As for ENTP career-seekers, the road to a satisfying career can be a rough and rocky one for INTPs. INTPs feel they must understand themselves and their place in the world before settling into a career. This includes identifying their skills, as well as their interests and values. Nailing down exactly what they want to do can be a frustrating affair for INTPs, requiring a great deal of experimentation. Despite this, it is possible for INTPs to find a satisfying career niche. It may simply take many years, even well into their thirties, for their niche to emerge with sufficient clarity. Thus, selecting the “right” college major right out of high school might well be considered a dubious enterprise for INTPs. Hopefully this article will help INTPs find greater clarity and therefore make fewer mistakes in their career decision-making.
Because of their rugged individualism, INTPs may struggle to find satisfaction with traditional careers choices and are reluctant to function as employees. Perhaps more than any other type, they want to work independently. They loathe the idea of answering to someone else and can have difficulty embracing an organization’s vision as their own. Like INFPs, they are sensitive to what they see as meaningless or menial aspects of a given job. This is exacerbated by their innate skepticism, which urges them to question the ultimate value of most tasks. Because of their need for autonomy and control over their work, many end up as self-employed entrepreneurs.
INTP Holland Career Code/ Interests
To orient our discussion of INTP 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, which are sometimes called “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 Career Code” (e.g., IAS, RAI). This can help individuals identify their best career choice.
Those 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, or architecture. Such individuals are often visual or kinesthetic learners, commonly excelling in what is known as spatial visualization. Those with strong spatial-visualization skills often do well with schematic charts and diagrams, as well as envisioning and mentally rotating three-dimensional objects. Einstein undoubtedly excelled in this regard. Realistics often 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 INTPs tend to be less Realistic than their ISTP counterparts, there are several Realistic careers that may be well-suited for INTPs, many of which I will list below.
Like INTJ career-seekers, the Investigative domain is typically the foremost Holland domain for INTPs, involving 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).
INTPs’ Investigative interests may range from the hard sciences (e.g., physics) to the social sciences (history, economics, psychology, sociology, geography, anthropology, archeology, political science, etc.). For many INTPs, the hard sciences, may seem to demand too much in the way of precision, patience, and attention to detail. Or, they may seem too Realistic or too far removed from the world of people (more on this later). INTPs with IA interests are often concerned with psychological or sociocultural issues and may study the social sciences, philosophy, critical theory, investigative journalism, or take up non-fiction writing.
Like Investigatives, individuals with Artistic interests often have an intellectual or cultural orientation. They do especially well on the verbal portion of aptitude tests. This interest domain is associated with Intuition, as well as, to a lesser extent, Feeling and Perceiving.
Artistic types are highly represented among students studying the arts and humanities. Like those with IA interests, those with AI interests 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.
Because of their Thinking preference, INTPs are typically not “pure artists” in the way that INFPs can be. Even ENTPs, whose dominant function is N rather than T, are more artistically inclined than INTPs. INTPs are typically more motivated to pursue truth (i.e., Investigative interests) than create art. This is not to say, of course, that INTPs are not highly creative. Moreover, their impulsive and individualistic nature is in many ways better suited for creative versus scientific work.
In my experience, INTPs are often happiest when they can use their creative or artistic talents as vehicles for expressing concepts or ideas, rather than for purely aesthetic reasons. This is why writing can be of particular appeal to INTPs, allowing them to integrate and develop their intellectual interests in the creative act of writing.
Individuals in the Social interest domain enjoy working with people. This domain is often conceived as the conceptual opposite of the Realistic domain, although some individuals enjoy working with both people and things. The Social domain relates to preferences for Extraversion and Feeling. As we will discuss later in this post, INTPs may take up Social careers because of the influence of their inferior function (Fe). They may, for instance, be drawn to jobs, occupations, or majors in counseling or healthcare. I generally recommend that INTPs avoid careers that routinely involve directly helping or advising people. They are better off helping people in less direct ways, such as through Investigative work.
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. Unless their Enterprising work is done less directly, such as online or through writing, INTPs are generally less gifted and less interested in this domain.
