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.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Contributors

Students and faculty in ELP 6620 - College Student Development Theory at the University of Utah write this blog. Each week, one member of the class will develop a concise explanation of a theory with references; identify how it is used in higher education; and post information on one research article that used the theory in an annotated bibliography format. If possible, a visual will also be included to increase understanding.

Class colleagues as well as others who have an interest in theories used in college student development will make comments. Thank you for reading and contributing. Interaction via this blog will contribute to learning and applying these theories within our areas of interest in higher education.

Here's a photo of our class on week two.