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How to Use Trait and Factor Theory in Career Counseling

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Learning about the trait and factor theory helps you advise clients about career paths. The theory says that people are attracted to potential careers through personality factors, vocational interests, and skill acquisition. These factors develop a profile of measurable characteristics, which allow a comparison of traits to potential career paths. The most widely used application of the theory is the Holland Codes, developed by psychologist John Holland.

Evaluate the skills that best define your client’s career path. Ask your client to list 10 tasks or skills that he enjoys completing. Ask him to create a second list of task/skill proficiency. Compare the lists for areas they have in common. Skills that represent proficiency and high levels of satisfaction form the foundation of your client’s career path.

Work with your client to assess job environments that are a good fit. She may love working outdoors, or she may prefer a bricks-and-mortar office.

Classify your client according to a vocational type from the Holland Codes. The six vocational types are realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional.

Accumulate gathered traits and factors to determine a clear set of goals and objectives for your client. Help him set specific goals based upon this information. Make sure each goal is SMART -- specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

Arrange job-shadowing opportunities for your client. She will connect her traits and factors to a potential career by witnessing a job firsthand. Give her a checklist of desired work tasks along with her list of goals. That allows your client to evaluate the fit of potential jobs.


Leo Sevigny has been presenting, consulting and writing about personal, career and organizational development since 1998. He is the published coauthor of "The Personal Vision Workbook" (Delmar Learning). Sevigny holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Johnson State College, a Master of Science in education from Syracuse University and is employed as an Employee Development Specialist at a fortune-100 company.

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