By Dr. A.J. Drenth
As is often true for ENTP career-seekers, the road to a satisfying career can be a rough and rocky one for the INTP. INTPs feel they must understand themselves and their place in the world before settling into a career. This includes discerning their signature skills, as well as their personal interests and values. Nailing down exactly what they want to do can be a frustrating affair for INTPs, requiring a great deal of time and experimentation. It can take years, even decades, for their niche to emerge with full clarity. For this reason, selecting the “ideal” college major fresh out of high school is probably unrealistic for many INTPs.
Because of their rugged individualism, INTPs may struggle to find satisfaction with traditional careers choices. It can also make them reluctant to function as employees. 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 the trivial or meaningless aspects of a given job. This is exacerbated by their innate skepticism, which impels them to question everything.
Consequently, many INTPs discover that they want to work independently. Because of their desire for complete autonomy and control over their work, they can be hell-bent on “escaping the system” or becoming financially independent so they can freely pursue their own interests.
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, archaeology, 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 auxiliary Ne function, the Artistic domain is typically one of INTPs’ top three interest areas. But when combined with their Investigative preference, it usually manifests as a desire to innovate or synthesize ideas. This is why writing, be it non-fiction or computer code, can be of particular appeal to INTPs, allowing them to regularly employ both their logic (Ti) and creativity (Ne).
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.
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 often avoid 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 typically avoiding 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
- Computer/technology repair
- Software design
- Engineering (all types)
- Home repair/improvements
- 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, critical theory, theology
- 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) or conversions analyst/consultant
- Environmental law, lawyer, attorney
- Graphic/web design
- Writer, blogger, Indy/self-publishing
- College professor
Conventional Careers (typically avoided by INTPs)
- Entrepreneur/small business owner
- Online/strategic marketing
- Computer/information systems consultant
- Business/financial consulting
The Inferior Function in INTP Careers
As enumerated in my book, The INTP, the influence of INTPs’ inferior function, Extraverted Feeling (Fe) is an often underestimated factor in their career interests. While one might expect INTPs to gravitate toward Thinking (T)-oriented work, such as STEM (science, technology, engineeering, mathematics) careers, their inferior Fe inspires many INTPs to pursue people (F)-oriented careers such as psychotherapy, ministry, marketing, etc.
While INTPs may dream of a career where they can seek wisdom and share it with others (Fe), those who find themselves performing people-oriented/Fe work often encounter difficulties. While INTPs may welcome human engagement in small amounts, too much will exhaust or frustrate them. They can quickly tire of having to placate people, especially in cases where it is inconvenient or emotionally taxing to do so. They may also find themselves longing for more time and solitude to independently, think, investigate, or create.
To secure the desired amount of time and space for pursuing their own interests, INTPs must think carefully about their lifestyle choices. They should carefully consider whether they want others to be financially dependent on them or making demands on their time. In some regard, those who opt for a family early in life (especially with children) may hamstring their ability to function optimally as INTPs. It can be very difficult for them to find their niche while simultaneously supporting a family. Of course, forgoing relationships is never easy for INTPs either. Regardless, those who want both career and relational satisfaction may be wise to wait until later in life to crystallize their commitments.
INTPs love to discover and investigate truth. They enjoy reading and gathering information, as well as conducting their own personal experiments, for the sake of discovery. They differ from TJs in their distaste formal research. Rather than testing things formally, INTPs typically prefer to rely on their own logic, methods, and thought experiments.
Since INTPs love working as independent creators and investigators, one of their key concerns is how they can make money doing so. This may inspire them to start toying with ideas like freelance writing, blogging, coding, web design, or other forms of entrepreneurship.
You can learn more about INTP careers and much more in my eBook—the top-selling & highest-rated INTP book on Amazon:
*INTP careers may significantly overlap with those of Enneagram Fives (5w4, 5w6), perhaps even some Fours (4w5, 4w3).