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Planning your career

Matching theories

Understanding and applying some career theory to your own situation may help to give you a fresh perspective on your career.

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'Matching theories' (also referred to sometimes as 'person-environment' theories) are the most longstanding theoretical approach to career. 'Matching' is based on the belief that individuals have particular attributes, such as skills, motivations and personal attitudes, and that particular careers also require people with specific attributes. This approach aims to "match" the person to the career.

This approach stresses the need for reliable data analysing the skill and interest requirements of particular jobs, and also of the individual's capability and competence. Hence the development of aptitude tests, skills inventories and other instruments designed to build up an accurate picture of a person's qualities and motivations.

The purpose of such data is to identify occupations where there is a good fit between the individual and that occupation. A contemporary example of this decision making approach is the computer based guidance tool, Prospects Planner.

Matching theorists believe that people are more likely to be successful in a career field that is reflective of their personality. John Holland, for instance, developed a theory of six different personality types and work environments (see diagram) and believed that the closer the match of personality to work environment type, the greater the job satisfaction was likely to be [1].

Many matching theorists acknowledge that it is rare to find a 'perfect' match. Most people can 'fit' a range of jobs satisfactorily, though they are likely to do better at some than others. Similarly, occupations are undertaken by people with a range of skill sets and personalities. It is not the case that you will be suited to just one type of job.

A RIASEC octogon

Employers often use matching approaches explicitly in recruitment. They identify the competences, skills and personal behaviours that they believe are appropriate to their company and the job role, and assess and select candidates according to their congruence to these. Those seeking work are often aware of this. There is evidence that some jobseekers present an image of themselves that fits the criteria set by employers whether or not that is really their true self [2].

Practical implications of matching theories

Questions to consider

Further information - References


  • Kidd, M. J. (2006). Understanding Career Counseling, London: Sage. Chapter One "Theories of career decision making" covers Person-Environment (matching) theories.