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 collectively referred to 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 choice.
Those with Realistic interests enjoy physical, hands-on work, often involving machines (e.g., repairing vehicles, tinkering with computers, construction). Such individuals are often visual or kinesthetic learners, commonly excelling in 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 not to the same extent as their ISTP counterparts, INTPs may show some level of interest in Realistic work.
Similar to INTJ career-seekers, the Investigative domain is typically among the preferred Holland domains for INTPs, involving analytic, scientific, or 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., or what are commonly known as “STEM” careers.
INTPs’ Investigative interests may range from the hard sciences (e.g., theoretical physics) to the social sciences (history, economics, psychology, sociology, geography, archaeology, political science, etc.). For many INTPs, the hard sciences, may seem to demand too much in the way of precision, patience, or attention to detail. INTPs who combine Investigative with Artistic (A) interests (IA or AI code) 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, those 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 function, Extraverted Intuition (Ne), 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, 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, certain types of 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 types of work and commonly prefer S, T, and/or J. While most INTPs can exhibit competence in such roles, they usually avoid careers with a heavy Conventional element, as such careers fail to adequately satisfy their Ti-Ne need for intensive or creative thought.
While by no means a comprehensive career list, INTPs may find the following careers, jobs, or majors worth exploring:
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-oriented work, such as STEM careers, their inferior Fe inspires many INTPs to pursue people-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 work often encounter difficulties. While INTPs may welcome human engagement in small quantities, 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 investigating and creating. 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 the prospect of freelancing, blogging, or other forms of entrepreneurship.
If you want to learn more about INTPs—their personality, careers, relationships, life struggles, etc.—you’ve come to the right place. A.J. Drenth, the founder of this website and fellow INTP, has written extensively about this personality type, including authoring the two best-selling INTP books worldwide:
The INTP: Personality, Careers, Relationships… (#1 INTP book on Amazon)
*INTP careers may significantly overlap with those of Enneagram Fives (5w4, 5w6), perhaps even some Fours (4w5, 4w3).