Characteristics of the Trait & Factor Theory

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Career and guidance counselors use trait and factor theory to assist an individual in selecting a vocation. A number of different trait and factor theories exist, but all share one basic premise: the use of personal traits to match an individual with an occupation.


Traits are relatively stable and enduring patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. Traits are measurable in aptitude, achievement, personality and interests. A factor is a constellation, or pattern of traits, present in an individual's overall thinking, feeling and behaving. Through psychometric testing, vocational counselors can determine the occupation best suited to an individual's personality factors.

Unique Pattern of Traits

J. Holland developed an occupational classification system that categorizes personality traits into six occupational divisions: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional. Since the 1960s, Holland and others have found significant correlation between personality traits and occupations that fall within the six categories. In the 1990s, Holland expanded the trait patterns to consider life goals, values, self-beliefs and problem-solving styles.

Matching Traits and Factors With Vocations

The trait and factor tests for vocation typically take place on a computer. Psychometric tests include DISCOVER by the American College Testing Program, SIGI PLUS by the Educational Testing Service and the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory. These psychometric tests correlate traits and factors with vocations.

Better Job Fit Equals Better Success and Satisfaction

Frank Parsons, known as the father of the vocational guidance movement, initiated the trait and factor theory in 1908. The theory holds that the better the fit between the individual and the occupation, the better the satisfaction and success.

Environmental Context

An individual develops and functions within an environmental context such as family, culture and society. The occupational environment most conducive to an individual's trait structure will make the best occupational fit.


Although the trait and factor theory remains the most widely used approach by guidance and vocational counselors as of 2011, it has garnered significant criticism. Critics point out that the theory does not take into consideration changes in the individual and the environment over the individual's lifespan, gender differences, a cohesive underlying theory that links personality to vocation, multicultural influences, sexual orientation and its Western-centric assumption that choice of profession hinge on personal interests.