By Dr. A.J. Drenth
Like ENTP career seekers, the road to a satisfying career can be a bit rough and rocky for the INTP. For many INTPs, this stems from a need to understand who they are—their interests, skills, beliefs and values—before committing to a career path. Unfortunately, clarifying their identity, purpose and career path can be a frustrating affair for this type, often requiring a great deal of time, experimentation, and self-analysis. Indeed, it may take several years, sometimes decades, for their personal path to emerge with full clarity.
Due to their rugged individualism, INTPs often struggle to find satisfaction with traditional careers choices. It can also make them reluctant to function as employees. Many INTPs loathe the idea of answering to someone else and can have a hard time 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 the critical nature of the INTP mind, which impels them to question and rethink everything.
As elaborated in our book, The INTP: Personality, Careers, Relationships & the Quest for Truth and Meaning, many (though certainly not all) INTPs ultimately conclude that some version of self-employment is apt to be their best bet for a satisfying work life. They may dream of having full autonomy and control over their work, with no one looking over their shoulder. The challenge, of course, is figuring out exactly what that looks like, including how they can make a living along the way.
INTP Holland Career Code / Interests
To orient our discussion of INTP career interests, we will draw on six interest themes first described by John Holland. These 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 your top 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 prove useful for zeroing in on your preferred type of career or college major.
Realistic (R) Careers
Individuals with Realistic interests enjoy physical, hands-on work, often involving machines (e.g., repairing vehicles, tinkering with computers, construction). They are often visual or kinesthetic learners who excel at spatial visualization. Those with strong spatial-visualization skills tend to do well with schematic charts and diagrams, as well as envisioning and mentally rotating three-dimensional objects. Physical scientists, such as Einstein, excel in this regard, as do many mechanics and engineers. Certain types of sports and athletics also require an ability to effectively perceive and navigate spatial relations.
“Realistics” are said to enjoy working with things more than people. It is therefore unsurprising that this interest domain is correlated with a preference for Myers-Briggs Thinking (T) over Feeling (F). Research indicates that Sensing (S), Thinking (T), and Perceiving (P) types are usually more drawn to Realistic work than are Intuitive (N), Feeling (F), or Judging (J) types. Thus, while not to the same extent as their ISTP counterparts, INTPs may show some level of interest in Realistic types of work (refer to the table near the end of this article for examples).
Investigative (I) Careers
As for INTJ career seekers, the Investigative domain is typically one of the INTP’s top choices, involving analytic, scientific, technologic 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 (e.g., economics, psychology, sociology, geography, archaeology, political science, etc.). However, for many INTPs, the hard sciences seem to demand too much in the way of precision, patience, and attention to detail, while failing to provide sufficient opportunities for truly creative or innovative thought.
Wielding Introverted Thinking (Ti) as their dominant function, INTPs enjoy activities that require critical analysis and problem-solving. Examples include data analysis and interpretation, formulating business and technical strategies, and philosophizing. Or, if used in a Realistic context, engineering practical fixes, hacks, or workarounds.
That said, it is difficult to discuss Ti in isolation from their auxiliary function, Extraverted Intuition (Ne), which inspires INTPs to explore, create, and innovate. Ne contributes to their interest in Artistic (A), or what might be better described as creative careers, which we will soon discuss. Fortunately, there is a wide range of careers open to INTPs hoping to combine Investigative and Artistic modes of operating (“IA” or “AI” Holland code).
To repeat, many INTPs discover (sometimes the hard way!) that formal or academic science is not their forte (although the social or “soft” sciences may be somewhat more compatible with the INTP’s creative mind). Thus, to open the door to work that is equally critical and creative, many INTPs will explore the humanities (e.g., religion, philosophy, history), architecture, various forms of engineering or entrepreneurship, writing non-fiction or computer code, and the like (again, see the table below for more examples).
Artistic (A) Careers
This interest domain is strongly associated with Intuition (N), as well as, to a lesser extent, Feeling (F) and Perceiving (P). Individuals with Artistic interests commonly perform well on the verbal portion of aptitude tests. Not surprisingly, Artistic types are highly represented among students of the arts and humanities.
Owing to their auxiliary Ne function, this is often one of INTPs’ top three interest domains. And while some INTPs may take up characteristically Artistic majors like graphic design, without some sort of Investigative, Realistic, or Enterprising element, they are apt to feel unsatisfied.
