By Dr. A.J. Drenth
The INFJ is skilled with people and enjoys helping others solve their problems. INFJs often take up work in teaching, ministry, and counseling, career choices that allow them to guide and support others.
Like INTJ career seekers, INFJs are not necessarily opposed to assuming positions of leadership. Their primary stipulation is that they are working toward an end that accords with their ideals. For this reason, they may be drawn to non-profit work, often rising to positions of leadership in which they do a little of everything—casting the vision, writing grant proposals, marketing, hiring, etc.
INFJ Career Challenges
INFJs are driven to see their ideals, produced by their Introverted Intuition (Ni), perfectly translated into reality. One of the more common frustrations of INFJs is the disparity between their idealistic visions and the less than ideal way things tend to play out in reality. For instance, those interested in teaching or politics may feel their hands are tied as a result of deeply-entrenched practices or power structures. The INFJ is left with the choice of spending their lives fighting what seems like an uphill battle or to opt for a path of lesser resistance.
In response, some INJs may try to content themselves with being mere producers of ideals without direct involvement with their actualization. In typological terms, they focus on N while downplaying the importance of S. This may be why INJs are so common among academics (especially INTJs), since the academy allows them develop their theories more or less independently of their application. INJ writers also enjoy the opportunity of expressing their ideals without direct concern for their application.
Like ENFJ career seekers, INFJs are generally less interested in career hopping and trial-and-error experimentation than INFP career seekers are. They prefer to lay down roots when possible, as changes in outward circumstances can be unsettling to them. Their anxiety toward outer instability may be exacerbated by a difficult economic climate, which may lead them to settle for mediocre jobs. Even those preferring to go back to school or do something different may avoid doing so because of looming economic fears.
INFJ Holland Career Code/Interests
To orient our discussion of INFJ 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 Career Code” (e.g., IAS, RAI). This can help individuals identify their best career match. While often possessing career interests in several different domains, of the six RIASEC categories, INFJs commonly gravitate toward Social, Investigative, and Artistic pursuits.
Individuals with Realistic interests enjoy physical, hands-on work, often involving machines. They may take up careers such as computer science, engineering, architecture, and construction. Those attracted to Realistic work tend to 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 more drawn to Realistic work than are N, F, and J types. Hence, INFJs tend to avoid careers in this interest domain.
The Investigative domain incorporates analytic, scientific, and academic interests. Investigative types enjoy working with ideas, theories, facts, or data. As Fe types, INFJs are typically less interested in the hard sciences (e.g., physics) than they are the social sciences (psychology, sociology, geography, political science majors, etc.). They are more apt to display Investigative-Artistic (IA) interests than IR interests. INFJs with IA or AI interests commonly major in the humanities, social sciences, philosophy, religion, critical theory, the humanities/liberal arts, investigative journalism, or non-fiction writing. Law and medicine are generally not the best fit for INFJs, as these professions are better suited for TJ types.
In concert with those displaying Investigative interests, individuals with Artistic interests often have an intellectual or cultural-orientation. The Artistic theme strongly correlates Myers-Briggs Intuition, as well as, to a lesser extent, Feeling and Perceiving. The Artistic interest domain requires little explanation. 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.
INFJs commonly possess Artistic interests. Even if not great artists themselves, INFJs may choose to study the arts. As discussed in my latest eBook, My True Type, they often possess exquisite and refined tastes, displaying a deep appreciation for quality artistry of all sorts. As N dominants, most INFJs are gifted with language and writing. As J types, their natural writing style is fairly structured and analytical. While holding their own with regard to poetry and creative writing, their aptitude may be even greater in non-fiction writing, be it critical, analytical, or theoretical.
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. Social interests are common among teachers, healthcare workers, clergy, trainers, human resource professionals, and caretakers, to name a few. The Social domain relates to preferences for Extraversion and Feeling. Among the most popular careers, jobs, and majors for INFJs, are those in religion/ministry, teaching/education, mental health counseling, and medicine/healthcare.
The final two Holland domains, Enterprising and Conventional, are typically not the first choice for INFJs. 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 Extroversion.
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 (especially Si), Thinking (especially Te), and/or Judging. Hence, ISFJs are typically a better fit for Conventional careers than INFJs are.
What follows is a list of INFJ job/ career choices and college majors organized according to the Holland interest domains:
Realistic Careers (typically avoided by INFJs)
- Sociologist, political scientist
- Researcher or research assistant
- Psychologist: research, personality, social
- Instructional designer
- Art/Museum Curator
- Critic: art, film, literary, food
- Editor, writer (especially non-fiction)
- Psychologist, clinical or counseling (typically prefer the latter)
- Human resources professional
- Teacher/college professor: art, religion, English, literature
- Priest, pastor, rabbi, minister
- Office manager, administrator
The Inferior Function in INFJ Careers
As is true for other types, the role of the inferior function is often overlooked in INFJ career pursuits. While one might expect INFJs to pursue characteristically N careers (e.g., working with words, ideas, or theories), many INFJs, because of their inferior function, Extraverted Sensing (Se), are drawn to artistic careers that place high demands on their sensory and/or motor skills. I have known a number of INFJs, for instance, who have pursued the culinary arts, visual arts, or various types of design.
It is important for INFJs to understand the psychological underpinnings of their artistic interests. Namely, art is one way INFJs go about trying to integrate their dominant Ni function with their inferior Se function. Put differently, it is a vocation in which they work to materialize (S) ideas or mental images (N). I discuss the role of art in INFJs’ attempt to marry N and S in my eBook, The 16 Personality Types.
The problem with artistic careers for INFJs is the demand they place on their inferior function (Se). They require great physical skill and attention to detail, neither of which are INFJs’ natural strengths. This, combined with the fact that making art tends to arouse INFJs’ perfectionism, can make it a difficult road for INFJ career seekers.
I know one INFJ, for instance, who had always enjoyed baking and had an appreciation for fine pastries, which led her to enroll in culinary school. Unfortunately, over the course of her culinary training and in her brief stint as a pastry chef, she came to regret her career choice. The work was fast-paced, physically demanding, and required constant attention to detail, which left her feeling highly stressed and exhausted. These matters were only worsened by her perfectionism and propensity for being self-critical.
Money is another of INFJs’ inferior function related difficulties. I’ve heard more than one INFJ proclaim “I am so tired of worrying about money.” INFJs love to live in safe, quiet, comfortable, and (ideally) beautiful surroundings. Financial security is also very important to them. One of the most difficult realities for INFJs is that, in order for their intuition (Ni) to work optimally, their material (i.e., Se) needs must first be adequately satisfied. In other words, their N effectiveness rests, at least to some extent, on their S livelihood. Now this is typically not a problem for INFJs as children, since their S subsistence is supplied by their parents. But once INFJs hit adulthood and are expected to “fend for themselves,” they are suddenly faced with a more difficulty reality. If INFJs happen to choose rewarding N work from the get-go (e.g., counseling), work that also happens to be financially generous, then they may be lucky enough to circumvent this problem. But those who choose either an unsatisfying career, or one with lower pay, may loathe the fact that sacrifices must be made. In this situation, they may feel forced to either take a higher-paying, but ultimately less satisfying job, or to endure financial hardships that may hamstring their N productivity.