By Dr. A.J. Drenth
INFPs do not want just any job or career. They want to do something they love, something they are passionate about. They want to use their creative gifts and abilities in ways that bring personal fulfillment and contribute to the greater good. The quest for a suitable career choice cannot be divorced from INFPs’ search for identity. Before settling on a career path, INFPs want to know who they are and where they fit into the fabric of the working world. They want a career that capitalizes on their unique abilities, coincides with their values, and ignites their drives and passions. Because most jobs fail to consistently inspire them, INFPs often end up feeling restless and dissatisfied. Even those with a college degree may struggle to find long-term career satisfaction.
INFPs’ values are highly personal and individualistic. Like ISFPs, their reliance on Introverted Feeling (Fi) can make it difficult for them to work for organizations whose values diverge markedly from their own.While INFPs may have a slight edge over INTP career-seekers in finding satisfaction within traditional career paths, both types are interested in pursuing their own interests wherever they lead. If their interests happen to coincide with the features of an existing career path, INFPs should consider themselves fortunate. If not, they are faced with the tall task of pursuing their interests on a largely independent basis. This may lead some INFPs to assume the role of “starving artist” or entrepreneur.
INFP college students may experience similar difficulties in identifying a major which fits their skills, interests, and abilities. Part of this stems from the shifting nature of INFPs’ interests. Like ENFP career-seekers, they can grow restless and impatient when performing the same job or studying the same subject extensively. Fortunately, as Introverts, INFPs can gradually narrow their interests once they feel they have sufficiently explored all their options. The problem is this can take quite a few years, even well into their thirties, for their niche interest to emerge with sufficient clarity. Hence, selecting the “right” college major right out of high school can be a dubious enterprise for INFPs.
INFPs may feel stunted by any number of perceived barriers. Like INFJ career-seekers, they may be afraid of taking risks. Or, they may feel they don’t know themselves or their skills and interests well enough. Some may look at their track record of unfinished projects and wonder if they will ever find what they are seeking. It is important for INFPs to recognize that this is all very normal. The fact is that they need to experiment and experience life in order to find themselves. All of their experiences and lessons learned can be internalized and integrated as part of their career development.
INFP Holland Career Code/Interests
To orient our discussion of INFP career interests, we will now draw on six interest themes described by John Holland and the Strong Interest Inventory. The Holland career interest themes include the Realistic (R), Investigative (I), Artistic (A), Social (S), Enterprising (E), and Conventional (C) domains, or “RIASEC” for short. After identifying one’s preferred interest domains, these letters can be combined in a way similar to the personality types to form a multi-letter “Holland Career Code” (e.g., IAS, RAI). This can help individuals identify their best career match. This can help individuals identify their best career choice.
Those with Realistic interests enjoy physical, hands-on work. They are often visual or kinesthetic learners who may prefer working with “things” more than people. It is therefore unsurprising that this interest domain is correlated with a preference for Myers-Briggs Thinking over Feeling. Research suggests that S, T, and P types are somewhat more drawn to Realistic work than are N, F, and J types.
As P-types, INFPs are more inclined toward Realistic work than say INFJs are. INFPs love being outdoors and immersing themselves in nature. INFPs may also take up Artistic and/or Investigative work that involves a Realistic element. They may, for instance, pursue careers in forestry, environmental science, veterinary medicine, or landscape architecture.
The Investigative domain incorporates analytic, scientific, and academic interests. Investigative types enjoy working with ideas, theories, facts, or data. As with the Realistic domain, Thinkers outnumber Feelers when it comes to Investigative interests. Those interested in investigating “things” will generally have a Holland code of IR (Investigative-Realistic). They may study mathematics, the physical sciences, technology, engineering, computer science, etc. As we will soon discuss, INFPs may find themselves drawn to these Thinking-oriented careers because of their inferior Te function.
INFPs with Investigative-Social interests often study the social sciences (history, economics, psychology, sociology, geography, anthropology, archeology, political science, etc.). Those with IA interests are also intrigued by psychological or sociocultural issues and may study the liberal arts, theology, law, or take up non-fiction writing.
The Artistic domain strongly correlates with a preference for N, as well as, to a somewhat lesser extent, F and P. It captures those with unconventional and creative interests, including actors, painters, dancers, poets, sculptors, writers, designers, and the like. Unsurprisingly, Artistic types are highly represented among students studying the arts and humanities. Those interested in library science also score highly in this interest area. Research suggests that INFPs prefer and feel most confident in Artistic occupations, careers that allow them to directly utilize their Fi-Ne combination in creative and meaningful ways. Those interested in the arts may be drawn to music, theater/drama, visual arts, healing arts, graphic design, interior design, and the like. Others may opt to study creative writing, poetry, or literature, perhaps even at the graduate level. INFPs can make excellent poets and creative writers.
Those in the Social interest domain enjoy working with people. Social interests are common among teachers, healthcare workers, clergy, trainers, and caretakers, to name a few. The Social domain relates to preferences for Extraversion and Feeling.
INFP Socials often gravitate toward healthcare, ministry, counseling, or psychology. Since they tend to be more perceptive than directive, INFPs are generally more at home with one-to-one interaction than teaching large groups. If they do opt to teach, they usually prefer the role of facilitator to that of the lecturer. Because teaching requires a hefty amount of extraverted Judging, INFPs may find it an exhausting affair.
