Person-Vocation Fit

The idea that sparked person-vocation (PV) fit came from Frank Parsons, one of the earliest figures in vocational psychology, who believed that people need a clear understanding of themselves and the environment in which they work to be happy in their jobs and careers.

PV fit is the relationship between individuals and their vocations or occupations. PV literature has generally reported positive correlations between PV congruence and individual measures of well-being such as job and career satisfaction, stability, and personal achievement. A number of theories either directly or indirectly have relevance for understanding PV fit. Some of the more prominent of these are detailed in the following text.

Holland’s Theory

John Holland’s theory of vocational personality types, first presented in 1959, is one of the most influential and researched theories in psychology. Holland proposed a typology that divided interests and work environments into six types. He organized the types spatially around the six points of a hexagon. The types are as follows:

  1. Realistic (likes hands-on tasks)
  2. Investigative (analyzes ideas)
  3. Artistic (creative and original)
  4. Social (helps people)
  5. Enterprising (takes on leadership role)
  6. Conventional (follows rules and orders)

The main premise of the theory is that individuals search for work environments that allow them to express their vocational interests and associate with other people with similar interests. Furthermore, the interaction between the person’s interests and the work environment’s requirements is likely to influence job satisfaction and tenure. For example, if Jane is interested in the artistic domain, then she would be most likely to find satisfaction in work that has a large creative component. If, however, Jane’s work environment is incongruent with her interests, say she is working in a conventional environment that does not allow her to do creative work, then she may express dissatisfaction with her job.

Holland based his theory of vocational types on empirical data derived from correlational and factor analytic studies. A plethora of research studies provide evidence of validity for the major tenets of Holland’s theory for Western societies. Recently, research on the evidence of validity for Holland’s theory for non-Western cultures has begun to appear in the literature. A benefit of Holland’s theory is the ease with which the propositions and constructs can be applied to a career counseling setting. For example, understanding how the six vocational types relate to one another helps a person to match interests with the work environment. Moreover, the scale development of all major interest inventories has been influenced by Holland’s theory, and instruments such as the Strong Interest Inventory and the Self-Directed Search include scales constructed to measure the six vocational types.

Theory of Work Adjustment

The theory of work adjustment (TWA) was developed at the University of Minnesota by Rene Dawis and Lloyd Lofquist. Like Holland’s theory, TWA proposes that a person will stay in a job longer if there is congruence, or correspondence in the TWA terminology, between the person and the work environment. Specifically, TWA postulates that if a person’s abilities, needs, and values match the analogous workplace environment components (i.e., ability requirements and reinforcers), then job satisfaction and satisfactoriness occur. Tenure, or longevity on the job, in turn, is a result of the individual’s satisfaction and satisfactoriness. In other words, the individual is satisfied if the work environment matches the person’s values and needs, and the environment deems the individual satisfactory if the person’s abilities or skills meet the requirements of the job. Values, an important aspect of the TWA, are grouped into six categories:

  1. Achievement
  2. Comfort
  3. Status
  4. Altruism
  5. Safety
  6. Autonomy

Ability also is an important consideration.

In some situations, an individual’s flexibility may help that person to compensate for a lack of correspondence. In other words, people who are flexible can tolerate noncorrespondence more than individuals who are inflexible.

The Theory of Work Adjustment has been applied in areas such as career counseling, career assessment, and selection. Several instruments, such as the Minnesota Importance Questionnaire (MIQ) and the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire (MSQ), have been developed to measure TWA variables.

Person-Environment Fit Theory of Stress

The person-environment (PE) fit theory of stress comes from the field of occupational health psychology. Robert Caplan, John French, and R. Van Harrison contributed to the PE fit theory of stress, which developed from the perspective of PE misfit instead of the PE correspondence view of TWA. According to the theory, PE misfit causes some disturbance in the person both psychologically and physically. The theory first makes a distinction between the person and the environment and their reciprocal relationship. Then, person and environment are divided into both objective and subjective components. Subjective refers to the perception of a person’s characteristics or environment. Objective refers to the personal characteristics and physical and social environment of an individual that can be observed or assessed by others.

The theory states that if PE misfit surfaces, two sets of outcomes may occur. Psychological, physical, and behavior strains compose the first set of outcomes. These negative consequences eventually lead to poor health and unresolved PE misfit. The second set of outcomes includes coping and defensive behaviors, which are used to resolve the PE misfit. Some coping strategies, used to find ways to balance the current misfit, come from objective PE fit. One such strategy is adapting to the environment. Defensive coping strategies, such as denial, provide a means for enhancing subjective PE fit. The PE fit theory of stress also suggests that outcomes of subjective misfit can be reduced by shrinking objective misfit, and vice versa.

Attraction-Selection-Attrition Model

In the field of industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology, Benjamin Schneider’s attraction-selection-attrition (ASA) model looks at organizational behavior from the person-oriented side. The model proposes that an organization is defined by the collective characteristics of the people who work there, which are hypothesized to develop through three steps:

  1. Employee attraction to the job
  2. Employer selection of employees
  3. Departure by employees who are not congruent with the work environment

In other words, when people are attracted to an organization by its characteristics, their personalities are implicitly congruent with the organization’s characteristics. Then, the organization chooses whom to hire based on whether the individual’s attributes match what the organization wants. If the individual does not fit well with others in the organization, this person is asked to leave. As a result, characteristics of the employees will match the objectives of the organization; and ideally, people within the organization will get along because they are similar to one another. Some researchers, however, argue that adding diversity to an organization may bring more creativity and better problem-solving skills to the workplace than does a homogeneous working population.

The ASA model’s main premise is that the attributes of people define the organization. Therefore, Schneider suggests that when changes need to occur in an organization, the process should begin with changes in personnel rather than with changes in the structure and processes of the organization itself.


  1. Brown, D., & Brooks, L. (Eds.). (2002). Career choice and development (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Cooper, C. L. (1998). Theories of organizational stress. New York: Oxford University Press.
  3. Schneider, B., Goldstein, H. W., & Smith, D. B. (1995). The ASA framework: An update. Personnel Psychology, 48.

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