The increasing specialization of today’s more diverse and technologically advanced labor market challenges employees and job seekers alike to continually evaluate their career choices and engage in career appraisal. The development of a comprehensive career plan is essential in understanding one’s interests, attributes, abilities, and values necessary to fit into this ever-changing vocational environment. Moreover, adults find themselves reconsidering previous career choices as they develop new interests or as the job market shifts. Of all these domains, vocational interests serve as the cornerstone of any career plan. John Holland’s theory provides an avenue for classifying vocational interests into six categories (RIASEC): Realistic (working outdoors, building, repairing); Investigative (researching, analyzing, inquiring); Artistic (creating or enjoying art, drama, music, writing); Social (helping, instructing), Enterprising (persuading, selling, managing); and Conventional (accounting, organizing, processing data). Interest inventories such as the Strong Interest Inventory (SII) and the Campbell Interests and Skills Survey (CISS) can help users learn which combination of the RIASEC categories describes their vocational interests. Choosing work environments that align with areas of interest is more likely to increase job satisfaction.
In the last decade, researchers have established that career appraisal for the individual is more useful when it goes beyond the six general categories of interests to specific interests. For example, although it is useful to know someone has Realistic interests, knowing concretely whether he or she enjoys military activities or mechanical activities allows for better discrimination. In addition, increased specificity translates to increased ability to determine career fields and educational majors that more closely align with one’s interests as well as those that prove to be less desirable. The SII and CISS mentioned above provide measures of specific vocational interests as well as general interests. Although occupational scales on the SII or the CIS implicitly provide greater specificity, scales such as the Basic Interest Scales on the SII make the process explicit and directly interpretable based on the transparency of those scales.
Traditionally, vocational interest assessment has been the primary tool used to assist clients in making important career choices. However, two additional constructs that have emerged in the past decade are also important contributors. The construct of personality has been shown to be an important variable in helping us understand the unique individual from a more holistic outlook. To date, three empirical reviews have examined the overlap of personality and interests. This evidence shows that both have at least three clear general links: (1) People who are more open to new experiences tend to have more artistic and investigative interests, (2) extroverts tend to have more social and enterprising interests, and (3) people who are more agreeable tend to have more social interests. Vocational counselors who incorporate this knowledge will be in a better position to view their clients more broadly than simply through their vocational interests. For example, clients who are more open to novel and new experiences may be more satisfied with intellectual or creative work environments. Interestingly, personality and interests may be genetically linked; studies show that about 50 percent of their stable variance is genetic.
Just as more rather than less information is better with vocational interests, it seems that more specific information about personality beyond general traits is useful in helping better differentiate vocational interests within a particular general interest. For example, people who are entranced with evocative sights and sounds are more likely to be engaged in artistic interests. In short, researchers are beginning to quilt a fabric of particular areas that more aptly define a unique individual with particular tendencies. The more a vocational professional can assist the client to integrate both aspects of his or her personality and interests, the more equipped that individual will be to make an informed vocational choice.
Unfortunately, it is not enough to consider only the unique aspects of clients’ personalities and interests. Rather, understanding these overlapping areas serves as the springboard for placement in engaging careers, but alone, this may not ensure retention. The development of new skills and the refinement of current skills are critical to career persistence. With the advance of social cognitive career theory, vocational self-efficacy has emerged as the third construct in the three-legged stool of career appraisal. Knowledge about personality and interests is helpful in choosing a career or pursuing an area of specialization that is a good fit. However, it may be a person’s self-efficacy that will help ensure that a person will follow through on his or her choices and ultimately succeed at the endeavor.
Understanding the triangular structure of the “P,” or person, in person-environment (P-E) fit can help vocational counselors directly address which of the three legs of career appraisal is causing the stool to waiver. If a client demonstrates high interest in a career that seems to match his or her personality type but lacks the confidence to enter that career, a counselor can work directly to increase the individual’s self-efficacy within that specific domain. Specifically, counselors can work with clients to increase self-efficacy by ensuring mastery experiences, providing successful models, reducing anxiety, and providing support and encouragement. Likewise, if a client’s personality seems particularly well suited to certain interests and those interests are not apparent, the counselor may want to ascertain whether there have been environmental limitations, such as racism, sexism, or poverty, that have limited exposure to potential interests. Moreover, high-ability clients who have the confidence to pursue a range of career options may need reassurance to follow their interests/personality fit with careers rather than choosing careers that are prestigious or would please their parents. Finally, the understanding of these three constructs will be useful for adult clients who may be underemployed or unemployed or seeking to change jobs within their organizations.
The dynamic use of P-E fit is essential in successfully transitioning from one career to the next. In America’s mobile society, it is not uncommon for an adult to shift careers based on the needs of the individual as well as demands of the environment. A person may develop additional interests or choose to emphasize different interests based on consideration of salary, family-friendliness of an occupation, or needs of the family. Older adults may seek out fresh new challenges, greater flexibility, or more independence. Adults may leave careers after a few years despite feeling confident, because they may find the tasks associated with the career a poor fit for their personality and interests. Vocational counselors need to provide P-E fit information to adults at these critical junctures when career appraisal is necessary.
Research is accumulating on the intersection of critical person factors in P-E fit. Though interests provide the foundation, building a successful career demands more than the identification of preferred activities. Future vocational researchers and counselors alike may want to adopt an integrationist perspective. This will allow for the expansion of the field’s knowledge of how interests, personality, and self-efficacy interrelate in both experimental and applied settings. It is imperative that vocational professionals in both arenas work to inform each other of their accumulated knowledge. This will allow research to inform practice and practice to inform research.
- Accounting Careers
- Career exploration
- Holland’s theory of vocational choice
- Person-environment fit (P-E fit)
- Social cognitive career theory
- Betz, N. E., Borgen, F. H., Rottinghaus, P. J., Paulsen, A. M., Halper, C. and Harmon, L. W. 2003. “The Expanded Skills Confidence Inventory: Measuring Basic Dimensions of Vocational Activity.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 62:76-100.
- Borgen, F. H. 1999. “New Horizons in Interest Theory and Measurement: Toward Expanded Meaning.” Pp. 383-411 in Vocational Interests: Their Meaning, Measurement, and Use in Counseling, edited by M. L. Savickas and A. R. Spokane. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.
- Holland, J. L. 1997. Making Vocational Choices: A Theory of Vocational Personalities and Work Environments. 3d ed. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
- Larson, L. M., Rottinghaus, P. J. and Borgen, F. H. 2002. “Meta-analyses of the Big Six Interests and the Big Five Personality Factors.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 61:217-239.
- Ralston, C. A., Borgen, F. H., Rottinghaus, P. J. and Donnay, D. A. C. 2004. “Specificity in Interest Measurement: Basic Interest Scales and Major Field of Study.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 65:203-216.
- Waller, N. G., Lykken, D. T. and Tellegen, A. 1995. “Occupational Interests, Leisure Time Interests, and Personality: Three Domains or One? Findings from the Minnesota Twin Registry.” Pp. 233-259 in Assessing Individual Differences in Human Behavior: New Concepts, Methods, and Findings, edited by D. Lubinski and R. V. Dawis. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.