It’s not my intention to give full information or an extensive discussion on every theory. This website is intended to be a starting point and the main difference with other websites is the visual representation of the theory, which I hope will help get to grips with the theory. There are also links it the bottom to get your further research started.

Differentialism – Environmental Theory – Trait and Factor Theory

John L. Holland 1966

Tip for remembering Holland’s theory:

Holland’s theory of six personalities is sometimes called RIASEC, after the first letters of each of the six categories.



Holland’s theory is a personality based theory based on the premise that people are happiest when they are around others like them, including in a work environment. Holland claims that everyone (in western society) has one of six personality types as the dominant type. People of the same personality type work well together and are happiest in each other’s company. Sharing a job environment with people with the same personality type therefore creates job satisfaction. The six personality types therefore also correspond to six different work environments with the same characteristics: where problem solving is important, creative work environments, very social work environments, competitive work environments, work contexts that are highly regulated and very practical work environments. A match between environment and personality is likely to promote success, increase productivity and motivation and create a good social environment at work as well.

Environmental Theory of careers or matching model Raisec by Holland.

I hope the illustration above makes enough sense for you to get an idea of what Holland’s six personalities are focused on. Where do you think you fit in? How does it compare to the career you’ve chosen? And following on from that, where does your work environment fit in? Is there congruence between all three?


The theory’s genetics

John Holland built upon Parson’s theory but focused very much on the personalities of his clients, which he then matched to the perceived requirements for different career paths. To some extent, Holland’s theory is reminiscent of Meyers-Briggs, bringing with it some of the strengths and weaknesses of that model.


How it can be used:

Holland developed his theory throughout his life and it’s important to remember that any of the six personalities won’t fit neatly in any career path or vice-versa. In general, one of the six types will be the dominant one in any one person and work environments aren’t two dimensional either. Work environments and career options, just like people have a mix of characteristics. A GP will need strong investigative qualities alongside good social and helping qualities. Matching using Holland’s theory is therefore not as straightforward as meets the eye by looking at the model’s illustration above.

In modern career guidance, it’s the task of the career professional to establish the particular mix of the six personalities within a particular client and then to try and match it to fit in with a particular mix of requirements for any particular career path. This can happen through a personality test or through discussion.

Where do you fit in? If you would like to try this out for yourself – one website I like is


Here too, even though Holland’s theory is far removed from Parsons’ in some ways, the same or similar critique can be levied at RIASEC. Some of the critique I mentioned in the way this can be used already. People don’t neatly fit into six boxes. Other theories have developed in a similar way, some with more critique aimed at them, such as Myers-Briggs, and some with less, such as the OCEAN model, which has been claimed has more of a scientific basis. Going deeper into this discussion would be beyond what I am trying to do with this website, but if you are interested, it could be worth investigating further.

My experience of those personality based matching tools is that, even if it’s claimed that they are not scientific enough to have validity, they offer a very good starting point for further exploration. However, it’s important to keep in mind that they don’t tell half the story and that it’s dangerous to go with their outcome or conclusion. They just offer another tool into the discussion and can bring it to a different level. Especially with clients who are not talkative or don’t want to engage, helping them take a personality test can break the ice. I want to also point out that these tests are not the same as aptitude tests such as Morrisby or the Highlands battery test, even though they have a similar foundation in the assumptions they make and may look similar on the surface.

Reading the above and researching the links below, what do you think? Have you tried to use Holland’s theory in the flesh? How did it work out?

In addition, think about the following questions:

  • If you’ve had a look at other matching theories, what are the differences between Holland’s theory and the other ones you’ve explored?
  • Do they make Holland’s theory a stronger or weaker alternative?
  • How does Holland in with career theory and practice in the 21st century? And, following on from that, how does it fit in with society and the world of work in the 21st century?
  • Here too, have a look at Brown’s ideas for gauging the strength of a theory and see how Holland scores.
  • If you were to imagine using Holland’s personality types, what context would you be able to use it and where would it fall short?
  • Do you agree that people can be broadly classified into six personality types? Why/why not?


Useful links:

These are only some of the links you can find on Holland’s theory. There are many, many more, as well as numerous books about the model and its use. I hope you can explore some more in your own time, but these, I found, are the most useful ones to get to grips with the theory.