The Origins of RIASEC (Holland Codes)

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While you may be most familiar with the SuperStrong® assessment through the VitaNavis platform, how much do you know about the Strong Interest Inventory® (Strong) assessment from which it was derived?

The Strong family of assessments is unique in that its roots of measurement are empirical and based on direct data and feedback around job satisfaction and interests from people employed in various occupations.  We start this series with the most understandable and high-level measurements of the RIASEC framework, which is a common way of understanding how a person fits in the World of Work.  Later installments of this series will focus on those unique and more precise measurements of the Strong family of assessments that provide the basis for even deeper and meaningful conversations to help guide career development and decision making.

Structure and components of the Strong Interest Inventory® assessment

The original Strong assessment was created in 1927 by E.K. Strong and focused on specific jobs. The structure of the Strong assessment today is made up of four major components, where the first three are structured as a hierarchy:










1. At the base of the pyramid are the General Occupational Themes (GOTs), the broadest skills that consist of the six RIASEC themes:

  • Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional.

2. Next are the Basic Interest Scales (BISs), which represent more specific details of the GOTs:

  • Each Basic Interest Scale is associated with one of the GOTs.
  • For example, mechanic and construction are related to Realistic and finance and investing are related to Conventional.

3. Following those are the Occupational Scales (OSs), which measure specific jobs.

4. Lastly, we have the Personal Style Scales (PSSs) which measure specific personality components that are important to consider when exploring different kinds of work such as:

  • Work style, team orientation, learning environment, risk-taking, and leadership style.

The history of how the RIASEC codes were developed

The Holland codes, most often referred to as RIASEC codes, make up the General Occupational Themes in both the Strong and SuperStrong assessments. Their creation is attributed to Dr. John Holland’s work. Holland’s widely accepted theory of the RIASEC theme codes originated from multiple life experiences: his graduate training work with JD Darley (one of the earliest original Strong assessment experts at the University of Minnesota), his career counseling experience, and his time in the army during World War II as a classification interviewer. In an interview, Holland commented that one of his biggest frustrations was using the massive occupational classification systems that were too large to remember or even to use. This prompted him to create a more simplified occupational classification system.

In 1959, Holland published the first article of his theoretical framework based on his research from Strong’s scoring keys and major studies by experts that included Strong, Goth, Laurent, Weinstein, and Foyer. From his research, Holland created six major occupational areas in 1959:

Holland later revised these six environments into what the General Occupational Themes are comprised of today: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional.

As you can see, the shape of RIASEC is in a hexagon. This shape was chosen because another theorist, Anne Roe, had already used a circle for one of her theories. Luckily, it worked out as the hexagon shape has a specific meaning in the relationship between the six different themes.

As pictured in the images below, the themes that are adjacent to each other are most similar, meaning that they share some traits. Whereas the theme that is directly opposite of it is least similar.

The General Occupational Themes were not added to the Strong assessment until 1974 and this was done by David Campbell after Strong had passed away. The RIASEC codes were the last component to be added to the Strong assessment and provided just another way to evaluate an individual’s results. It is important to understand the origin and research behind the different components of the Strong and now SuperStrong assessments to provide your students with the validity behind these tools. When students feel they are putting time and effort into an assessment that will provide actual results and can help propel their future, they will be more enthusiastic and take more interest in the SuperStrong assessment!

The Origins of RIASEC (Holland Codes)

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