An African American woman sits at a desk smiling.

From preschool to college, one of the most common questions people get asked is, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ 

In fact, your entire school career was probably littered with career tests, whether those tests were research-based and helpful, Buzzfeed quizzes or something in between. From the first day in pre-K when you learned to draw a picture of yourself as an astronaut, to your senior year in college when you wrote out your resume and sent it off to dozens of potential employers, the question has been the same—‘what do you want to be?’

The Enneagram, an ancient tool with roots stretching back centuries, is still having it’s time in the sun. It’s not hard to see why. With its nine distinct personality types, wings, growth paths, subtypes and more, the Enneagram offers an insightful and universally appealing way to explore our inner selves. People across the globe have found it to be an illuminating tool for self-discovery, fostering increased self-awareness, understanding and empathy.

But when it comes to that age-old question—what do you want to be?—can this mystical tool of introspection be an effective compass guiding us toward our ideal career?

The answer is 'yes'—if you use it correctly. Here are three ways the Enneagram can help in your career planning, and three areas where it may fall short.

3 Ways the Enneagram Can Help Your Career Planning

  • It unveils your core motivation.

One of the factors that many people don’t consider when they’re approaching the professional world is that your job and personality, ideally, ought to blend. While all personality tests, including Myers and Briggs, can provide some insight into a person's characteristics, the Enneagram stands out for its depth and breadth in understanding human behavior.

The Enneagram delves deeper into the core motivations, fears and desires that drive our actions, which can be pivotal in career planning. For example, Enneagram Twos have a motivational need to be loved and appreciated. This means they excel in jobs where they can help and connect with others AND are recognized for those contributions.

A career as a school counselor can be a great fit for an Enneagram Two as it gives them the opportunity to form meaningful relationships, provide guidance, and make a significant impact on students' lives. The school environment often provides ample recognition, with students, parents, and fellow staff members expressing gratitude and appreciation for their efforts.

By contrast, a career as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) may be a weaker match. While EMTs unquestionably provide a vital service and help people in dire situations, the nature of the job means that once the emergency is over, the EMT rarely receives any follow-up. It doesn't allow for the recognition that Type Twos crave.

  • It can help you discover your ideal work environment. 

Some people are not made for certain work environments. Often, the mismatch is obvious. It makes sense, for example, that an Introvert will not thrive in a fast-paced, people-oriented work environment and an Extravert will struggle in a job that requires them to be alone with their thoughts for long periods. But personality is more complex than Introverts and Extraverts.

Where the Enneagram shines is that it looks at your habit of attention. Every type naturally pays attention to something, whether that's opportunities for efficiency, connection, power dynamics, worse-case scenarios, or something else.

Type Nines, for instance, always look for harmony. They work best in stable environments with a pleasant, cooperative atmosphere. They do less well in cut-throat, competitive or argumentative environments. This insight alone can help them rule out certain teaching roles, for example. While teaching might seem like a Type Nine's dream career on paper, if the job takes place at a strict, numbers-driven school where the leadership pushes hard for high test scores, this can create a high-pressure, contentious environment that might not suit a Type Nine's needs for peace and stability.

  • It can help you focus on your career goals.

Many people struggle to set and achieve career-related goals. They know what they want out of life, but putting that into practice isn't always easy—especially when it comes to narrowing down the options. The Enneagram can help you break those goals down into more manageable chunks and pinpoint potential pitfalls, so that your path to success is as smooth and focused as possible.

For example, let’s say you want to become a doctor. The Enneagram may be able to give you some helpful clues about which specialty would suit you best or what other skills you'll need to succeed. Type Sixes may be especially suited to family medicine, for example, as they are naturally great at anticipating problems and finding creative solutions for any issues that may arise (a key skill in a medical setting). For Sixes in every walk of life, prevention is better than cure. 

But they may need to work on their communication skills, as they can struggle with shyness or resistance to authority.

3 Ways the Enneagram Can’t Help Your Career Planning

  • It won't give you a personalized list of career options.

A particular Enneagram test may give you a list of the top jobs for your Enneagram type but, more often than not, it will be too generalized to support you in a meaningful way. While users can glean inspiration from those job lists, they only consider your broad Enneagram type and not your specific work interest areas and skills.

For example, an Enneagram One personality is usually principled, rational, hardworking, idealistic and organized. These characteristics could make them well suited to many jobs, from lawyers, accountants and software developers to social workers, counselors and chaplains! But it's highly unlikely that a Type One with an interest in social justice will be looking at the same career options as a Type One with an interest in STEM.

To get a job list that's truly tailored to your individual needs and goals, you'll need to invest time in a career aptitude test. These tests are designed to identify key traits, aptitudes, interests and competencies, making a more precise match between a person's abilities and potential career paths.

  • It won't tell you the perfect job for you.

Even if you've identified a career that looks like it could be a great fit for your Enneagram type, there are no guarantees that this is the right job for you. You may have other factors to consider, such as location, salary, job satisfaction and the company's unique culture. We all face constraints. The reality is that if your dream job is based in the wrong city (and you cannot relocate) or if it will never pay enough to give you a comfortable lifestyle, it's not going to be the right choice for you.

The Enneagram can provide valuable insights into what kind of job will make you happiest and most successful, but ultimately it's up to you to do the research and make an informed decision.

  • It won't tell you how to approach the job market.

The Enneagram can help you understand yourself and your ideal career, but it can't provide you with an action plan for getting that job. Once you've identified potential opportunities, it's up to you to develop a strategy for applying and succeeding in the job market. This means creating a tailored resume, perfecting your interviewing skills, networking effectively and building relationships with potential employers—these are steps you’re going to have to take whatever your Enneagram type.

Bottom line

It's important to remember that the Enneagram is just one tool among many that can help you in your career planning. While it can provide valuable insights into your working style and ideal job match, it should be used in conjunction with other resources (career aptitude tests, online research, networking etc.) to get a comprehensive picture of the best possible career path for you.

With this integrated approach, you have the best chance of answering the question 'what do you want to be' and will be better prepared for whatever obstacles lie ahead—and that's something every career-minded person should strive for!

Markey Battle
Markey is the embodiment of an Enneagram Three. Her secret talents include beating everyone but her husband at Disney Jeopardy. She has two cats, Everest and Pippin, which she rescued from a dumpster where the best pets are found. She once learned the entire alphabet backward in her sleep one night because she didn’t want to waste her time sleeping.