative people tend to avoid selling, persuading others, enterprising people however happily engage in these activities. Thus, it is rare but not impossible to find Holland codes which have ‘I’ and ‘E’ together as dominant career interests. Likewise, you’ll find very few artistic individuals enjoying conventional, strictly structured work. The ones having such rare combinations can choose to add value to their professions in a very unique way though. For example, in technical fields such as engineering or software, individuals with IE/EI code can become good leaders or launch/run their own start-ups more successfully as compared to investigative individuals who do not have primary enterprising interest.

Using Holland Codes

Similar to personality inventories, Holland codes are indicative and NOT predictive. If you answer its questionnaire earnestly, the results are immensely insightful and can be used for college admissions, choosing a major/branch and career counseling at any stage of your career. The US Department of Labor as well as many American universities are using versions of RIASEC model for choosing university major, career guidance and employee training. Some examples are – Purdue University, Western Illinois University, Indiana University South Bend etc.

The following video playlist describes all six types for RIASEC codes quite well in these short videos –

As I mentioned earlier, the primary career interests are usually a combination of 2 or 3 of these basic RIASEC types. Based on the interests’ score, the top two or top three together or separately indicate what kind of careers could be fulfilling. One can always find or develop opportunities that allows him/her to express all his occupational interests. For each of the two-letter or three-letter Holland codes, you can find available career option listed at O*net site, although they continue to display older, established professions only. We have many more career avenues open now. For example, for people with strong artistic and realistic interests (AR interests) – Career Interests Inventory mapping shows ‘architect’ as one of the most suitable careers, however occupations such as interior decoration, building prototypes or product design, automobile design could be equally or even more fascinating for an individual with strong AR interests.

Insights about oneself from the occupational perspective is perhaps the most beneficial use of this career interest inventory. To elaborate it from my own example, I have quite strong investigative interest, and that explains my technical career as a software professional. Moreover, understanding the RIASEC hexagon made me realize that investigative and enterprising people are at the opposite ends (though it is possible to have strong interests in both of these – I know quite a few technopreneurs with primary IE interests) and I know I am not much interested in selling or persuading myself. Obviously, that’s not an excuse, but rather a reminder that I’d need extra efforts if I want to engage in these activities since I am not naturally interested in being enterprising. Likewise, a client of mine realized why she was not happy with her relatively high-paying conventional office job, because she had highest score on artistic interest. She decided to pursue few artistic courses and took a job that allowed her more flexibility while she figured out how best her artistic interest could be fulfilled – the new job was not an artistic job as such, but more to do with people, for she also had primary social interest.

Career Interests Inventory (Holland Codes) is a great tool for self-knowledge as well as development. It can be used for individual guidance or for organizational planning, development. As in the case with personality inventories, it is best to seek guidance from a coach or mentor with career interests inventory. When discussed with one such knowledgeable person, these insights are powerful enough not only to help you plan your next career move but also serve as a valuable reference for the rest of your life.

You can watch this short video of Pervin Varma, ex-CEO of CRY (an NGO working for underprivileged children and child rights), who took Strong assessment based on Holland Codes discussing her insights. This is a nice example how Holland Codes can be helpful at any stage of your career and life.

Choosing Career Interests Inventory

  • Strong Interest Inventory ® Among the available commercial career interests inventories, Strong Interest Inventory® (SII) is the best and most reliable inventory. The test was developed in 1927 by psychologist Edward Strong (Jr.) to help people exiting the military find suitable jobs. The comparatively recent version of 2004 is based on the Holland Codes. Strong Interest Inventory is a registered trademark of CPP, Inc. of Mountain View, California. You can find more details about Strong assessment on their official site – Strong Interest Inventory®. One can also purchase report combined with MBTI type if required – it provides even better perspective when work-life interests and preferences are considered together.
  • Free online Career Interests Inventories – Some of the online free Career Interests Inventories are also good in terms of getting top interests (Holland Code) right. The free reports however, lack the depth of insights. Nevertheless, after knowing your Holland codes, you can always read up more from the internet to gain better understanding. Two online Holland Code (RIASEC) tests that I’d suggest are –
      1. Holland Code Career Test at Truity
      2. Holland Code (RIASEC) Test at Open Psychometrics


The featured images:

The featured image for this article is a free wallpaper from QuoteFancy and it features quote by Confucius and photograph credited to Todd Quackenbush that goes well with this article – figuring out work that you’d love to do. I am using this image here on with gratitude.

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