Edward Kellog Strong, Jr. originally developed the test in 1927 with the idea that people who enjoy similar activities and experiences would likely enjoy similar professions. Since 2004, the Strong has been revised to incorporate the Holland Codes typology devised by John L. Holland, delineating professions into six different themes: artistic, social, enterprising, investigative, realistic, and conventional.
I was first introduced to the Strong when I was finishing my graduate degree and feeling pretty uncertain as to where I should be aiming career-wise. But rather than spitting out a specific answer to the question, “What should I be when I grow up?” (I think it recommended becoming a librarian, which…sure), the Strong gave me a broader way to organize possible careers, and evaluate my compatibility with them.
For the record, I am primarily artistic and social, with a healthy dose of enterprising. And this aligns well with my job, which gives me extensive opportunity to write and think about how to use language for the purpose of expressing your most authentic self. My job is also primarily about one-on-one interactions, and I spend the majority of my time talking individually to students and parents and colleagues about the enormous project that is going to college. And perfectly for me, I get to run my own business and engage a broad range of people on how to successfully navigate the college application process.
As a way to introduce this concept, I wanted to provide some examples of When I Was 17 interviewees who represent each theme. But as you’ll see, many jobs have multiple aspects to them. And the key to professional satisfaction may not be solely about finding that magical soul mate career, but in adapting a job to your strengths and priorities.
As a working actor, Scott Reardon is a natural example for the artistic theme. Slightly less obvious is Kari Waldrep, who turned her fine arts degree into a successful career in UX design.
Social careers are often referred to as helping professions. Marriage and family therapists, like Patricia Robinson, technically fall into this category, but when I asked her about it, she felt much more compelled by the investigative aspects of her job. Social themes are more clearly represented by Jessica Fradono’s first career in human resources.
Enterprising careers are fundamentally about persuading people, which could mean starting your own business, like Sari Abdo. Or working behind the scenes on a political campaign, like Jake Levy-Pollans. Or working on a team of lawyers for a multinational corporation, like Katie Chambers.
The first person who comes to mind when I think about investigative careers is Brittany Dutra, an applied math major and software engineer. But it would be narrow-minded to only see math and science careers as investigative. It can also include market research and data visualization like what Julia Schroth did at Upworthy. Or a higher ed technology analyst like Joyce Kim.
Realistic sounds like exactly the kind of career your parents want you to get, but it actually has nothing to do with being practical. Rather, realistic careers are about things more than ideas, and concrete steps rather than abstractions, like Kyle Eroche’s work in audio engineering, and Josh Fisher’s first career in mechanical design and 3D drafting.
Ironically, the people I know who hold conventional careers are among the least conventional people I’ve met. Take for example, Rachel Rife, who works as a project manager for a solar solutions company, but takes her conference calls on the side of a Uruguayan road or outside a café in Prague. Or Cecilia Mason whose job as a fiduciary might be conventional, but whose trailblazing energy that built her thriving business is anything but.