John Holland’s theory of vocational personalities and work environments has been actively used in career assessment instruments and advising for over 50 years. His theory identified that most people correspond to a combination of six personality types: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional (RIASEC).

This trait and factor theory or typology theory ranks the six personality types based upon interests, characteristics, and favored actions. These six personality traits can be ranked and then utilized to explain a person’s tendencies in a work environment and with work interests.

holland codes


Holland theorized that individuals who match occupations and work environments with their personality types tend to be more satisfied with their jobs and experience other positive work outcomes.

Applying Holland’s theory to your practice can help clients gain self-awareness.

Holland’s theory has been proven to be a useful tool in helping individuals identify traits and characteristics that can make them more successful in their jobs, but how can a career advisor or coach use this theory to catapult the success of a job seeker or student?

The Holland Clusters can help clients understand the traits that draw them to particular kinds of work. Because of this, it can be valuable to interpret a clients’ Holland Codes to help them better understand themselves.

In order to effectively interpret a client’s Holland Code, listen first and explain later.

When a student completes a Holland assessment and sits down with an advisor, the tendency is for the advisor to begin explaining the results. Although this technique might work well in a group, better results may be experienced when a bit of exploration comes first.

What does this mean to you as a career advisor? Let’s take a look at a few steps.

1. Don’t jump into a full explanation of the results – ask questions first.

Be curious and find out how certain traits show up in the client’s life and how his/her experiences have tied into the results. This will not only will establish the advisor/client relationship, it will help you, as the advisor, to explain and describe results in direct relationship to the experiences of the client.

You’re not the expert on the client’s situation, but rather a guide using knowledge and information from the client along with his/her Holland Clusters to set goals and inspire action.

2. Be prepared, but don’t over-prepare.

Make sure you’ve reviewed your client’s assessment results, but don’t over-prepare to the point that you stifle your ability to foster the free exchange of ideas; flexibility and adaptability are necessary components in an effective career advising meeting.

Jot down some questions to ask, but listen intently during the meeting and ask questions pertinent to the conversation; the conversation should guide the questioning.

Career advisors and coaches sometimes get so caught up in presenting their prepared questions and commentary that they miss out on understanding the client and learning from him or her. The client, in many cases, leads themselves to their own answers with guidance from their coach or advisor.

3. Ensure you’re interpreting clients’ Holland results in a judgment-free zone.

No one Holland Cluster is “better” than another – they each carry their own value and application. Remember, you’re helping the client make informed decisions about occupations, employment, and education.

In fact, some individuals might find satisfaction in an occupation a bit outside of their Holland results. Instead of directing them to something in which they’re not interested, understand the client’s perspective, then question and guide.

It’s about helping clients connect to their greater selves.

In summary, you have the opportunity as an advisor is to help clients understand themselves and connect to their greater selves.

To some extent, the best approach is to let conversations between you and your client flow organically. If you come on too strong with your expertise, you might miss out on all the experience, knowledge, and insight the client has to share.

If you over-prepare, you’re not being “present” enough to understand your client and address his or her needs. Being an open, friendly, and judgement-free advisor will put you in the best position to help catapult the success and motivation for each and every client.