Spotlight on Parsons' trait and factor theory

Career consultant talking to a client

Use Parsons’ trait and factor theory to guide clients towards a fulfilling career.

A good career is about the right fit

Frank Parsons’ trait and factor theory is the fourth career theory to take the spotlight.

Parsons developed the idea that an ideal career is based on matching personal traits like skills, values and personality, with job factors, such as pay and work environment. The better the fit, the higher an individual’s job satisfaction and success. 

He’s also known as the father of vocational guidance counselling because he believed a successful career match required systematic help from experienced people.

It takes an organised approach to find the right career

Parsons’ theory introduced a methodical approach to career matching. Career advisers began to use structured sessions both to share their knowledge of the job market and help clients understand themselves better.

His theory also saw the rise of psychometric tools, such as Holland’s RIASEC personality test and’s Career Quest.

Adapt Parsons’ theory to clients’ circumstances

The trait and factor theory is still used in career advising, but the context it’s used in has changed. Assessment tools are just one of many strategies you can use when working with a client.

There’s also a greater emphasis on your role as a guide. You’re there to help people consider their options and make their own informed decisions.

And because of today’s complex job market, it’s important to help clients understand and adapt to change. People’s interests and circumstances may change throughout their career too, and you might help them look at alternative careers.

Try not to focus too much on the particular occupations that emerge from test results. Assessments are useful for confirmation of career direction, but they can never take into account the complexity of an individual and environment in which they have to work.

Bridget Clarke, career development consultant

Use Parsons’ approach to guide your clients towards a successful career

  1. Encourage clients to understand their skills, personality and values before researching job opportunities. 
  2. Take clients through suitable tests and tools, like Holland’s RIASEC, to help them gain self-knowledge. 
  3. Do a values and skills card sort to help clients understand what’s important to them and which skills they enjoy using.  
  4. Ask clients to tell you about what they liked and didn’t like about previous jobs.
  5. Get clients exploring job ideas that match their interests by using tools like Career Quest. 
  6. Show clients where to find job information on the website.
  7. Ensure clients have looked at a broad range of jobs related to their skills and help them narrow down their options. 
  8. Bring your knowledge of jobs, training providers and job market trends into the discussion. 
  9. Have clients test the reality of their decisions by asking others about the job market and chances of getting work, or using online information such as’s job opportunities information. 
  10. Direct clients back to their list of values and skills to check their job choices align with these. 

Find out more


  • ‘Frank Parsons’, accessed October 2019, (
  • Giobbi, M, ‘Characteristics of the Trait & Factor Theory’, 28 December 2018, (


Updated 30 Oct 2019