The Role of Personality in Career Decisions
This month, I’m talking about using critical information about yourself in your career choice. Last week, I talked about Motivated Skills; this week I want to talk about personality.
I am a Master Practitioner of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the world’s most widely used personality assessment. It is a psychological tool designed to reveal your personality preferences…the ones you were born with.
Here’s the analogy I use with my clients: I have them write their name. Whether they use their right hand as most people do or their left hand (like me), we identify that the hand they wrote their name with is their preferred hand.
That hand is their innate preference.
Next, I have them write their name with their non-preferred hand. We talk about the fact that it was a much more conscious task with that hand…and that the results weren’t nearly as good.
The next step is to have them imagine their preferred arm is broken and it’s in a cast for six months. During that time, they are forced to write exclusively with their non-preferred hand.
They will no doubt get better at using that hand during those six months, right?
I then have them imagine that a co-worker exclaims, “Oh my gosh…your arm is broken! Is that the arm you write with?”
Of course, their answer is “Yes!” Even though they are using their non-preferred hand exclusively, it doesn’t change the fact that that isn’t their preferred hand.
And, as soon as that cast comes off, they are back to their preferred hand.
The MBTI identifies your innate preferences…the way you prefer to handle a situation or task if given the option.
What’s the Flip Side?
Here’s the thing: All of us must access the non-preferred side of our personality on a daily basis.
The Introvert who has to go to a two-day team building event with coworkers and finds it incredibly draining.
The Perceiver whose boss expects her to stick to a tight schedule.
The Thinker whose coworker comes to him very emotional, with a personal problem.
The Intuitive whose project assignment requires her to complete her tasks in a very sequential manner.
What Does This Have to Do With Career Choice?
Career choice, and the role of your personality in that choice, is a macro- and micro-level decision.
On a macro level, you are choosing a career field that meshes with your personality.
On a micro level, you are evaluating job opportunities based on those same criteria. Because sometimes what holds true for the career as a whole doesn’t hold true for a specific position.
Here’s an example: I once worked with a YMCA Assistant Director who was underperforming at work. Turned out (much to everyone’s surprise) that he was an Extravert. You would think a job at the YMCA – specifically organizing the recreational sporting events for children – would be a great fit for an Extravert. And you would be right.
However, at this YMCA the Assistant Director’s office was at the end of a dark hallway – isolated from the patrons coming in and out, and from the other employees. He hated that aspect of his job.
So what are the preference pairs measured by the MBTI?
EXTRAVERSION – INTROVERSION
This pair has to do with where you get your energy. Extraverts get their energy from the people and activities going on around them; Introverts get their energy from being by themselves.
Extraverts are generally comfortable meeting, and speaking with, strangers; Introverts would rather not approach strangers and find it difficult to start a conversation with someone they don’t know.
Extraverts tend to be “open books,” meaning they freely share what they are thinking with those around them. Introverts are much more closed about what they share until they know someone well and feel they can trust them.
SENSING – INTUITION
This pair has to do with how you prefer to take in information. Sensers take in information by way of the 5 senses – sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell. Intuitives take in information by way of their sixth sense – their intuition.
Sensers prefer to deal with concrete information that has practical value; Intuitives prefer to deal with abstract ideas and concepts that involve creativity and imagination.
Sensers tend to trust what has worked in the past and aren’t likely to want to make changes to something if it’s working. Intuitives want new and different and will make changes to things even if they are working.
THINKING – FEELING
The Thinking-Feeling pair addresses your preference for making decisions. Thinkers make decisions using cool, impersonal logic – they make their decisions with their head. Feelers make decisions using sympathy and values – they make their decisions with their heart.
Thinkers tend to stick to established rules and regulations – treating everyone fairly by treating everyone the same. Feelers tend to consider the circumstances – treating everyone fairly by treating everyone differently.
Thinkers will be brutally honest in evaluating work performance and can come across as harsh because they are telling you the unvarnished truth. Feelers will consider your feelings in giving you feedback; while the interaction may be more pleasant, you may not be given the information you need to improve.
JUDGING – PERCEIVING
Judging-Perceiving addresses how you organize your life. Judgers love planners, calendars, and systems that create a superstructure of organization in their lives. Perceivers want the freedom to do what they feel like doing at any given time.
Judgers avoid the pressure of last-minute work, whereas Perceivers do their best work at the last minute.
Judgers want structure in their work and prefer jobs with schedules they can control. Perceivers like jobs that are unstructured, and they are at their best when responding to emergencies or changes in plan.
Why Does This Matter?
A lot of research has gone into career fields most frequently chosen by different personality types. I want to lay out just a couple of examples for you:
When you combine the four letters of your preference, you get a four-letter code that says volumes about your preferences.
Here’s a brief description of an ENFJ:
Imaginative HARMONIZERS; at their best when winning people’s cooperation with insight into their needs. They value:
- Having a wide circle of relationships
- Having a positive, enthusiastic view of life
- Seeing subtleties in people and interactions
- Understanding others’ needs and concerns
- An active, energizing social life
- Seeing possibilities in people
- Follow-through on important projects
- Working on several projects at once
- Caring and imaginative problem solving
- Maintaining relationships to make things work
- Shaping organizations to better serve members
- Caring, compassion, and tactfulness
What careers do you think ENFJs most frequently go into? Fields that involve helping others achieve their goals – looking toward the future to become what they want to become. Using their creativity is essential to ENFJ’s job satisfaction.
-Public Relations Manager
-High School Teacher
-Human Resources Manager
-Marriage & Family Therapist
Here’s a brief description of ISTP:
Practical ANALYZERS; at their best when analyzing experience to find logic and underlying properties. They value:
- A reserved outer life
- Having a concrete, present-day view of life
- Clear, exact facts
- Looking for efficient, least-effort solutions
- Knowing how mechanical things work
- Pursuing interests in depth
- Freedom from organizational constraints
- Independence and self-management
- Spontaneous hands-on learning
- Having useful technical expertise
- Critical analysis as a means to improve things
- Solving problems with detached, sequential analysis
What fields do ISTPs pursue? Those that allow for freedom…of schedule, or daily work…or the setting in which the work is done. Variety is very important to ISTPs. They also like work that is hands-on and practical.
Using personality information in your career choice allows you to align your preferences with your work. Think of my analogy: if you don’t do this, it will be like writing all day, every day, with your non-preferred hand. It will be tiring, less fulfilling…and you won’t excel to the degree you could.
A note about taking the MBTI: There are lots of online “knock offs” of the assessment. If you want to take the actual MBTI, I recommend doing so with a qualified professional who will interpret your results with you. Otherwise, you won’t know what to make of the information contained in your results. The MBTI is a psychological assessment, and as such, and only be administered and interpreted by a qualified professional or Master Practitioner like myself.