Individuals with Conventional interests enjoy administrative work. They do well with manipulating data and are organized and detail-oriented. Those in this domain often prefer Sensing, Thinking, and/or Judging. As stated earlier, INTPs, while not typically enjoying Conventional work, can nonetheless perform it competently when necessary.
While by no means a comprehensive career list, INTPs may find the following careers, jobs, or majors worth exploring:
• Computer science, systems analyst, programmer, informatics
• Software design
• Engineering (all types)
• Physics, mathematics
• Forestry, park ranger
• Environmental science
• Biology, neuroscience
• Health sciences
• Researcher or research assistant
• Social sciences (psychology, geography, history, sociology, political science)
• Environmental studies
• Philosophy, theology/theologian
• Population ethics, neuroethics, moral science
• Comparative religion
• Peace studies
• Information/library sciences
• Financial planning/planner, stock trader
• Investigative journalist, reporter, writer
• Non-fiction writer
• Search engine optimization (SEO) expert/consultant
• Environmental law, lawyer, attorney
• Graphic/website/software designer
• Writer, blogger, Indy/self-publishing
• College professor
• Online/ strategic marketing
• Computer/information systems consultant
The Role of the Inferior Function in INTP 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 Thinking types, for instance, to be drawn to careers better suited for Feeling types, and vice-versa.
INTPs should be aware of the multiple faces of their inferior function, Extraverted Feeling (Fe). When it comes to careers, their Fe compels them to function in ways exemplified by ENFJs (for whom Fe is dominant). In a nutshell, ENFJs function as teachers and counselors. They like to provide counsel and advice to others to help them improve their lives. Similarly, INTPs like to think of themselves as wise philosophers. They dream of a career where they can seek wisdom and share it with others. This dream also includes a huge ego pay-off for INTPs, in which others lavish them with praise and affirmation for their intelligence and wisdom. So Fe does not merely compel INTPs to act as wise sages, but perhaps even more so, it seeks broad-scale validation and affirmation.
This desire for affirmation and validation may cause INTPs to overlook good career options because, on the surface, such careers seem too far removed from the source of their desired validation: people. So rather than choosing a career in science, for instance, INTPs may opt for what amounts to a “quick fix” for their inferior and select a people-oriented career, such as healthcare or human services. While at first blush, such people-oriented careers may “feel right” to INTPs (or more specifically, to their inferior function), it is rarely long before they realize that this is not the case. INTPs are better off with a career that allows them to use their top two functions (Ti and Ne) to help others (Fe) in a less direct fashion. Examples of this are provided below.
Additional Suggestions for INTP Career-Seekers
1. Resist the temptation of grandiosity. Because of their individualism, as well as their Fe desire for affirmation, INTPs are often driven to produce a grand, original theory of their own. They may feel that this is the only way for them to make their mark on the world, the only way they can prove their worth. But INTPs need to realize that this is a lie of the ego. Feverishly pursuing such grandiose expectations only worsens INTPs’ tendency to act hurriedly and impulsively, burdening them with the sense that time is working against them.
2. Patience, mastery, and quality. All of this speaks to the value of patience and humility in INTPs’ worklife. INTPs who are in a mad rush to prove their worth or intelligence will invariably produce work of questionable quality and are unlikely to receive the validation they are seeking. They should be focusing on mastery, strategy, and precision (Ti), as well as exploration (Ne). Both Darwin and Kant are good examples of theorists who displayed great patience and did not publish their best work until later in life.
3. The importance of lifestyle. To allow themselves the time necessary to perform quality work, INTPs must think carefully about their lifestyle, ideally from the time they graduate high school. They should carefully consider whether they want others to be financially dependent on them (or demanding of their time), which may only exacerbate their sense of urgency. In some regard, those who opt for to have a family early in life may, in effect, be sacrificing their ability to function optimally as INTPs. It can be very difficult for INTPs to find their niche while supporting a family. Of course, forgoing relationships can be quite difficult for INTPs because of issues related to their inferior Fe. But INTPs who want both career and relational satisfaction are often wise to wait until later in life before making permanent commitments.
