Flash back to high school where a well-intentioned guidance counselor, teacher, or parent asks, “What are you going to do?” It’s a difficult question and you may have answered, as many people do, “I don’t know.” Their next question is, “Well, what are you interested in?” They want to direct you into a work or educational option that leads to a fulfilling life, but it’s another open-ended, difficult question. Yes, you want your work to be interesting, but how do you define what interesting work looks like?

Defining your interests

Creating a personal brand requires a solid understanding of who you are and what you’re interested in. Have you taken the time to define your interests?

Personal Interests

Interests are interesting… hmm…. because you can conceptualize them in so many different ways. Just about any subject or activity could end up in a list of interests, from growing apples, to making pottery, to watching sports on TV. Unfortunately, making a list of general interests may not be the most helpful way to define and refine your personal brand.

There are creative artisans or clever entrepreneurs who turn a personal interest into an income-generating venture. Consider if this might be an option for you. Assess your hobbies and personal interests for ways to generate income. On the positive side, you could end up doing what you love all day. On the negative side, you may hate what you used to love because now it’s not a hobby; you’re forced to produce a product on a deadline. Your spare time interests are not always the best clues to your brand.

In a similar way, you can consider what you liked or found easy to do in school. Perhaps you found Math a snap or maybe English was your thing. Obviously accountants and engineers use mathematical skills and writers use English skills. There is often a connection between what you like at school and your career interests. There are many sites, like this one at California State University, linking educational majors with career options.

Before you go too far on this train of thought, it’s also important to separate interests from what you are good at. You can’t assume that because something is easy it’s interesting. Many parents (and counselors) promote career paths aligning to subjects a person does well in at school. Although these are clues to interests, doing well in a subject doesn’t always mean it’s linked to the career path you should follow.

Career Interests

Another way to define interests, when building your brand, is by using a tool developed by John Holland. In the 1970s, Dr. Holland categorized people and work environments into six major career interest themes. This systematic approach makes it easy to identify your career interests and link them to the world of work. Using this tool is a great first step for matching your interests to your brand and career path.

As you read the following descriptions of the six interest themes, identify your first, second, and third most important theme.

Your interest themes

Realistic (R) deals with things, nature, or other tangible materials. This work is practical, physical, and usually outside. Realistic work is hands-on, using tools, machinery, or mechanics to construct or repair things.

Investigative (I) deals with ideas and things. Investigative work is independent and includes mentally challenging problems, creating, analyzing, or using knowledge and abstract ideas. Investigating, explaining, and predicting are common activities in this theme.

Artistic (A) deals with ideas and people. This work produces original ideas or products. Artistic work is unstructured, unconventional, individualistic, and uses self-expression to imagine and create patterns and designs.

Social (S) deals with the humanitarian efforts of people. This work involves interpersonal communications to help, support, heal, or nurture others. Work in the social theme is collaborative and cooperative.

Enterprising (E) deals with data and people. This work uses negotiation and persuasion to influence, lead, and pursue financial or material objectives. Enterprising work entails an entrepreneurial approach to taking risks and starting up projects.

Conventional (C) deals with data and things. This work involves conservative, orderly, and precise attention to and organizing of details. Conventional work requires established routines and following set procedures.

Occupations are coded using one, two, or three of these interest theme letters, so you can use the codes to match your interests to occupational choices. The O*NET is a large occupational database where you can search for an occupation using the interest codes. Choose your three-letter code to see the occupations that match your interests or find the interest code for any occupation by using the search box at the top right corner of the page.

If you find career interests a helpful tool for identifying your personal brand, I recommend you take a validated inventory such as the Self-Directed Search developed by Dr. Holland or the Strong Interest Inventory®.

Identifying your three-letter interest code helps build your brand and refine your career direction. Values, personality type, skills, lifestyle, constraints, and life stage are the other personal characteristics to consider when creating and refining your brand. I’ll discuss these in future blogs.


Donna Dunning, PhD, is a psychologist, certified teacher, member of the MBTI ® International Training Faculty, and director of Dunning Consulting Inc. She is the author of more than a dozen publications, including her two newest books, 10 Career Essentials and What’s Your Type of Career? 2nd edition. Donna’s guiding principle is: Know yourself, respect differences, learn and grow. Follow Donna on Twitter and Facebook and visit her website.