In Make Your Job a Calling, we make a case that a key strategy for discerning a calling is to start by understanding your gifts, where “gifts” is defined very broadly to include all of those aspects of what make you unique. Psychologists have worked hard to identify the key aspects of people that are important in understanding individual differences, and one of those is interests.
In this context, interests are defined as stable dispositions that reflect motivations to engage in a particular set of activities. Vocational psychologist Bruce Walsh put it more simply when he described interests as “motivations that determine life decisions.”[i]
The most popular way of understanding interests, and the focus of literally thousands of research studies, comes from the late psychologist and professor John L. Holland.[ii] Holland proposed that both people and work environments can be characterized according to six broad vocational types, which form the acronym RIASEC:
- Realistic. People with Realistic interests enjoy mechanical activities, athletics, working with their hands, and being outdoors, getting dirt under their fingernails.
- Investigative. People characterized by Investigative interests enjoy asking intellectual questions and investigating the answers to those questions, maybe using the methods of science.
- Artistic. Those with Artistic interests really appreciate self-expression, certainly through fine arts but also drama, writing, music, and even culinary activities.
- Social. People with Social interests like being in roles where they can directly help people—teachers, pastors and counselors, for example.
- Enterprising. Those with Enterprising interests enjoy persuading people. They can do so in business-related tasks like sales and marketing, but also through law, politics, and public speaking.
- Conventional. People with Conventional interests enjoy organizing things. They love detail-oriented tasks, and get a kick out of things like filing systems and spreadsheets.
People don’t just have one type of interest—they usually have interests in all six domains, just to varying degrees. (By the way, having an interest in something doesn’t imply having ability in that thing—someone can deeply enjoy music, for example, without being able to carry a tune.) Several sophisticated, heavily researched and scientifically supported interest inventories are available that reliably assess how high or low a person’s scores are on the six types, relative to people in general. You can take one of these inventories (keep reading—we’ll tell you how in a minute), and use your scores to determine your “Holland code”—generally your highest three interest types.[iii]
Once you have your Holland code, you can search one of several databases of occupational information to identify career paths that are likely to satisfy your interest profile. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor maintains the Occupational Information Network, or O*NET; this database, which contains very detailed information on more than a thousand occupations, is fully searchable by Holland Code. To illustrate, your authors’ Holland codes are ASI (Bryan) and SIE (Ryan). The O*NET code for Counseling Psychologist is SIA. Not a bad fit for either of us! What is your Holland code, and what occupations match it well? One good place to answer find answers to this question is to go right to the My Next Move website, a simple tool designed for the U.S. Department of Labor, where you can take the O*NET’s 60-item Ability Profiler. After you respond to the items, you can view your results and identify your Holland Code, which will then link to specific occupations that fit well with your interest profile. Interests are just one aspect of what makes you unique, but interest assessment is a useful tool for helping discern your calling.
[i] P. 373, Walsh, W. B. (1999). What we know and need to know: A few comments. In M. L. Savickas & A. R. Spokane (Eds.), Vocational Interests: Meaning, measurement and counseling use (pp. 371-382). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.
[ii] Holland’s original statement of his theory can be found in Holland, J. L. (1959). A theory of vocational choice. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 6, 35-45. An update of the theory proposed late in his career can be found in Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (3rd ed.). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
[iii] We say “generally” because there are some people who have profiles that suggest just one type might be the most accurate code—for example, someone with very high Artistic Interests and low-to-moderate interests in everything else. Bryan conducted a study that tried to assess whether using codes of various lengths (e.g., 1, 2, or 3 letters) made a difference in terms of predicting job satisfaction, compared to using 3-letter codes regardless of the “shape” of peoples’ profiles. The results suggested that there wasn’t a meaningful difference. Those of you wanting to satisfy your curiosity can find that study here: Dik, B. J., Hu, R. S. C., & Hansen, J.C. (2007). An empirical test of the Modified C Index and SII, O*NET, and DHOC occupational code classifications. Journal of Career Assessment,15, 279-300.