How useful are career interests in identifying a person’s dream job or a candidate’s suitability for an organisation?

Career interests are based on Holland’s theory (1985) of the Person-Environment Fit (P-E Fit). This theory explains the extent that a person’s interests are aligned to that of a working environment, a match between the two suggests the career is suitable for the individual. Career interest assessments are used to help candidates identify suitable career paths. As well as organisations use career interest assessments to design assessments such as situational judgement tests (SJTs) to help determine if a candidate is a suitable fit for a company. In some ways, career interests are useful because they are widely used. However, they have many flaws such as adverse impact, and they do not consider individual differences like personality. In my opinion, overall career interest assessments are not useful.

Career interests explain the extent that a person’s interests are congruent to an environment, congruence represents a suitable fit. This stems from Holland’s theory (1985) which proposed people aim to pursue careers that are aligned to their interests that match their preferred working environment (Reid, 2015). Holland suggested individuals and working environments can be organised into six categories which are realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. This is referred to as the RIASEC model (Reid, 2015).

Realistic careers such as farmers and electricians; individuals in such careers have strong technical skills, but little soft skills. They are referred to as practical, direct, and honest (Reid, 2015). Investigative careers like scientists and chemists are individuals with strong mathematical and scientific skills but insufficient leadership skills, such individuals are described as analytical, rational, and suspicious (Reid, 2015). Artistic careers i.e musicians and writers are individuals who enjoy writing or creative activities but have insufficient clerical skills. As well as, social careers i.e teaching and counselling are occupied by individuals with social skills, but insufficient technical skills. They are known to be sociable, charismatic, and easy-going (Reid, 2015). Also, enterprising careers i.e sales representative or a supervisor are individuals who possess strong leadership and public speaking skills, but insufficient scientific knowledge. They are referred to as daring, open to experience, self-confident, and authoritative (Nye, Su, Rounds, & Drasgow, 2012). Finally, conventional careers i.e financial advisers and bankers are individuals who possess clerical and mathematical skills, but insufficient creativity skills. They are described as being meticulous and inflexible (Nye et al., 2012).

Furthermore, the RIASEC model is conveyed as a hexagon shape to demonstrate the distance between the six categories; the smaller the distance the closer related they are. Holland does not imply individuals fall under one category, rather instruments are used to measure each category to generate a code that combines three rankings. This is matched to a careers data inventory where results are linked to possible careers for individuals (Reid, 2015).

From an organisational perspective, career interests are important for a company to see how well a candidate is a suitable fit. For this reason, some organisations have implemented the use of situational judgement tests (SJTs), these are online assessments where candidates are presented with a statement and are asked to rank to what extent they agree or disagree with the statement (Guenole, Chernyshenko, Stark, & Drasgow, 2015). The statements are aligned to the activities the job incumbent completes, therefore high scores in such assessments suggest a good fit for a company, this explains how career interests can be used in assessments. Career interest assessments are useful, to an extent.

Moreover, career interest assessments are useful because they are cheaper to carry out compared to other assessment methods and are widely accepted (Reid, 2015). The use of SJTs as a career interest assessment has further benefits such as being administered online, this is useful because it is more accessible to all, also the use of SJTs favour underrepresented groups such as women (Guenole et al., 2015). Nye et al’s.  (2012) meta-analysis implied career interests are a good predictor of job performance, this supports Holland’s P.E Fit model on congruence. This suggests career interest assessments are useful in predicting performance; individuals with interests that are not congruent with the company will not perform well in the job and consequently will not be hired.

On the other hand, there are many ways in which career interest assessments are not useful. Firstly, the P.E Fit theory suggests individuals must have a basic understanding of their likes and dislikes. This is not useful because some individuals have not yet established what they like or dislike (Reid, 2015), this can result in a mismatch and consequently lead to an individual working in a career that is not aligned to their skill-set resulting in poor performance. Leading on from this point, the theory suggests congruence between job choice and interest results in job satisfaction. However, Arnold (2004) challenged this and his findings showed Holland’s assessment of individuals and environment did not consider important constructs, working environments were not assessed with a suitable method, and the data used to calculate congruence was limited. This highlights the career interest’s theory itself is flawed, therefore the assessments used to analyse this are also limited. In short, career interests alone do not always result in job satisfaction.

In addition, the use of interests can result in discrimination, a study was carried out on the differences between Black-White ethnic groups in career interest (Jones, Newman, Su, & Rounds, 2020). The results showed Black Americans exhibit more social, enterprising, and conventional interests than White Americans. Similarly, White Americans demonstrate more realistic and investigative interests, these findings demonstrate that using career interest assessments are unfair. This is because Black Americans are more likely to excel in career interest assessments on enterprising jobs than their White counterparts which is not fair.

To conclude, there are benefits in using career interest assessments, however recent findings demonstrate that specific ethnic groups have an advantage for career interest assessments measuring specific constructs of the RIASEC model. Therefore, career interest assessments are not useful because it contributes to adverse impact.


Arnold, J. (2004). The congruence problem in John Holland’s theory of vocational decisions. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 77(1), 95–113.

Guenole, N., Chernyshenko, O., Stark, S., & Drasgow, F. (2015). Are predictions based on situational judgement tests precise enough for feedback in leadership development? European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 24(3), 433–443.

Jones, K. S., Newman, D. A., Su, R., & Rounds, J. (2020). Black-White differences in vocational interests: Meta-analysis and boundary conditions. Journal of Business and Psychology.

Nye, C. D., Su, R., Rounds, J., & Drasgow, F. (2012). Vocational Interests and Performance: A Quantitative Summary of Over 60 Years of Research. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(4), 384–403.

Reid, H. (2015). Introduction to Career Counselling & Coaching. SAGE Publications.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.