By Dr. A.J. Drenth
For career-minded individuals, it is hard to overstate the importance of a satisfying occupation. Unfortunately, identifying a suitable career match often proves more difficult than imagined, particularly for introverted career-seekers. Keen to preserve their authenticity, introverts want a career in which they “do what they are.” Hence, introverts’ career search is in many respects synonymous with their search for self.
Most career tests and quizzes are built around a similar premise: to help individuals understand themselves—their personality, skills, abilities, values, interests, etc.—and to match those characteristics with various career paths or occupations. Unfortunately, the utility of these tests is often limited by, among other things, their failure to differentiate the general structure of a career from its particular content.1
Take, for instance, the following career test item: “I enjoy learning about physics.” This item conflates a particular content area (physics) with what might be a broader interest in investigating the nature of things. So how am I to respond to this item if I generally enjoy investigating things, but have little interest in physics? Answering no might lead to a failure of the test to recognize my investigative proclivities, while a yes response provides false information about the specific nature of my interests.
In some respects, we could frame this as a sensing (S)-intuition (N) problem. Namely, should we test for particulars (S), such as identifying a person’s interest in physics, in hopes of eventually seeing general N patterns (e.g., an interest in investigation)? Or should we try to directly measure general patterns before concerning ourselves with specific content areas? Or perhaps we should do some of both?
It is hard to deny the importance of both the structure and the content of a career. Remove either one and we can feel frustrated and unmotivated. For example, although a writer and a musician may both enjoy creative work, they differ in the specific nature of their gifts, interests, and motivations. Therefore, identifying their shared “need for creativity” only takes us part way in identifying a suitable career path.
Careers & Personality Type
With that said, some individuals or personality types may be somewhat less finicky about either the content or structure of their work. An INTJ friend of mine, for instance, seems happy to apply his powers of analysis to nearly anything—from politics, to psychology, to economics, to dating strategies, to NBA basketball. As long as he has something to analyze, he’s happy (he himself has described his analytical interests as “content neutral.”). This may partly relate to the nature of an individual’s dominant function. Those with a dominant perceiving function (e.g., my INTJ friend’s Introverted Intuition, Ni), may be somewhat more content neutral (or what we might call “process oriented”) than types with a dominant judging function.2
On the whole, I feel that career assessments could do a better job evaluating and matching the structural elements of one’s personality and desired career. A great way of doing this, in my view, could involve approaching careers from the perspective of the Jungian functions. In my post, Careers & Majors for Intuitives, I analyze the functions with respect to their career implications. It is important to know, for instance, that Extraverted Intuition (Ne) is related to divergent ideation and excels in multiplying ideas and possibilities. Introverted Intuition (Ni), by contrast, is far more convergent in its workings, taking a breadth of information and narrowing it down to a single theory or solution. Without making this differentiation, we might wrongly assume that all intuitive types are suited for the same types of work. This, in fact, is a shortcoming of the commonly used Holland / RIASEC career interests model. The Holland isn’t nuanced enough to tell us, for instance, whether NTPs with investigative interests are well suited to work as establishment scientists (the majority of careers associated with the Holland investigative domain are science-related). If we were to factor in the Jungian functions, however, we might conclude that, despite their investigative interests, NTPs often think too divergently (Ne) to find satisfaction in many scientific settings.
In light of the above, I suggest that individuals who know and understand their type (including their type’s functions), will be better equipped to make effective career choices. By analyzing careers from the perspective of how our mind typically functions, we can discern what types of career activities are most conducive to our strengths and propensities.
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- One could make a similar critique of many personality tests. Namely, that they fail to adequately distinguish and evaluate the overall structure (or mode of functioning) of our mind versus its contents.
- More than other types, INTPs and INFPs seem concerned with (if not obsessed with) finding their “one thing,” with pinning down their identity and purpose (might this stem from introverted judging a la Ti or Fi?). This is exemplified in INP philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s notion that “purity of heart is to will one thing.” Hence, both career content and structure are typically of high importance to INPs.