If you’re not happy at work, a new company or a new boss might not be the solution. The problem might be the job itself. Even if it looks good on paper, it might not be a fit for your personality.
“Two people in the same field could have completely different experiences and needs for what makes a job truly satisfying,” says Kelly Tieger, coauthor of Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type, the 1992 best-selling career advice book (the newly updated sixth edition will be available April 13). “Not every job is equally suited or can satisfy every person. It all comes down to the fact that we’re all wired differently.”
Know Your Type
To find a job that fits your personality, Tieger recommends knowing your Myers-Briggs type. The personality test identifies your strengths and weaknesses and puts you into one of 16 types. You may have taken it in school or as part of a job screening. While you have to pay a certified practitioner to administer the official Myers-Briggs test, you can find a similar free version online.
You can also make an educated guess by reflecting on your preferences, which are made up of four dimensions:
- How you interact with the world and direct your energy: Extrovert (E) or Introvert (I)
- The kind of information you naturally notice: Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
- How you make decisions: Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
- Whether you prefer to live in a more structured way to make decisions, Judging (J), or in a spontaneous way by taking in information, Perceiving (P)
The combination of letters creates your type, such as INTJ or ESTP. You can verify your type by reading the descriptions online.
Your personality type can help indicate job satisfaction for specific roles. “Certain personality types are best suited for certain positions, but every industry has something for everyone,” Tieger says.
Know Your Temperament
Psychologist David Keirsey says that the 16 personality types fall into one of four temperaments:
- Traditionalists: ESTJ, ISTJ, ESFJ, ISFJ
- Experiencers: ESTP, ISTP, ESFP, ISFP
- Idealists: ENFJ, INFJ, ENFP, INFP
- Conceptualizers: ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP, INTP
According to Tieger, people with the same temperament tend to share certain core values, which can relate to flourishing in different work settings.
Traditionalists, who are “Sensing Judgers,” trust facts and proven data and prefer a structured, orderly world. They value security, propriety, rules, and conformity. A good job for a Traditionalist might be one that involves a relatively high level of responsibility and a clear-cut chain of command. Traditionalists usually make good managers and leaders.
Experiencers, who are “Sensing Perceivers,” concentrate on the senses. They’re open to possibilities and prefer flexibility. A good job for an Experiencer provides autonomy, variety, and action. They often become the “firefighter” in a company, noticing and responding to crises.
Idealists, who are “Intuitive Feelers,” seek out meaning and relationships, and they make decisions based on their values. They’re good at resolving conflicts and helping people work together more effectively. A good job for an Idealist is one in which they find personally meaningful rather than routine.
Conceptualizers, who are “Intuitive Thinkers,” also look for meaning, but they use it to make logical decisions. They see the big picture and are innovative. A good job for a Conceptualizer might be one that provides autonomy and an opportunity to generate ideas. (My type is INTJ, which is probably why I love my career as a writer.)
Making the Wrong Career Choice
While you may think you’d naturally choose a career that fits your personality, the truth is that people come with baggage when they look for work, Tieger says, noting, “We bring expectations from our families. During our upbringing, we are sent constant messages about what we should be doing. These are usually good intentions from supportive families and guidance counselors, but it can lead to making the wrong career choice.”
If you’re miserable at work, the first step is understanding that it doesn’t have to be that way and the change doesn’t have to be drastic. “You can stay in the same industry and pivot responsibilities or the type of work you do,” Tieger says. “The pandemic made employers more flexible by necessity and gave employees a chance to pause and reflect. You may be able to take on additional responsibilities or transition into a role that’s a better fit.”
While your personality type doesn’t change over time, it does evolve. “What might have been satisfying in your twenties can change the older you get,” Tieger says. “We’re all on a natural journey towards a more balanced life. Carl Jung said we’re all striving to be balanced people. The goal of self-actualization is to seek balance and wholeness. As we get older, hopefully we’re on track to develop parts of ourselves we haven’t developed before.”
Now is the perfect time to harness the moment, Tieger says. “Ask yourself, What do I like about my job? Is there room to advocate for a change? Self-knowledge is incredibly powerful, but nobody will do the work for you.”