John L. Holland, 1919-2008

A Select Bibliography added to the Tribute & Obituary



John Holland

A Tribute to John L. Holland: Psychologist, Theoretician, Scholar, Researcher, Counselor, and Friend

By Jack R. Rayman, The Pennsylvania State University

In November 2008, John Holland - whose pioneering work in occupational personalities and environments gave career counselors new tools and perspective to help them guide their clients during career explorations and job searches - died in Baltimore, Maryland.

Earlier that month, Holland had been honored by the American Psychological Association (APA) for his "distinguished scientific applications of psychology" and "outstanding contributions to vocational psychology and personality."

Following is a tribute to the life and accomplishments of Holland written by Jack Rayman, senior director, career services, affiliate professor of counseling psychology and education at Pennsylvania State University.

John began studying psychology at the Municipal University of Omaha, and, following his graduation in 1942, his interest in the discipline was further stoked during his three-year service in the U.S. Army and subsequent matriculation at the University of Minnesota. 

For the next 60 years, John worked tirelessly at Western Reserve University, the Veteran's Administration Psychiatric Hospital (1953-56), the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (1957-63), the American College Testing Program (1963-69), Johns Hopkins University (1969-80), and in retirement to continuously develop and refine his theory and associated assessment devices, instruments, and career development tools.

Products of those years include:

  • The Psychology of Vocational Choice (1966), his first book
  • The Vocational Preference Inventory (1953)
  • The Self Directed Search (1970, 1977, 1985 & 1994)
  • Making Vocational Choices: A Theory of Careers (1973, 1985 & 1997), his second book
  • The Dictionary of Holland Occupational Codes (1982, 1989 & 1996, with Gottfredson)
  • The Position Classification Inventory (1991, with Gottfredson)
  • The Career Attitudes and Strategies Inventory (1994, with Gottfredson).

Throughout his career, John actively engaged in conference presentations, and published journal articles and book chapters totaling several hundred. In addition to the citation from the APA for "distinguished scientific applications of psychology," he was the recipient of honorary doctorates from the University of Minnesota and the University of Nebraska, of the American Psychological Association's Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Knowledge in 1994, and of the Extended Research Award from the American Counseling Association in 1995.

John may forever be known for establishing a permanent association between a geometric shape (the hexagon) and the field of career psychology-having chosen the hexagon to graphically represent his person/environment theory. He, like most Midwesterners, grew up close to the land and probably sported a high-flat Self Directed Search profile, as follows:

  • His elevated "R" (Realistic) manifested itself in his long-time interest and skill at woodworking-some of his handiwork will forever grace my home.
  • His elevated "I" (Investigative) is probably the most obvious in that he was first and foremost intellectually curious about human behavior with a keen interest in philosophy, anthropology, and, of course, psychology.
  • His elevated "A" (Artistic) is apparent in his creative and innovative way of interpreting human behavior, his skill as an accomplished pianist-the proud owner of a baby grand piano-and his long-time interest in art-he was a huge fan of the French Fauvist painter Raoul Dufy. His home was decorated with a number of Dufy paintings, as well as the work of other prominent artists. In a modest way, his home was a sort of small gallery, and he enjoyed providing the occasional close friend with a gallery tour. He had an eye for the aesthetic and one of his fond possessions was a Frank Lloyd Wright designed chair for which he admitted to having paid "far too much."
  • His elevated "S" (Social) undoubtedly led to his life of service to the profession and his commitment to issues of social justice.
  • While publishers and academicians sometimes jokingly referred to Holland's elevated "E" (Enterprising), he was far too generous and caring, and not financially motivated enough to have been a truly successful entrepreneur.
  • While Holland's lowest code was probably "C" (Conventional), as evidenced by his sometimes impulsive and artistic flair, he was a fiscal conservative who always strove for efficiency and often said, "‘Carefulness' is the secret to my success."

There was much about John of which the public knew little. First among them was that for most of his professional life he was nearly blind. It is an irony of life that a person with such poor vision could be such a visionary. He was also an introverted, caring, and warm individual despite having a biting sarcasm and a sometimes dark sense of humor.

John had a rebellious nature that was apparent from the twinkle in his eye and which found its way into his professional life in devilish ways. For example, on occasion, he found it amusing to deliberately insert errors in manuscripts he submitted for publication to feed the appetite of manuscript reviewers who revel in identifying and pointing out errors. He tried to be helpful to critics in this way by not being perfect! When his tenure at the American College Testing Program was no longer satisfying, he famously proclaimed, "Have hexagon, will travel."

His professional legacy

Taken together, the Holland theory, the Holland classification system, and the comprehensive array of Holland theory-based interventions, have been a major force in shaping the face of career development theory, research, and practice over the past three decades. While other theories of career development have received similar acclaim, other classification systems have attained some acceptance, and other interventions have gained a degree of popularity, no other system has achieved the high level integration of theory, research, and practice that distinguishes the Holland system.

