The RIASEC Model of Interests
by Sarah Russin, Lorien G. Elleman and David M Condon

The history of the RIASEC Occupational Interests framework dates back to a series of influential papers about vocational preferences by John Holland in the 1950s. His 1959 article in the Journal of Counseling Psychology[1] entitled “A Theory of Vocational Choice” is particularly striking because of the way he describes the choice of a vocation as an expression of one’s personality.

“The present theory assumes that at the time of vocational choice the person is the product of the interaction of his particular heredity with a variety of cultural and personal forces including peers, parents and significant adults, his social class, American culture, and the physical environment. Out of this experience, the person develops a hierarchy of habitual or preferred methods for dealing with environmental tasks. From an ecological standpoint, these habitual methods are associated with different kinds of physical and social environments, and with differential patterns of abilities. The person making a vocational choice in a sense ‘searches’ for situations which satisfy his hierarchy of adjustive orientations.” (Holland, 1959, p. 35)

In this same publication, Holland identified six categories for classifying occupations and person-level “orientations” (these were originally named motoric, intellectual, esthetic, supportive, conforming, and persuasive). Over the ensuing decades, Holland developed his theory into a more clearly articulated model for vocational counseling that remained rooted in the notion that one’s “interests, preferred activities, beliefs, abilities, values, and characteristics” are primary to the identification of a comfortable working environment.[2] In other words, the theory offers a way to evaluate vocational “person-environment fit.”[3]

Holland’s model is now often referred to as the RIASEC as this is the acronym produced by his revised names for the six categories of occupations and orientations.[4] These are Realistic (formerly motoric), Investigative (intellectual), Artistic (esthetic), Social (supportive), Enterprising (persuasive), and Conventional (conforming). Each of these six types was also associated with a descriptive occupational adjective: “doers” are realistic, “thinkers” are investigative, “creators” are artistic, “helpers” are social, “persuaders” are enterprising, and “organizers” are conventional (Self-Directed Search).[5] Other aspects of Holland’s original theory, such as the importance of knowledge about one’s environment and its influences on behavior, were similarly retained in later updates to the theory.[2]

Even today, many of the most widely-used tests and measures in vocational counseling are closely tied to Holland’s RIASEC model, including the Strong Interest Inventory (previously known as the Strong Interest Blank and the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory), the Vocational Preference Inventory, the Self-Directed Search, the Position Classification Inventory, and the Vocational Decision Making Difficulty scale.[2]

The most prominent manifestation of Holland’s work, however, is its use as an integral component in the Occupational Interest Network (O*NET).[6] O*NET is an online resource sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration. The RIASEC Interest Profiler is used in conjunction with occupational data for a tremendous variety of employment and research activities.

In personality terms, the RIASEC model is generally construed as a dimensional, theory-based model. While the six categories are suggestive of a typological approach, Holland was clear in his views that the types are dimensional. Several researchers have previously reported on the associations between the RIASEC and other personality frameworks. DeFruyt and Mervielde[7] reported significant (and substantial) correlations between each of the Big Five with at least one of the RIASEC scales. Openness, for example, was strongly positively correlated with the Artistic scale and negatively correlated with the Conventional scale. The Realistic and Investigative scales, according to De Fruyt and Mervielde, are not strongly correlated with any of the Big Five scales. The literature contains dozens of similar studies, including this meta-analysis and this one that considers the nature of associations between frameworks at different hierarchical levels.

How much do you know about your own personality? Interested in finding out more? Take the SAPA personality test and see where you fall on the Big Five distributions!

[1] Holland, J. L. (1959). A theory of vocational choice. Journal of counseling psychology, 6(1), 35.
[2] Nauta, M. M. (2010). The development, evolution, and status of Holland’s theory of vocational personalities: Reflections and future directions for counseling psychology. Journal of counseling psychology, 57(1), 11.
[3] Gottfredson, L. S., & Richards, J. M. (1999). The meaning and measurement of environments in Holland's theory. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 55(1), 57-73.
[4] Holland, J. L. (1966). The psychology of vocational choice: A theory of personality type and model environments. Waltham, MA: Blaisdell.
[5] RIASEC theory. (2013). Retrieved December 11, 2016, from http://www.self-directed-search.com/How-does-it-work/three-articles/ArticleId/35/riasec-theory [6] O*NET OnLine. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2017, from https://www.onetonline.org/
[7] De Fruyt, F., & Mervielde, I. (1997). The five-factor model of personality and Holland's RIASEC interest types. Personality and individual differences, 23(1), 87-103.

This page last modified on December 8th, 2016.