By Dr. A.J. Drenth
INTJs seek a career that utilizes their unique gifts and abilities. Settling for mediocre or mundane work is not an option for this type. Fortunately, INTJ career-seekers have a number of good career choices available to them. They may take up work as scientists, engineers, scholars, computer systems analysts, attorneys, architects, etc.
INTJs tend to enjoy the role of change agent or reformer. Their Introverted Intuition (Ni) is adept at formulating grand visions, while their Extraverted Thinking (Te) serves up plans for implementation. Their drive for change and reform may find an outlet in any number of fields—from politics, to business, to education, and so on.
Like like ISTJ and ENTJ career-seekers, INTJs can generally better tolerate structured work environments (particularly those that are well-designed and effectively managed) than INTPs can. Their willingness to function as part of a larger system opens vocational doors that seem forever closed to INTP career-seekers. Due to their ability to work with and within Te systems, INTJs can carve out a niche for themselves in a variety of settings, capitalizing on their analytic, strategic, and visionary powers. In organizations where promotions are based on competence rather than on politics or popularity, INTJs can quickly make their way to the top. They can be easily frustrated by situations where organizational politics or red tape stifle opportunities for real change or advancement.
Like INFJs, the disparity between their idealistic visions and the recalcitrance of reality is one of INTJs’ greatest frustrations. This may be one reason why INTJs may opt for academic or creative careers, allowing them to focus on abstract pursuits sans the difficulties of real-world implementation. In fact, INTJ is by far the most common personality type among university faculty. Academic positions can be satisfying to INTJs because, unlike INPs, they don’t mind focusing their interests on a relatively small chunk of reality. This is understandable in light of their functional stack, which begins with an Ni intuition and converges toward exacting Te analysis.
INTJ Holland Career Code/Interests
To orient our discussion of INTJ 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, collectively known as “RIASEC.” 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 Code” (e.g., IAS, RAI). This can help individuals identify their best career match.
Individuals with Realistic interests enjoy physical, hands-on work, often involving machines (e.g., repairing vehicles, tinkering with computers, construction). They may take up careers such as computer science, engineering, the physical sciences, architecture, or construction. They are often visual or kinesthetic learners, commonly excelling in what is known as spatial visualization. Those with strong spatial-visualization abilities often do well with schematic charts and diagrams, as well as envisioning and mentally rotating three-dimensional objects. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, INTJs’ dominant function, Ni, often has a strong visual component. This may make INTJs especially gifted when it comes to work involving visuospatial intelligence. Because of the holistic and visual nature of Ni, INTJs often exceil in higher-level mathematics that require more theory, visualization, and imagination.
Realistics enjoy 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. While rarely interested in exclusively Realistic work, such as construction, INTJs commonly pursue careers that combine Realistic with Investigative interests. Science, computers, technology, and architecture, to name a few, may all have Realistic features and can be a good fit for INTJs. As long as the work is not too mundane or disconnected from theory, INTJs can find satisfaction in these sorts of fields.
The Investigative domain incorporates analytic, scientific, and academic interests. Investigative types enjoy working with ideas, theories, facts, or data. They generally perform well on the mathematics portion of aptitude tests. Those with interests in the physical sciences or mathematics will often pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, computer science, etc. Those interested in investigating “things” will generally have a Holland code of IR (Investigative-Realistic).
While IRs may gravitate to the “hard sciences” (e.g., physics), INTJs with Investigative-Artistic (IA) interests may be drawn to the social sciences (history, economics, psychology, sociology, geography, anthropology, archeology, political science, etc.). IAs are often intrigued by psychological or sociocultural issues and may study the social sciences, philosophy, critical theory, or investigative journalism. They might also take up non-fiction writing. INTJs seem equally well-equipped to excel in either IR or IA careers. What direction they go may depend on the strength of their verbal (IA) versus non-verbal/spatiovisual skills (IR).
In concert with Investigatives, individuals with Artistic interests often have an intellectual or cultural-orientation. They generally excel on the verbal portion of aptitude tests. 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, musicians, 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.
True artists can be somewhat harder to come by among INTs than INF types. With that said, INTJs, as well as ENTPs, may fall closer to the true artist than INTPs. Ni, at its core, is a highly creative function. Moreover, INTJs’ inferior Se confers a strong aesthetic orientation. As a result, INTJs (although to a lesser degree than INFJs) attracted to artistic careers in hopes of satisfying their Se. In general, INTJs are more concerned with pursuing truth than they are in creating art. They may use their creative or artistic talent as a means of expressing their ideas, rather than as an end in itself. They may, for instance, strive to create an aesthetically pleasing website as a platform for expressing their ideas. Like those with IA interests, AI types may gravitate toward philosophy, the social sciences, or interdisciplinary studies, all of which allow them to utilize both the creative and rational aspects of their personality.
