Personality and Job Success and Satisfaction—An Introduction to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Dissatisfaction at work hits some people on day one of a first or new job. It hits others after years of promotion into positions of increasing responsibility and pay. Being good at a job doesn't always translate into being happy, satisfied, or fulfilled with one's work.

Jane, a recent Five O' Clock Club client, was a partner in a prestigious litigation law practice. She was successful as a litigator, but her dislike of conflict caused her to dread taking depositions.

Steve, an IT systems designer and administrator, sought career change after 10 years. His work was solitary, and while he was good at it, he desperately wanted more human interaction.

Lacey found the decision-making at the nonprofit she joined too slow for a goal-oriented, self-starter used to getting projects done quickly.

Each was working at a job or in an organization that was not in sync with an aspect of their personality. Insight into their personality through an assessment instrument was an important first step in resolving their career conflicts.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Write your first and last names in script. Now, switch hands and write it again. How does it feel? Most individuals are able to use both hands, but it feels awkward and unnatural with the non-preferred hand.

Just as you were hard-wired at birth for handedness so too — according to Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung and the mother/daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers — were you hard-wired with a natural preference for how you:

1. See things/Take in information,
2. Make decisions,
3. Deal with the outside world and
4. Direct your attention.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator resulted from the work of these three early observers of human personality differences. The instrument scores people on the four preference scales listed above as having an in-born preference towards one of two opposites for each of the four dichotomies. There is no right or wrong preference, and people are able to use all eight. But, they prefer, or naturally favor, one over the other. Properly administered by a professional who has been qualified to give the assessment, the MBTI provides individuals with insights into their:

• Unique strengths
• Career drivers and needs
• Communication style
• Management style
• Approach to problem solving and conflict
• Contributions in a team, and more

The examples that follow for each of the four preference scales represent individuals with what are termed "very clear" preferences for one polarity. Individuals may be slight to very clear in their preference on a particular scale. It is important to note that the full impact of the dynamic role of personality and career is magnified when one combines the four preferences under the guidance of a qualified practitioner who has the client self verify the scored instrument.

When you know where you naturally go, you may choose to use a non-preference. And you don't need others to know type for you to be able to use it to your advantage in working with others.

How Do You "See" Things or Take in Information?

Some people are focused on the present and the factual; others see the "meanings" behind the facts and are creative thinkers who look toward the future. It is the difference between seeing the forest or the trees.

The latter are big-picture, out-of-the box thinkers who are imaginative and often excel at brainstorming new ideas, procedures and/or products that tap into their ability to see patterns. They can do detail work, but tend to get frustrated with jobs and/or organizations that are detail heavy.

Their opposite on this preference scale "sees" what is happening now, what is actual. Detail is no problem for these individuals. Discomfort for them could be the brainstorming meetings in which their opposite type shines.

Careers tend to be particularly satisfying when they capitalize on the unique born-with strengths of an individual — which introduces us to John and Jim. John is a Senior Consumer Insight and Strategy Executive sought by consumer products companies for his ability to uncover business changing insights that accelerate growth or uncover new market segments. Jim is an in-demand Wedding Planner known for flawlessly executing destination weddings with anywhere from 150 to 500 guests. Both are good and happy at what they do. A role reversal would not be a pretty picture!

Impact on People or Cause-Effect Logic: How Do You Make Decisions?

Some people strive for harmony in their work and personal relations. Decisions are made based on their inner values and impact on people.

Their opposite type eliminates the personal when making decisions and instead relies on logic and reasoning that considers cause and effect. These individuals as managers do not hold back from critiquing or analyzing subordinate's actions. Conflict is part of business — an alien concept for the strivers for harmony.

Jane, the litigation partner introduced earlier in this piece, naturally preferred harmony in her interpersonal dealings. The adversarial nature of litigation and, in particular, depositions was stressful and unsatisfying for her. Resolution for Jane involved a shift in the kind of law she practiced.

Inner- or Outer-Focused: Where Do You Direct Your Attention?

Extroverts are focused outward and love to be in the world of people and activity. They prefer verbal communication and tend to "think" by talking. Introverts focus more inward. They can be verbal and initiate when something is important to them. However, they do tend to prefer written communication, and unlike the extrovert, think before talking.

Steve, our IT professional, could do the solitary work his job entailed. But his preference for interaction with people caused him to change careers. Self assessment to uncover his motivated skills and interests ultimately led him to return to an earlier career choice — teaching.

Scheduled or Spontaneous: How Do You Deal With the Outside World?

Some people are organized; others flexible. Unstructured time for some is a joy while it leaves others totally unstrung. Some people — our list makers — plan out every vacation, from what to take to where to go, stay and eat. Nothing is left to chance. Their opposite can throw some things in a bag, hop on a plane and see where life takes them. Control life or let it happen — MBTI illustrates that we are born with a preference.

Lacey the goal-oriented, self starter introduced earlier couldn't handle the slow decision-making of her nonprofit. A subordinate who works last minute is just as frustrating for an organized, plan-ahead person as is a boss who doesn't fully explain a project upfront. Here's an area that if left unaddressed can truly derail a relationship or a job.


The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator does NOT say there are jobs you cannot do. However, how you take in information and make decisions has particular relevance for career choice, and can help the unclear or dissatisfied identify positive options and/or sort through uncomfortable issues.

Suzanne B. Harwood conducts a weekly Five O' Clock Club job search workshop for executives. In her private practice, she coaches individuals on career change and issues at work, and both speaks frequently and conducts workshops at professional and academic venues on career topics. She is a founding member of the Advisory Board of the Women's Leadership Center of Alfred University, as well as a past member of the five-person AARP Executive Council for New York State, a strategic and policy-making board. She was past chair of the career development committee of The Advertising Club of New York and was a board member of the NY chapter of the Association for Psychological Type. •