In summary, John Holland's influence on the theory, research, and practice of career counseling and intervention has been unprecedented. Through his life work, he has profoundly shaped career development theory, interest measurement design and technology, career intervention, occupational classification, and the entire career counseling enterprise. Through the simplicity and elegance of his theory, the practicality of his instruments, and the persistence of his personality, John himself became one of the most powerful career interventions of our time. And as we would expect from a good intervention, he significantly changed and enhanced our profession (Rayman & Attanasoff, 1999).


Rayman, J. R. & Atanasoff, L. M. (1999). Holland's theory and career intervention: the power of the hexagon. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 55, 114-126.

 John L. Holland, Ph.D., died in Baltimore on November 27, 2008, at Union Memorial Hospital. Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Holland was the recipient of the 2008 Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology from the American Psychological Association. He was known for his theory of vocational personalities and work environments, which shaped the ways vocational assistance is provided to people by counselors and psychologists around the world. Among other honors, Dr. Holland was the recipient of honorary doctorates from the University of Minnesota and the University of Nebraska, and he was the recipient of the American Psychological Association's Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Knowledge in 1994, and of the Extended Research Award from the American Counseling Association in 1995.

Dr. Holland's theory dividing work environments into six types is used by career counselors throughout the world today. He is survived by brother Richard, sister Jean, and children Joan, Kay, and Robert.

A detailed biography can be found in the 2008 APA Scientific Contribution Awards program.



The following obituary was published in "The Johns Hopkins University Gazette":

Obituary: John Holland, 89, Studies Personalities in Workplace

By Amy Lunday

John Holland, professor emeritus in the Department of Sociology in the Krieger School, died on Nov. 27. He was 89.

Holland made a career out of studying the world of work, pioneering the theory that if people were aware of their personality type or combination of types - realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising or conventional - then they would be happier workers. His studies laid the foundation for the field of career counseling, according to Mark Presnell, director of the Career Center on the Homewood campus.

"Dr. Holland's theory and related research defined career counseling and interest assessment as practiced today," Presnell said. "His work is utilized daily by many career counselors in academia, government and private practice. As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Holland. In addition to being a brilliant academic, he was a warm individual who was willing to share his knowledge with new professionals."

Holland applied his "Theory of Vocational Personality Types" to both people and the workplace. The theory formed the basis for his renowned Self-Directed Search, an assessment designed to help people make educational and career decisions based on their interests. By answering yes or no to statements like "I understand the 'Big Bang' theory of the universe" and "I can refinish furniture or woodwork," he determined, workers could identify their strengths and weaknesses and size up the right career.

"The techniques are childlike they're so simple," Holland told The Gazette in 1997. "Some scientists think that because this is so easy to understand, it can't amount to anything. In science there is often a sales mission, though people don't like to admit that. In fact, anybody can get this message if they want it." Describing his own makeup of artistic, social and investigative components, Holland said, "I've got a relatively flat profile, actually. That makes you more versatile, complex and quite a bit confused."

Though he retired in 1980, Holland kept working on his research. In 1997, he revised a third edition of his 1959 book, Making Vocational Choices: A Theory of Vocational Personalities and Work Environments.

In its newsletter published last week, the National Association of Colleges and Employers noted that during his career, Holland earned many accolades, including the American Psychological Association's Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology, the APA's Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Knowledge and the Extended Research Award from the American Counseling Association.

Holland was born in Omaha, Neb., where in 1942 he earned his bachelor's degree in psychology, French and mathematics at the University of Omaha. He received his doctorate in psychology from the University of Minnesota. Holland arrived at Johns Hopkins in 1969 and served as a professor and director of the Center for Social Organization of Schools before his "quasi-retirement."

Holland is survived by his children, Kay Sindoni, Joan Holland and Robert Holland; his grandchildren, Bianca and Joey Sindoni and Ted, Eric and Lisa Samuels; and his brother and sister, Dick and Jean Holland. He was predeceased by his wife, Elsie, and his brother, Bill Holland. Services were held Dec. 13.




compiled by Robert C. Reardon, Ph.D., February 3, 2009

Note: Items in this bibliography were selected by the author from those in Holland's award citations, including special issues of journals and major publications (e.g., books and chapters) written by Holland and others. This is a sample of over 1,700 reference citations in the literature for RIASEC theory and related applications.  


Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions:  John L. Holland. (1995). American Psychologist, 50, 236-238.

Award for Distinguished Scientific Application of Psychology:  John L. Holland. (2008). American Psychologist, 63, 672-674.

Costa, P. T., Jr., McCrae, R. R., & Holland, J. L. (1984). Personality and vocational interests in an adult sample. Journal of Applied Psychology, 69, 390-400.

Day, S. X., & Rounds, J. (1998). Universality of vocational interest structure among racial and ethnic minorities. American Psychologist, 53, 728-736.

