A job search should always start with yourself. It doesn’t matter if you are entry, mid or end career level. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses, work styles and transferable skill set can help you to decide on the next step and market yourself in an honest and successful way.

In the world of career counseling there are a variety of tools for self-assessment. One of the most respected assessments is the Self-Directed Search which was Career Counseling guru John Holland’s Magnum Opus.

The Self-Directed Search organizes work styles into 6 major areas represented by the letters RIASEC (Realistic;Investigative;Artistic;Social;Enterprising;Conventional) but everyone gets a 2 or 3 letter “Holland Code” consisting of the 2 or 3 most dominant styles. There are over 700 potential combinations.

The Self-Directed Search is the assessment I most often recommend to my career counseling clients. Not only is it the most thorough self-assessment, the codes are also used in the US Department of Labor’s database of jobs – www.onetonline.org. This makes it really easy to match a work style to a job type.

Let me stress, however, that these codes are just the starting point. Career counseling is not a science it is a process. These codes are used to get the discussion started. It’s a way to get a client to look at themselves more objectively.

One of the most difficult things to do in a job search is finding a way to describe yourself in your resume and cover letters. How do you describe yourself? Once you have your Holland Code, you have the start of your self-narrative. You can apply what the codes tell you about yourself to your job descriptions – which should tell a story of your past successes in a way that is more compelling and personal. Knowing your code can help you understand why you are good at certain things. Maybe your Investigative style has helped you with problem solving at work and you can describe it. This will be a more convincing way to represent yourself. Take a look at the following 2 descriptions:

1               Used problem solving skills to develop a training manual for new employees.

2               Analyzed and investigated issues facing new employees and designed a training manual that effectively addressed and prevented future problems.

Hopefully, you agree with me that #2 is more compelling. By understanding the work styles behind your successes at work your can describe your processes in a way that demonstrates not just what you did but how you did it. You might recognize that you have good problem solving skills, but until you do a little self analysis you don’t necessarily recognize that the reason you are good at problem solving is because you have an investigative style that allows you to get to the heart of the issue.

Your cover letters can really tell a potential client why they should hire you if you use the same method and bring your work styles into play.


1.         I have great people skills and love working in customer service.

  1.      My strongest asset is my social nature, I excel in situations in which I deal with customers. My greatest job satisfaction comes from helping people. I have been happy and successful in customer service roles.

The narrative you are able to create to describe yourself to a potential employer is more persuasive when it explains why you are suited for certain roles.

If you are interested in finding your work style there are some free online Holland Code style assessments. Please go to the career counseling page on the Career Selections, Inc. website for free resources. www.careerselections.com