Social (S) Careers
Individuals in the Social interest domain enjoy working with people. While some individuals may enjoy working with both people (i.e., Social) and things (i.e., Realistic), this domain is typically conceived as the conceptual opposite of the Realistic domain. While Extraverts may have a slight advantage in Social careers, this domain is most strongly correlated with the Feeling (F) preference.
As discussed in our INTP books, INTPs’ inferior function—Extraverted Feeling (Fe)—is an oft-overlooked, but surprisingly potent factor in their career interests. While many people would expect INTPs to gravitate strictly toward Thinking-oriented work, such as STEM careers, their Fe may inspire them to pursue people-oriented jobs in healthcare, counseling, ministry, and the like.
Unfortunately, INTPs involved in people-centered work frequently encounter difficulties. Although INTPs may appreciate human engagement in small quantities, too much can leave them feeling exhausted, frustrated, and unfulfilled. They can quickly fatigue of having to placate people, especially in cases where it is inconvenient or emotionally taxing to do so. Invariably, they find themselves longing for more time alone in which they can think, investigate, strategize, or innovate. INTPs are thus wise to exercise caution before pursuing a predominantly Social career path.
Enterprising (E) Careers
The Enterprising domain entails the development and promotion of products or services. Enterprising individuals tend to be persuasive, assertive, and enjoy competitive environments. Typical careers include sales and marketing, business and management, as well as certain types of law, politics, and journalism. To a certain extent, Enterprising individuals tend to prefer Extraversion.
As we’ve seen, INTPs are tenaciously independent and, whenever possible, prefer to have full control over the both the content and method of their work. This, in combination with their Ne’s penchant for ingenuity, leads them to enjoy developing and running their own enterprises; in many regards, INTPs have an entrepreneurial mind and spirit.
That said, there are many aspects of growing a business that INTPs aren’t particularly fond of, namely, those that require INTPs to move outside of their own headspace and directly engage with others. As introverts, INTPs rarely enjoy selling, at least not in a direct, face-to-face manner. Most would rather furnish prospective customers with information via a website or something similar, allowing them to decide for themselves whether they are interested.
Nor do INTPs relish the idea of seeking out investors, employees or business partners. They have a hard time trusting in the competence of others, often feeling that in order to have something done right, they have to do it themselves. Moreover, because enjoy INTPs acquiring new knowledge and skills, they don’t mind learning, and to some extent performing, most aspects of their business. Again, direct sales and marketing is usually among their least preferred activities, making it one role they are happy to delegate. However, because INTPs like to have close control over all aspects of their business (i.e., their “baby”), their business will, intentionally or not, often remain rather small in size.
Of course, not all INTPs will go the entrepreneurial route, as many, at least for some span of time, will work as employees. Unfortunately, without ample autonomy, few will be particularly satisfied in doing so. INTPs deplore being managed, especially micro-managed, which feels like an affront to their sense of personal capability and competence. Thus, in hopes of gaining greater control and influence, some will try their hand at management. But truth be told, most INTPs aren’t genuinely interested in or skilled with managing others. Their true preference is to guide and manage themselves and their work—nothing more, nothing less. Consequently, many find themselves dreaming about self-employment in one form or another.
Conventional (C) Careers
Individuals with Conventional interests enjoy administrative sorts of work and commonly prefer S, T, and / or J. While most INTPs can perform competently in such roles, they usually avoid careers with a heavy Conventional element, which fail to adequately satisfy their Ti-Ne need for critical or creative thought.
While by no means a comprehensive career list, INTPs may find the following careers, jobs, or majors worth exploring:
Final Remarks on INTP Careers
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, for instance, 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 one involving 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 not always 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.
To summarize, INTPs love investigating, innovating, and strategizing. They enjoy learning and gathering information, as well as conducting their own experiments for the sake of discovery. Unlike TJs, however, they usually shy away from formal research, instead relying on their own logic and personal methods. Since INTPs relish working independently, one of their key concerns is how they can make money doing so. This may inspire them to start toying with various types of freelancing, self-employment or entrepreneurship.
Learn More in Our eBooks:
The INTP: Personality, Careers, Relationships… (#1 INTP book on Amazon)
*INTP careers may significantly overlap with those of Enneagram Fives (5w4, 5w6).