Can This Code Determine Work Satisfaction?

Back in the Summer of 2018, I was in the middle of a work crisis that was so bad that went to see a therapist because I was afraid my mental health was at risk. The therapist I met with concluded that I was in the wrong job and we decided to work together to find my professional sweet spot. The idea was that my job was affecting me negatively and it was time to make a change.

This therapist introduced me to the Holland Codes, a system developed by Dr. Holland that identifies a person with three out of six personality types that can be matched to jobs. You can take an assessment that will tell you what you Holland Code based on your past experience. Here are the six Holland Codes:

  • Artistic – creative types, art, music
  • Realistic – concrete tasks, working with your hands
  • Investigative – problem solving, analysis
  • Social – working with people, social causes, social analysis
  • Enterprising – leadership roles, entrepreneurship, motivating others
  • Conventional – Conservative thinker, detail-oriented, prefers structured tasks

After I took the assessment, I learned that I was a ISE which stands for Investigative, Social, and Enterprising. This makes sense to me, the jobs that I have liked the most involved problem solving, working with people, and building a business.

It was really odd though when I researched jobs that fit the ISE code 100%. Not many jobs fit into the ISE category completely. I used O’Net Online to search out these jobs and found things like this: Community Health Worker, Dietitians and Nutritionists, Instructional Coordinators, Law Teachers, Judges, and Business Teachers.

None of these jobs resonated with me and I have to wonder how common it is to find jobs that match all three categories completely. Maybe I’m unhappy with my job because there are not many jobs that fit me. However, the site provided this note “Few occupations matched your chosen interest areas. You may want to return to your top two interest areas (Investigative, Social) and explore the occupations listed there.”

Maybe by selecting two out of my three traits would yield more possibilities. How would you choose this? For me, I know that Investigative is clearly my dominate trait so the code needs to include “I”. It’s hard to pick, but since the website suggested paring Investigative with Social I decided to search for IS jobs.

This list was much closer to the mark. Pretty much all of the jobs where either social scientists like Psychologists or medical experts like Anesthesiologists. This makes total sense, I was a Psychology major and clearly the existence of this article discussing a cognitive assessment suggests that I would fit into this type of field.

However, returning to school for a Ph.D or an MD at 46 seems to be a little much. But, I think this is an important piece of information even if it’s a little bit too late in coming. But, it does shed some light on the reasons why I have a love/hate relationship with the data analysis roles I’ve had. Sometimes a data analyst is a problem solver and social scientist while other times we are just checking boxes and reading technical manuals.

Returning to school or finding a job in a more social science-oriented workplace could be the solution.

What about IE though? When I searched IE I found jobs like: Commercial Pilot, Police Detectives, Market Research Analysts, Economists, DBA, and even Film Editors. Some of these do connect and are actually close to the IS jobs like Market Research and Economists.

While some of these jobs seem like they could be ok, none really stand out. Some of these were IT roles and it could be that an IT role in the right workplace would be a good experience. I do love coding, but in my experience people in IT don’t spend nearly as much time coding or building apps as you would expect.

I found the Holland Codes that I did not rate highly on to be more interesting and I think that my job dissatisfaction is tied more to jobs that had high Conventionality components to them. When I look back at what I really disliked about my last job it was the enormous attention put on nitpicky details, just matching methodologies done in years past, and fretting over rules to categorize items in lists.

Many of the data analysis jobs I’ve had have been IC and I think that is the problem with my career choices. This ultimately bothers me both with the work itself, but also the type of people who I work with.

I’ve also had data analysis jobs in bigger organizations where my role was much more IE. These are the roles were I would plan and develop tools and dashboards that solved problems for other analysts. It was not about looking up definitions or other sorts of admin things and much more like software development.

So this is a clue that I’m keeping in mind, but it’s hard because there is a whole spectrum of jobs that don’t fit as neatly into these Holland Codes as you might expect.

This suggests that I may simply need to job hop until I find something still in data that fits me more closely such as data visualization, dashboard tooling, or even data science.

What do you think the Holland Codes could do for you?


How useful was this exercise? For me, I do feel like the Holland Codes are a good data point. The insights about being a Psychologist and how IC jobs affect me was pretty valuable.

So I do recommend this assessment for you but with a few caveats. This is only really giving you hints about what type of work will put you in your sweet spot. The sweet spot is that feeling you get when you are so involved in your projects that time just seems to slip away. That’s how you know you are working on the right skills.

Work is more than simply being in your sweet spot. At the end of the day you will have financial obligations and there is the question of Purpose. What are you accomplishing? Does your company help or hurt our culture?

And some people, like myself, really value personal independence. After all, what brought me into a therapists office was not work satisfaction. The honest truth was that I had no control over my situation at work. My team was just arbitrarily disbanded and I was put into a situation against my will that I found unacceptable.

For me, my next career activity should be in my sweet spot but for me to truly happy I need to have independence.

What about you? Assuming you find your way to a career sweet spot, what do you need to feel totally fulfilled by your job?

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Matt is the author of five Apress books including Learn RStudio IDE, Quick, Effective, and Productive Data Science, Objective-C Recipes, Swift Quick Syntax Reference, Objective-C Quick Reference, and the upcoming Pro Data Visualization with R and JavaScript. He has over 20 years of experience in technology, psychometrics, and data analytics working in major higher education institutions such as The College Board and Educational Testing Service. He has earned a Master’s degree in Information Systems Management and a Bachelor’s degree in Quantitative Psychology.