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Identify Your Interests and Preferences to Experience a Life You Love

Your interests and preferences are key predictors of your career and life choices. You make decisions every day based on your preferences including what to eat, what TV show to watch, what outfit to wear, or what route to take to work. Through exploring your interests and preferences, you may better appreciate the things you already have in your life and identify things that you want to add when the opportunity arises.

Discover Your Preferred Activities, Environments, and People

Your interests cover a variety of career-related areas including the types of activities or environments you prefer and the people with whom you most desire to be around. By categorizing and considering your interests, you can identify the aspects most important to you and the career or life options that would be most desirable. For example, several types of activities, environments, and people are listed below. Which would you prefer if they were a primary aspect of your job, relationships, activities, or other aspects of your life?

Active or Stationary?
Standing or Sitting?
Easy or Challenging?
Repetitive or Varied?
Structured or Flexible Schedule?
Office-Bound or Traveling?
Leading or Following?
Teamwork or Individual?
Full-time or Part-time?
Indoor or Outdoor?
Risky or Safe?
Busy or Quiet?
Clean or Dirty?
Hot or Cold?
Day or Night?
Office or Fieldwork?
Small, Mid, or Large-sized Company?
Small, Mid, or Large-sized City?
Talkative or Quiet?
Supportive or Competitive?
Introverted or Extroverted?
Thinkers or Feelers?
Analytical or Intuitive?
Passive or Aggressive?
Relaxed or Driven?
Planner or Spontaneous?
Leader or Follower?

Note the activities, environments, or people where your preferences are stronger.

  • If you could negotiate for only your top two preferences in each area, which would they be?
  • Which aspects are not important to you and would not matter in your career choice?
  • Currently, do you experience your top two preferences in each of the areas? If so, does it help to realize that?
  • If not, are there ways that you can alter your activities or environment to increase your enjoyment?

You are encouraged to explore other areas of interests that are important in your choices as well. One key area is the type of work in which you prefer to engage.

Identify Your Preferred Type of Work

To describe the impact of a person’s interest on their career success and satisfaction, psychologist John Holland1,2 developed six Holland Codes that are still commonly used in career centers today. He began by categorizing careers into six major types and examined the people who chose jobs within each category. From his observations, he proposed six types that described both the person’s interests and work environments that provided the best person-job match. His six types included:

Realistic         – prefer concrete tasks such as physical or mechanical work
                        (e.g., engineering, farming, mechanics, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, construction, park ranger)

Investigative – favor independent and task-oriented work that may be more analytical, intellectual, or abstract
                          (e.g., math, science, computer programming, puzzle-solving)

Artistic           – desire self-expression and imaginative, creative, and introspective work
                          (e.g., writing, drawing, painting, acting, music, theater, fashion design, foreign languages)

Social             – have an interest in people and community service, and possess good interpersonal skills
                          (e.g., teaching, counseling, nursing, cultural immersion, publicity)

Enterprising  – are ambitious and persuasive and often seek leadership and influential positions
                          (e.g., sales, management, influential networking, politics, speaking)

Conventional – are practical, conservative, and controlled; they like routine and structure
                           (e.g., administrative clerical work, budgeting, accounting, filing, 9 to 5 work)

Holland recognized that individuals rarely fell into only one type, but rather a combination of two or three types that indicated the most important aspects for an individual to consider when making a career choice that would be most aligned with their interests. There are detailed instruments that can help you determine your preferred types. However, for simplicity, you may just wish to review the six types from the list provided and answer the following questions:

  • In order of priority, what are the two or three types that would interest you most?
  • What job types are essential in your career satisfaction and what types would be enjoyable but not essential?
  • What job types would cause career dissatisfaction? Is everything about those types undesirable or just certain aspects that you may wish to avoid?

Through exploring your interests and identifying the activities, environments, people, and types of work you prefer, you may more easily identify some of the key factors in experiencing a career and life you love.

  • What insights did you gain from narrowing down your interests?
  • Did understanding your interests in different areas help you better understand why you are satisfied or not with your current job?
  • How was it helpful in identifying your most significant career interests?
  • How are you taking action today to incorporate more of the activities, environments, people and types of work you prefer into your career and life?

If you would like to explore some formal assessments based on Holland’s Vocational Choice Theory, consider the following:

If you take one of the assessments above, consider if your 2 or 3-letter interest code is an accurate portrayal of your interests? Why or why not? A key to remember is that these assessments do not tell you what to do, they are just a starting point for discussion or narrowing down your options!

1 Holland, J. L. (1966). The psychology of vocational choice: A theory of personality types and model environments. Waltham, MA: Blaisdel.
2 Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (3rd ed.). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.