INFPs possessing both Social and Realistic interests, may choose to study nursing (SRI), physical (SIR) or occupational (SIR) therapy, or holistic health careers such as massage (RAS), yoga (RAS), acupuncture (RAS), etc. While these can all be decent career matches, some INFP Socials may find them too concrete or practical (i.e., too “Realistic”), lacking the abstract and creative elements they crave. Such individuals may be better suited for mental health careers such as psychology (SIA), counseling (SAI), or psychiatry (IASR).
Social INFPs, like ENFPs, may also be drawn to various types of humanitarian or non-profit work. They often enjoy venues such as the Peace Corps, which furnish them with opportunities to travel and work toward causes they care about; they may even “find themselves” in the process. INFPs also gravitate toward organizations focused on social justice, environmental protection, animal rights, etc.
The Enterprising domain entails the promotion of products, ideas, or services. Such individuals tend to be persuasive, assertive, and enjoy competitive environments. Typical Enterprising careers include sales and marketing, business and management, law, politics, journalism, insurance, and stock trading. Enterprising individuals often prefer Extraversion.
Though INFPs often avoid many of these careers, some may exhibit some degree of “Enterprising” interests. If endowed with sufficient ambition and follow-through, these types can do well with entrepreneurial endeavors. Entrepreneurship grants them the autonomy and freedom they desperately desire, unfettered by the strictures of organizational life. For INFPs who opt to start their own business, many will select the non-profit route. Others will use entrepreneurship as a means of marketing their artistic creations or their services in the healing arts.
Individuals with Conventional interests enjoy administrative work (Yes, some people do enjoy administrative tasks:)). They do well with manipulating data and are organized and detail-oriented. Those in this domain often prefer Sensing, Thinking, and/or Judging. While INFPs can use their Si and Te to competently perform Conventional work, they often fail to find deep satisfaction in these sorts of careers.
While by no means a comprehensive career list, INFPs may find the following job/career choices or college majors worth exploring:
- Landscape architecture
- Forestry, parks, recreation; park ranger
- Environmental scientist, geology
- Social sciences (sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science, geography, history)
- Librarian, library sciences
- Investigative journalist, reporter, editor
- Physician: psychiatry
- Philosopher, theologian, linguist
- Humanities/liberal arts
- Graphic/website design
- Painter, sculptor
- Photography, photographer
- Poet, creative writer, novelist
- Author, self/Indy publishing, blogger
- Playwright, dramatist, screen writer
- College professor
- Physical or occupational therapist
- Yoga instructor, homeopathy, naturopathy, music therapy
- Nurse, nurse practitioner
- Mediator, peace studies
- Psychologist, clinical or counseling
- Counselor, social worker
- Speech language pathologist
The Role of the Inferior Function in INFP Careers
As is true for other types, the role of the inferior function is often overlooked in INFPs’ career pursuits. While one might expect INFPs to pursue characteristically feeling (F)-oriented careers (e.g., working with people, the arts, non-profit work, etc.), many INFPs, because of their inferior function, Extraverted Thinking (Te), are drawn to thinking (T)-oriented careers such as science, mathematics, computers, law, engineering, economics, etc.
INFP careers seekers often experience an inner struggle between their conscious versus less conscious functions. While their top two functions, Fi and Ne, are clearly more “right-brained” (i.e., concerned with empathy, the arts and humanities, etc.), their less conscious functions (Te and Si) beckon them to pursue left-brained enterprises involving facts, data, and rational systems or procedures.
So which route should INFPs take? Are they better off following their strengths (Fi-Ne), or should they pursue a path that allows them to explore and develop their weaker functions (Si-Te)? While selecting the former might seem the obvious choice, the mystique and allure of their inferior T function can be difficult to ignore. Te can be strong motivator for INFPs. Even if it isn’t their greatest strength, it may comprise their greatest interest.
INFPs who choose to pursue T careers often encounter a couple of difficulties. First, T careers can place heavy demands on their inferior function. While such demands may be welcomed in small amounts, too many demands can prove overly stressful and ultimately exhausting for INFPs. Second, INFPs may find that they miss the Fi or Ne element in certain T careers. They may, for instance, find themselves longing for work where they can help people more directly (Fi) or where they can enjoy more creative freedom (Fi-Ne).
Hence, what INFPs are ultimately seeking is the optimum balance among their F, N, and T functions. Many INFPs find this balance in the arts. Music and song writing / production, for instance, can effectively integrate Fi feeling, Ne creativity, and Te technical knowledge. Writing, be it fiction or non-fiction, is another effective way for INFPs to achieve this integration. Teaching or healthcare careers, such as occupational therapy, can also be fairly integrative, but may require too much extraversion or limit INFPs’ creative autonomy.
INFPs who have yet to develop their auxiliary Ne may focus more on simply balancing their Fi and Te, which seems to be the case for INFPs taking up work as managers. The same goes for INFPs who opt to study medicine, which combines their interest in helping others (Fi) with their interests in T knowledge. Unfortunately, mainstream medicine, because of its heavy time demands and non-holistic approach, often proves unsatisfying for INFPs.
As is true for other NP types, some INPs may need to accept the possibility that there may not be an ideal pre-existing career path or college major for them. Their interests may simply be too idiosyncratic to fit squarely into any predefined mold. This realization may lead some INFPs to settle for working a “day job” while simultaneously pursuing their true passion on the side. They hope that, over time, their passion will become sufficiently profitable for them to pursue it full time.
INFPs who are sufficiently shrewd and ambitious may find entrepreneurship a viable career option. Entrepreneurial INFPs may try their hand with a variety of different art forms or business ideas: graphic and web design, freelance writing or journalism, photography, blogging, music, self-publishing, etc. Indeed, several of our INFP blog contributors have reported good success and career satisfaction as web-based artists or freelancers.