4. Don’t force things. INTPs can be slow to accept the possibility that there may not be an ideal pre-existing career path or college major for them, especially early in life. Their interests may simply be too broad or idiosyncratic to fit squarely into any predefined mold. So rather than force-fitting themselves into a particular career or college major, some may opt for a low-stress day job while working to identify or develop their passion on the side. Again, this points to the importance of lifestyle, since single INTPs can subsist on poverty level incomes.
Recommended INTP Careers
Computer Science. Many INTPs may resist computer science because their inferior Fe urges them toward people-related interests. But as stated previously, INTPs should strive to impact people more indirectly. Since computer science is heavy on T and N, it can be a great entry point for INTPs. Whether they choose to go to school for computer science or teach themselves, this knowledge can help INTPs in nearly whatever they do. While it is true that many IT jobs have gone overseas, this should not deter INTPs, since they are often better off working for themselves anyway, functioning as entrepreneurs or independent consultants. INTPs may enjoy and do very well, for instance, as search engine optimization (SEO) specialists.
Independent Investigations. INTPs love to discover and investigate truth. They enjoy reading and gathering information, as well as self-experimentation, for the sake of discovering practical or theoretical truths. They differ from TJs, however, in that they generally do not enjoy more formal varieties of research. TJ types, who use Extraverted Thinking (Te), prefer shared and formalized methodologies. This is why INTJs tend to feel more comfortable working in organizations and formal research settings and also have an easier time finding an academic or professional career niche than INTPs (or ENTPs) do. While TJs feel formalized methods are warranted and needed, INTPs feel averse to and tend to resist them. This is why INTPs are more apt to be critical of science and the scientific method. They are more comfortable functioning as philosophers and critics of science than they are as scientists.
Rather than becoming “professional” scientists, INTPs prefer to utilize their own methods for discerning truth (Ti). Like Einstein, they are compelled by things like “thought experiments.” INTPs also work to incorporate outside information (Ne) as well as their own past experiences (Si), in discerning truth. INTPs are known for taking up their own independent research projects. The following are a few random experiments an INTP might conduct:
- Exploring meditation or psychedelic experiences
- Experimenting with/exploring the merits of barefoot running or vegetarianism
- Using their Ti and Si to investigate the workings of their own bodies (e.g., Feldenkrais, yoga)
- Engineering mind-body or cognitive-behavioral techniques for reducing pain or anxiety
- Philosophically wrestling with the mind-body problem
Since INTPs love these sorts of independent investigative projects, the looming question is how they can make money from solving or explaining them. This may compel INTPs to start toying with ideas like writing, blogging, self-publishing, or entrepreneurship.
Writing/Blogging. Writing is among the most effective ways INTPs can communicate their ideas and to make a difference. It also allows them to readily satisfy their entire functional stack. Hence, choosing a college major that helps develop their writing skills, such as journalism or the humanities, may not be a bad route for INTPs. INTPs may opt to work as freelance journalists, writers, bloggers, or self / Indy publishers. A blog can serve as an excellent source of motivation and platform for INTPs to wrestle with and hone their ideas, as well as their linguistic talents. Blogging can also be appealing to INTPs because it doesn’t require them to get everything right upfront (as might be necessary, e.g., when publishing a book), but is amenable to ongoing modification as new insights and experiences present themselves. With time and practice, INTPs can develop greater expertise in their chosen subject area while also becoming more confident and proficient as writers. Prospective bloggers might want to consult my post, Tools & Considerations for Prospective Bloggers.
Entrepreneurship. INTPs who are sufficiently shrewd and ambitious may find entrepreneurship a viable career option. One type of entrepreneurship that seems particularly appropriate for INTPs is the “slash career.” They may, for example, view themselves as “author/ lecturer / expert/ consultant.” Slash careers may be particularly appealing to Perceiving types, who are known for their versatility and adaptability.
To learn more about INTP careers, I encourage you to explore my recent book, The INTP: Personality, Careers, Relationships, & the Quest for Truth and Meaning:
*INTP careers may significantly overlap with those of Enneagram Fives (5w4, 5w6), perhaps even some Fours (4w5).