Hopkins Professor Makes Career Choices His JobRetired Johns Hopkins University professor John Holland enjoys his career of examining the occupational options of others; he recently finished revisions on the third edition of "Making Vocational Choices: A Theory of Vocational Personalities and Work Environments." The work, published by Psychological Assessment Resources, first made its debut in 1959 with another publisher. Since then, it has been updated several times.
Holland, 77, retired from what is now the Sociology Department in 1980, but he has hardly stopped working. "This book is my sixth attempt to create a more satisfying theory of careers," he writes in the preface. "I never seem to get it quite right."
Holland's theory states that all people fit into one or more personality types: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional. (These are the basis for his RIASEC theory, which is widely used by career counseling professionals.) He applies the same six characteristics to work and home environments and says some outcomes can be determined by examining the combinations of personality types and environments. For example, professional choices and levels of achievement may be predicted, he says.
PAR also publishes several varieties of evaluations titled Self-Directed Searches, including "The Occupations Finder," "You and Your Career" and "A Guide to Educational and Career Planning" that may accompany the book.
Holland is convinced that students can be better prepared for professional lives if they evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. His Self-Directed Search forms, which have also been adapted for those with reading and learning difficulties, include statements such "I understand the 'Big Bang' theory of the universe" and "I can refinish furniture or woodwork." Participants then total the number of statements with which they agree and interpret the findings on their own.
"The techniques are childlike they're so simple," Holland says. "Personality and interest inventories are kind of an interview about life histories."
While some may balk at being pigeonholed into one of six areas, Holland says inevitably most people remain where they excel.
"Certain changes are hard to make. The artistic types rarely seem to move. And the science types tend to stay there," he says. "Some engineers frequently become entrepreneurs who are using their background."
Holland believes the simplicity of his tests and theories is what makes them effective. "Some scientists think that because this is so easy to understand, it can't amount to anything," he said. "In science there is often a sales mission, though people don't like to admit that. In fact, anybody can get this message if they want it."
Holland's own makeup includes artistic, social and investigative components. "I've got a relatively flat profile, actually," he says. "That makes you more versatile, complex and quite a bit confused."
A graduate of the University of Omaha who received his master's degree and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Minnesota, Holland arrived at Hopkins in 1969. He served as a professor and director of the Center for Social Organization of Schools before his "quasi-retirement."
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