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-searchers, 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 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 shortly discuss, INFPs attracted to these fields need to be careful they are not allowing their less conscious inferior function (Te) to make career decisions for them.
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, or take up non-fiction writing. While sometimes attractive to INFPs’ inferior Te function, law is typically not recommended for this type.
The Artistic domain strongly correlates with Myers-Briggs Intuition, as well as, to a lesser extent, Feeling and Perceiving. 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 tend to fall under this interest domain.
Research suggests 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 will find them too concrete or practical (i.e., too “Realistic”), lacking the abstract and creative elements they crave. These types 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 will rarely find long-term 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, theology, 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
- Life coach
- Physical or occupational therapist
- Yoga instructor, homeopathy
- Nurse, nurse practitioner
- Mediator, diplomat, peace studies
- Psychologist, clinical or counseling
- Counselor, social worker
- Speech language pathologist
The Role of the Inferior Function in INFP Careers
There seems to be a fair amount of irrationality at play in career decision-making, with people commonly choosing careers poorly suited for their personality type. The reason for this, as I’ve explained elsewhere, is that such decisions are being largely dictated, even if unconsciously, by the inferior function. Because the psyche desires balance and wholeness, the inferior can have an equally strong pull as the dominant when it comes to decision-making. This can lead Feeling types, including INFPs, to be drawn to Thinking-oriented careers.
More specifically, INFPs’ career choices are commonly influenced by their inferior function, Extraverted Thinking (Te). They can be disposed to choosing careers according to the wishes and desires of their Te, as well as their tertiary Si, rather than those of the top two functions (Fi & Ne). In doing so, they may find themselves in careers typically heavily populated by TJs.
Te is the most “left-brained” of all the functions. It rallies for external order, control, and predictability. Although INFPs may at times consciously reject Te methods and systems, they are unconsciously drawn to facts, systems, and standardized ways of operating. More generally, their inferior Te can be seen as questing for “objective” truth. This explains why INFPs might select careers that are ideally suited for Thinking types (e.g., computer science, mathematics, finance, the “hard” sciences, engineering, etc.). Although INFPs may perform competently in such fields, most will end up dissatisfied because the work either fails to capitalize on their true strengths or forces them to rely too heavily on their inferior function.
The struggle between the dominant and inferior functions with regard to career decision-making involves a battle between conscious and less conscious values. The inferior beckons INFPs to take up left-brained pursuits (i.e., objective systematizing), while their top two functions are clearly more right-brained (i.e., concerned with empathy, the arts and humanities, etc.). So which of these should INFPs heed when making career decisions?
By definition, the top two functions of a given type are better developed than the lower two. If this were not the case, the individual should be typed an STJ rather than an INFP. Consequently, it is not only in the individual’s best interest, but also society’s best interest, that each type chooses work that capitalizes on the strengths and values of their top two functions. So despite any temptation INFPs might experience to pursue Thinking-related careers, jobs, or majors, they are better off selecting Feeling-related endeavors. Or, for those who have already trained in a Thinking-oriented field, it is usually possible to find creative ways of using Fi and Ne that still incorporate T-related knowledge. For instance, an INFP scientist may opt to write novels incorporating scientific themes.
Final Thoughts on INFP Careers
INFPs may be slow 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. So rather than force-fitting themselves into a particular career or college major, some may opt to “settle” when it comes to a day job while pursuing their true passion on the side. The structure of having a day job may actually help INFPs be more disciplined in setting aside time to explore their creative passions.
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. (see my post, Keys to Starting a Blog or Web Business). Others may opt to start their own holistic health or counseling center. Others may sell and distribute their artistic creations via online venues such as Etsy. Several of my INFP blog contributors have reported good success and career satisfaction as web-based entrepreneurs.
One type of entrepreneurship that seems particularly appropriate for INFPs is the “slash career.” They may, for example, view themselves as “author/ lecturer / expert/ consultant.” Slash careers may be particularly appealing to P types, who are known for their versatility and adaptability.
Lastly, I wished to briefly discuss the issue of whether INFPs are well-suited to work as doctors or physicians. Medicine can be attractive to INFPs since it combines their interest in helping others (Fi) with their interests in facts and logic (Te). Despite this, mainstream modern medicine will likely seem too impersonal, reductionistic, and drug-focused to many INFPs. While I am slow to recommend any field of medicine to INFPs, those who take this route may find satisfaction working overseas, in under-served areas, or in public health/non-profit clinics.
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