Individuals with Social interests enjoy working with people. Although some individuals enjoy working with both people and things, this domain is often conceived as the conceptual opposite of the Realistic domain. Social interests are common among teachers, healthcare workers, clergy, trainers, and caretakers, to name a few. Socials often display preferences for Extraversion and Feeling. In general, INTJs rightly avoid Social careers. Especially for male INTJs, this may be their least compatible career domain.
The Enterprising domain entails the promotion or provision 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, entrepreneurship, and stock trading. INTJs’ Ni-Te-Se functions can contribute to their success as troubleshooters and consultants.
INTJs may also function as managers or executives. Many people are surprised to see INTJs going into business. After all, most INTJs pursue Investigative careers while business careers are more commonly pursued by Sensing types. Despite this, the business world does provide INTJs with opportunities to exercise many of their hallmark abilities. As upper-level leaders, they can function as visionaries, strategic planners, operations managers, systems thinkers, and the like.
Whatever their potential skill in solving business-related problems, INTJs need to exercise caution when pursuing business careers. As we will soon discuss, the draw of their inferior function to material rewards can lead to burnout and workaholism in INTJs.
Individuals with Conventional interests enjoy administrative work. They do well with manipulating data and are organized and detail-oriented. Examples of Conventional careers include accounting, bookkeeping, secretarial and administrative work, banking, proofreading, payroll, and technical writing. Those in this domain often prefer Sensing, Thinking, and/or Judging. While typically uninterested in Conventional work, INTJs can perform it competently when necessary.
While by no means a comprehensive career list, INTJs may find the following careers, jobs, or majors worth exploring:
- Computer science, systems analyst, informatics, programmer
- Software design
- Engineering (all types)
- Urban planning
- Chemist, mathematician, astronomer, physicist
- Applied science, technology, technician
- Environmental science, geography, geology
- Biochemistry,biology, neuroscience
- Law, lawyer, attorney
- Economics /economist
- Financial planning/planner
- Philosopher, theology, theologian
- Health/medical sciences, public health
- Social sciences (psychology, sociology, political science, history, anthropology)
- Information / library sciences, librarian
- Critic, critical theory
- Non-fiction writer
- Physician, doctor: neurologist, pathologist, internal medicine
- Graphic/website designer
- Creative writer, journalist, editor, blogger
- Film producer/director
- Management, manager (upper level/executive)
- Consultant (any type, including political)
- Technical writer
The Role of the Inferior Function in INTJ 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 apparent irrationality, as I’ve explained in other posts, is that such decisions are being driven by our often overlooked, yet extremely potent, inferior function. This may lead Myers-Briggs Intuitive types, for instance, to be drawn to careers better suited for Sensing types, and vice-versa. The same can be said for Thinkers and Feelers.
Like other types, INTJs are susceptible to the unconscious influence of their inferior function, Extraverted Sensing (Se), in their career decision-making. They may choose careers founded on the wishes and desires of their Se rather than those of their top two functions (Ni & Te). In doing so, INTJs may find themselves in careers typically populated by SPs, leaving them feeling stressed, depleted, and unfulfilled.
Perhaps the most common example of this is when INTJs choose business careers as a way of gratifying their Se. Their Se relishes physical pleasures and the comfort of material things. Not only do business careers promise material security, but often include opportunities for high social status. The thought of this lifestyle, even if largely unconscious, can be quite appealing to INTJs’ Se inferior. Since Se might be equated with the ego in INJ types, it is not unreasonable to suggest that success in the business world is sure to provide INTJs no small amount of ego gratification.
This sort of fatal attraction to business embodies INTJs’ love-hate relationship with the material world. On the one hand, they love the novelties and sensory pleasures that the world has to offer. On the other, they love the life of the mind and wish they did not have to concern themselves with making money and working a less than ideal day job. For this reason, we often see a midlife shift in INTJs, migrating away from business in favor of investigative or creative pursuits.
In the end, INTJs are wise to consider the degree to which their career choice is being dictated by their Se and whether it is likely to introduce Se-related problems. While it may be okay for INTJs to have some amount of Se activity or Se rewards in their work, having too much can easily contribute to burn-out, frustration, and dissatisfaction. INTJs are generally wise to avoid work that requires prolonged action (rather than reflection) or engagement with people. To avoid being consumed by the Se drive for compensation and material rewards, INTJs may be better off in salaried positions.