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holland codes

Interest Inventories

By | NESCA Notes 2021

By: Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC
Transition Specialist/Counselor

In the last Transition Thursday blog, Kelley Challen, Director of Transition Services at NESCA, discussed vocational assessments and aptitude testing. As Kelley stated, vocational assessments should be the start of the career exploration process, not the end. When most people think of vocational assessment, interest inventories and surveys are the first things that may come to mind. While each inventory asks and reports information differently, inventories generally ask individuals to rank how much they like the concept of a job or activity. Individuals are not supposed to consider whether they can do a task (such as in aptitude testing or skill inventories), but if completing the task seems enjoyable or of interest. Results are frequently displayed as occupational themes that help individuals have a starting point on a wide variety of jobs that may be worth exploring. The most well-known of which is based on the work of John Holland. Holland Codes are used as the basis of many well-known interest inventories (including the O*NET Interest Profiler). Other inventories that utilize different occupational themes may also loosely relate to Holland Codes. Thus, the information from multiple inventories may provide clarification of a person’s interest. As many of the shorter inventories have a limited number of activities per career cluster, it can be helpful to take more than one inventory to establish areas of interest. If a person has the same code (or sets of codes) in multiple inventories, it further indicates strong areas of interest. Frequently, however, results may indicate a different career code, indicating many areas of interest and the need for broader career exploration in order to develop a better sense of their working selves.

Most inventories indicate a career code of a person’s top 3 career clusters, e.g., RIC. What does that mean? It means that the individual identified that they would likely most enjoy careers that include interests in the Realistic, Investigative, and Conventual career themes. Examples of such jobs could include dental laboratory technicians, RV service technicians, computer support specialists, electricians, model makers, and many others ( The types of work and preferences for the different themes include:

Realistic – Individuals interested in this area like to work with things, use tools and machines and prefer physical, outdoors, and mechanical work.  They are doers and often described as persistent and practical.  They prefer a structured work environment.  Workers with high realistic interest are found in construction and skilled trades, production and manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, hospitality and recreation, food service, and natural resources.

Investigative – Individuals interested in this area like to work with ideas and data and prefer figuring out problems mentally.  They are thinkers and often described as curious, intellectual, and independent.  They favor jobs that require abstract thinking, research, and analysis.  Workers with high investigative interest are found in the life and physical sciences, health and behavioral sciences, applied technologies, academics, research and development, mathematics, and engineering.

Artistic – Individuals inter5ested in this area like to work with forms, designs, and patterns and prefer creative and self-expressive work.  Artistic individuals are creators and often described as imaginative and original.  They favor flexible and less predictable work environments.  Workers with high artistic interest are found in design, applied arts, architecture, culinary arts, performing arts, fine arts, education, communication and media, and fashion.

Social – Individuals interested in this area usually like to work with people and prefer helping, teaching, and healing work.  Social individuals are helpers and often described as supportive, understanding, patient, and generous.  They favor jobs that require listening, comforting, serving others, and advising.  Workers with high social interest are found in education, health and human services, recreation and fitness, safety and service, and religious vocations.

Enterprising – Individuals interested in this area alike to work with start-up ideas and new projects and prefer leading.  Enterprising individuals are persuaders and often described as confident, ambitious, and energetic.  They generally favor jobs that involve selling and achieving set goals.  Workers with high enterprising interest are often found in business and administration, marketing, finance and insurance, sales, regional planning, and law.

Conventional – Individuals interested in this area usually like to work with set procedures, data, and details and prefer clerical and computational work.  Conventional individuals are organizers and often described as organized, efficient, and careful.  They generally favor jobs that involve routine work with numbers, machines, and computers to meet required goals.  Workers with high conventional interest are found in accounting, banking, office work, and computer applications.

Definitions provided by/taken from the PICS-3 Administrator’s Guide 2020[i].

Knowing the types of careers which may be of interest is just the first step. An individual’s preferred work setting can make the difference in a person’s success. Having a preferred setting is also likely to increase work satisfaction. A great way to take an extensive and potentially overwhelming list of career options is to determine the most critical factors for that person. These aspects can be explored through informal conversations and worksheets or even more formal assessment measures. Basics, such as whether a person wants to spend most of their time standing or sitting, being inside or outside, or having a consistent schedule, can help the individual more easily decide which career options are worth a deeper look. From there, options, such as beginning salary, needed education and training, and career outlook, are important to consider. Research, including finding videos showing a typical day and tasks, informational interviewing, job shadowing, and internships, helps provide individuals with an extensive understanding of their career choices and determine the skills they need to build to meet their vocational goals. Be sure to check out the next Transition Thursday blog in our vocational assessment and career exploration series as it will go into more detail about these later career exploration activities.

[i] Picture Interest Career Survey-Third Edition.  Administrator’s Guide Robert P. Brady, EdD.  Published 2020 by JUST Publishing, Inc.


About the Author

Tabitha Monahan, M.A., CRC, is an experienced transition evaluator and vocational counselor. While she is well-versed in supporting a wide range of transition-aged youth, she is especially passionate and knowledgeable in helping clients and their families navigate the complex systems of adult services and benefits as well as medical and mental health systems. She is further adept in working individually with students of all abilities to empower self-advocacy and goal achievement.


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