Gottfredson, G. (1977). Career stability and redirection in adulthood. Journal of Applied Psychology, 62, 436-445.

Gottfredson, G., & Holland, J. (1996). Dictionary of Holland occupational codes (3rd ed.). Odessa, FL: PAR.

Holland, J. L. (1996). Exploring careers with a typology: What we have learned and some new directions. American Psychologist, 51, 397-406.

Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (3rd  ed.). Odessa, FL:  Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.

Holland, J. L. (1958). A personality inventory employing occupational titles. Journal of Applied Psychology, 42, 336-332.

Holland, J. L. (1959). A theory of vocational choice. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 6, 35-45.

Holland, J. (1987).  Current status of Holland's theory of careers: Another perspective. Career Development Quarterly, 36, 24-30.

Holland, J. L. (1971). A theory-ridden, computerless, impersonal vocational guidance system. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 1, 167-175.

Holland, J. L. (1974).  Vocational guidance for everyone. Educational Researcher, 3(1), 9-15.

Holland, J. L., & Holland, J. (1999). Why interest inventories are also personality inventories. In M. Savickas & A. Spokane (Eds.), Vocational interests: Meaning, measurement, and counseling use (pp. 87-102). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.

Holland, J. L., Gottfredson, D., & Power, P. (1980). Some diagnostic scales for research in decision-making and personality:  Identity, information, and barriers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1191-1200.

Holland, J. L., & Gottfredson, G. (1975). Predicting value and psychological meaning of vocational aspirations. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 6, 349-363.

Holland, J. L., Gottfredson, G., & Baker, H. (1990). Validity of vocational aspirations and interest inventories:  Extended, replicated, and reinterpreted. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 37, 337-342.

Holland, J. L., Gottfredson, G., & Nafziger, D. (1975). Testing the validity of some theoretical signs of vocational decision-making ability. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 22, 411-422.

Holland, J., Johnston, J., & Asama, N. (1993). The Vocational Identity Scale:  A diagnostic and treatment tool. Journal of Career Assessment, 1, 1-12.

Holland, J. L., Powell, A., & Fritzsche, B. (1994). The Self-Directed Search: Professional user's guide. Odessa, FL: PAR.

Holland, J. L., Richards, J. M., Jr., & Lutz, S. W. (1967). The prediction of student accomplishment in college. Journal of Educational Psychology, 58, 343-355.

Hollifield, J. L. (1971). An extension of Holland's theory to its unnatural conclusion. Personnel & Guidance Journal, 50, 209-212.

Lackey, A. (1975).  An annotated bibliography for Holland's theory, the Self-Directed Search, and the Vocational Preference Inventory (1972-1975). JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 5, 352. (Ms. No. 1149)

Lumsden, J. A., Sampson, J. P., Jr., Reardon, R. C., Lenz, J. G., & Peterson, G. W. (2004). A comparison study of the paper and pencil, personal computer, and Internet versions of Holland's Self-Directed Search. Measurement & Evaluation in Counseling & Development, 37, 85-94.

Mount, M., & Muchinsky, P. (1978). Person-environment congruence and employee job satisfaction:  A test of Holland's theory. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 13, 84-100.

Reardon, R. C., Bullock, E. E., & Meyer, K. E. (2007). A Holland perspective on the U.S. workforce from 1960-2000. Career Development Quarterly, 55, 262-274.

Reardon, R., & Lenz, J. (1998). The Self-Directed Search and related Holland career materials: A practitioner's guide. Odessa, FL:  PAR.

Ruff, E. A., Reardon, R. C., & Bertoch, S. C. (2008, June). Holland's RIASEC theory and applications: Exploring a comprehensive bibliography. Career Convergence. Retrieved January 21, 2009, from ncda.org

Savickas, M., & Gottfredson, G. (Eds.) (1999). Holland's theory (1959-1999):  Forty years of research and application. Journal of Vocational Behavior (special issue), 55, 1-160.

Smart, J. C., Feldman, K. A., & Ethington, C. A. (2000). Academic disciplines: Holland's theory and the study of college students and faculty. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.

Spokane, A., & Holland, J. (1995). The Self-Directed Search: A family of self-guided career interventions. Journal of Career Assessment, 3, 373-390.

Spokane, A., Luchetta, E., & Richwine, M. (2002). Holland's theory of personalities and work environments. In D. Brown & Associates, Career choice and development (4th. ed., pp. 373-426). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Swan, K. C. (2005). Vocational interests (The Self-Directed Search) of female carpenters. Journal of Counseling Psyschology, 52, 655-657.

Tinsley, H. (Ed.). (1992). Special issue on Holland's theory. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 40, 109-267.

Weinrach, S. (1980). Have hexagon will travel: An interview with John Holland. Personnel & Guidance Journal, 58, 406-414.

Weinrach, S. (1996). The psychological and vocational interest patterns of Donald Super and John Holland. Journal of Counseling & Development, 75, 5-16.

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