Identifying the right career path and successfully navigating the job search process doesn’t necessarily guarantee job success. While the career—and even the specific role—might be a perfect match, the organizational culture, or the culture that is prevalent in that industry, might prove to be a major “miss” that is costly to employees and employers alike (aligning culture with the individual’s needs, interests, and values can save a company $67 million annually for every 5,000 employees according to research by CEB). Understanding your personality type, as described by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment can help you identify a career that matches your personality preferences, as well as a company or industry that matches your cultural values.
When the “Perfect Job” Turns Out to Be as Uncomfortable as Industrial Furniture
When I started my career, my first job was as a market research consultant. This was actually the ideal job according to all the research I’d done on myself up to that point. The position allowed me to focus on big ideas and finding ways to do things better, giving me a chance to express my MBTI preference for Intuition. It was a perfect fit, so I thought, at least on paper!
As it turned out, although the job appeared to match my personality, the industry I was working in, contract furniture (that uncomfortable office stuff you sit on), turned out to be bad match. I loved the actual work, but the goal of the job, get people to buy office furniture, not so much. To cut a long story short, the cultural fit for me was about as comfortable as the furniture we were selling. I lasted seven months, after which I entered another soul-searching process, peppered by a dozen informational interviews in search of the ultimate career that matched more of who I was. After a yearlong search, I finally arrived in the field of career development, which actually matched all of my values, enabling me to work in environments that were a better cultural fit.
Finding the “Middle Ground” in Our MBTI Type
To be satisfied in any career, we need to find a position that meshes with our personality type. However, that’s only half the battle. As I mentioned previously, the actual work that I was doing as a market research consultant was a good fit, based on my personality preferences. But MBTI preferences were way out of sync when it came to the organizational culture in very important ways, preventing me from really connecting with the job. Beyond the nature of the work, we also need to find an organization that meshes with our personal values.
In the language of the MBTI instrument, our values are described by the middle two letters in our four-letter type. The second MBTI letter measures your preferences for either Sensing (S) or Intuition (N), which describe how we take in information. According to Introduction to Myers Briggs Type:
- Those preferring Sensing (S) like to take in real and tangible information, observe specifics, and are attuned to practical realities.
- Those preferring Intuition (N) take information by seeing the big picture, focusing on the relationships and connections between facts, seeking patterns and possibilities.
The third MBTI letter measures your preference for either Thinking (T) or Feeling (F) and addresses how we make decisions:
- Those preferring Thinking (T) look at logical consequences, and are energized by critiquing, analyzing, and problem solving. They mentally remove themselves from the situation so they can make an objective decision.
- Those preferring Feeling (F) consider what is important to them and others involved. They mentally place themselves in the situation so they can access how it will affect people.
Let’s take a look at the different combinations of middle letters, and talk about how they might affect someone’s cultural fit within a company.
ST: The Getting It Right Culture
Those preferring ST want to be accurate, and they like dealing with numbers, data, and other concrete facts. They’re often comfortable in finance, actuarial work, accounting, science, the military—organizations that allow people to focus on specifics and literal details. These days we hear a lot of talk about certain companies and industries wanting to be “data driven”—if you prefer ST, this may provide a clue that a position is a good cultural fit for you.
SF: The Practical Service Culture
Those preferring SF are interactive, collaborative, and people-oriented. They often find positions in healthcare, teaching, social work, travel, hospitality, nonprofits, customer service, and clergy to be a strong cultural fit, because those positions fulfill their desire to perform a service that improves life in the here and now. “Collaborative environment” also has become a bit of a business buzzword these days, and many companies—particularly some of the newer tech companies—are designing offices that maximize collaboration, with lots of open space and very few walls to separate you. These might offer clues that the culture of a particular company supports your values.
NF: The Possibilities for People Culture
Those preferring NF are the possibility people. They also want to make a difference and help people, but they want to do it long term. Many actors and artists express these preferences, as well as people who aren’t necessarily involved in the fine arts but think of themselves as creative, which includes many people in counseling, coaching, HR, law, and training. Adjectives for good cultural fit would include terms like mission driven, meaningful, protective, harmonious, and growth oriented. Industries where they often find fulfillment include healthcare, higher education, human resources, executive coaching, ministry, the arts, and counseling.
NT: The Possibility for Systems Culture
Those preferring NT often want a problem to fix, and the juicier the better. For them the adjectives for good cultural fit include terms like strategic planning, questioning, innovative, and dynamic. Often these folks find a cultural fit in engineering, strategic planning, politics, law, architecture, high-tech, research, design, and business analysis. NTs also tend to gravitate toward consulting work, which allows them to provide the strategy to solve a problem, but leave the implementation to someone else.
In conclusion, we’re seeing organizations place increasing emphasis on building a strong culture, and rightly so; it drives everything from employee engagement and retention to branding and financial performance. So before you pursue a job, think carefully about how you’ll fit in with that culture—it may make all the difference!