How To Know If Your Career Doesn’t Match Your Personality

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on April 03, 2017

A range of 3 to 7. That’s what you’ll find when searching online for how many times an individual changes careers within their working life. While this range is just an approximation due to the ambiguous parameters used to define career change, it’s pretty clear that, at some point or another, everyone will most likely ask the question, “Am I in the wrong career?”

The answer to that question ties in very closely with personality typing. Subtle indicators will show up when your career doesn’t match your personality. The personality job fit theory, which suggests that a person's personality traits will reveal insight as to their adaptability within an organization, provides the baseline in understanding why some personality types fit more effectively in certain fields and organizational structures.

In this article, we take a look at the warning signs of a career that does not match your personality. This way, if you are stuck in a wrong-career rut, you can consciously decide to make a positive change!

How personality affects job satisfaction

General personality type

On a general level, certain personalities will derive more job satisfaction than others. The indicators for this are based on the specific personality traits that facilitate people’s abilities to deal with stress, interpersonal conflicts, and the types of routines and structures that are featured in every job.

For example, ISFPs and ESTPs report having generally lower levels of job satisfaction as compared to other types. In ISFPs this manifests in part from a greater difficulty to express emotions outwardly. They internalize much of what they experience, affording them less resources to cope with difficult circumstances. They also feel a pressing need to follow their own autonomous pathways, which may not be an option within a traditional career structure.

The first thing you are likely to notice about the ESTP is their energy. Short-term logical problem-solving is a strength, whereas longer-term planning tends to throw up some challenges. ESTPs thrive in situations where immediate action is necessary. They need to be constantly engaged; the reasonable conclusion is that they are more likely to become restless in their careers.

On the flip side of the coin, certain personality types generally report higher job satisfaction levels compared to other types. This includes ESFJs and ESFPs. ESFJs feel a sense of personal responsibility in helping fulfill other’s needs. Always willing to give a hand to friends and coworkers, they will dutifully place business before pleasure. They greatly value structure, security, and the ability to be of service to others – traits that are valued in most organizations.

ESFPs live in the moment, very much enjoying what life has to offer. They relish opportunities to help others, especially in practical, tangible ways. Optimistic and adaptable, they also do a good job staying grounded. These qualities make them enthusiastic and realistic employees, who can expect to find pleasure in numerous work situations.    

Personality-career fit

The second, more career-specific reason for low job satisfaction relates to the type of career you pursue. When people are in a career that doesn’t match their personality, we see a drop in the level of job satisfaction compared to others more closely suited for the field. A staggering 41 percent of workers wish they had received more guidance in selecting their career field, so they could better match their job to their strengths and interests. It seems there are a lot of people suffering from a personality/career mismatch.

Under the 16-type personality theory put forward by Briggs and Myers, there are four dimensions of personality type – thinking style, energy style, values style, and life style. The combinations of these dimensions will positively or negatively affect a person’s compatibility with a certain career field.

For example, a caregiving personality is happiest doing work where they can help make people’s lives better using practical methods of application. So, if we polled all ESFJ’s in the elementary education field, for example, we should expect an above-average level of job satisfaction. However, if we took that same poll of ESFJ’s who are software engineers, we should expect those job satisfaction numbers to be significantly lower.

Signs that your career doesn’t match your personality

Worried that you might be in the wrong career? Here are four warning signs of a major personality mismatch:

  1. Boredom – It’s simple. The field you are in just does not interest you anymore. It might have grabbed your attention back in college, but now that you are “in it” the shine has started to wear off. Boredom is one of the clearest signs that your career doesn’t match your personality. As you push yourself through the motions each day, you will inevitably become more and more disengaged from the work you do. If you are in this situation, try taking a super helpful career test and get some clarity around what types of roles would more closely match up to your personality type.

  2. Feeling unfulfilled – Feelings of unfulfillment tend to creep in slowly when you are working in the wrong career, especially one that does not align with your core values. Core values are funny in that you cannot ignore them for long. They will find ways to manifest themselves in support of more fulfilling alternatives. For example, let’s say you are managing high-yield hedge funds for large corporations. The money and the prestige are great. Problem is, you are an ISFJ – meaning you desire work that helps people and communities on a deeply emotional level. It’s extremely likely that you’ll feel a sense of emptiness in the work you are doing as a hedge fund manager, that no amount of money or accolades could resolve.

  3. Stifled by lack of growth opportunity – Humans intrinsically want to grow. This applies to all areas of life, not just career. When an employee starts to feel like there is nowhere to go within the structure of their organization, a feeling of being trapped will set in. Some personality types tolerate this situation better than others. An ISFP, for example, might be perfectly content to live in the present moment and go with the flow. An ESTP, on the other hand, is unlikely to sit idle and wait for the promotion to happen. These and other competitive types will most likely start exploring new opportunities because they have a strong desire for achievement-based success.

  4. Daydreaming – When you are at work, do you zone out and think about the great things you could be doing instead? Do you find yourself daydreaming about spending more time on your hobbies? If the answer to those questions is yes, then the chances are you’re in a career that doesn’t match your personality. Looking at people’s passion projects is a great tool in helping them find a career that suits their personality, since people tend to choose their hobbies based on their deepest values and not on external factors such as salary or job security. For example, a disengaged office manager by day may find themselves really entrenched in learning graphic design on the side. It pays to take notice of these interests, since they are often windows into a more fulfilling career path.  

Finishing Up

There is a well-known quote by famous author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish that counts.” You might start out in the wrong career, but it is your responsibility to learn from each professional step you take. Don’t be afraid to explore and try new things. In doing so, you will build out a profile of what your ideal career does and does not look like, and put yourself on a better trajectory.

Ed Scotti

Ed is a content writer, coach, and internet marketer. He enjoys time with his dog, trying out new paleo-friendly recipes, and binge watching premium cable shows. He is a certified coach and trainer, member of the PARW/CC, and advocate for the strategic application of personality typing. He lives and practices in Skippack, PA. Find him on twitter at @ed_scotti.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


ashaw9813 says...

In 1979 I decided to leave teaching as I was obviously unsuited to it as a career. I went to see a company called "Career Analysts" who had me sit a whole series of tests to try and find for what I was best suited. One of the tests I did was the Briggs-Myers test. I think that I came out as an ISTJ, although I am a borderline S/N (51% S 49% N at the last count - so INTJ might have been possible at that time).

The analyst who went through my results noted this, among many other things and indicated also that I was indeed correct that teaching was wrong for me, and recommended that I look at IT as the road to go.

Totally. I spent 28 years as an IT professional (in 7 different countries!) and but for a heart attack in 2008, I would have been in it for longer still - and I would go back tomorrow if I could find a job in that area! 

Jeannne (not verified) says...

Hi. I just read your comment. I am sorry to hear about your heart attack! :( I am though happy that you found a career that worked for you. I am still searching. I have a lot of interests, but too many. So I am looking for a career that is good but not amazing, at least not at first, cause I would have to try every career as well as get an education. Some interests I do not need formal education, but I noticed I do well in school and appreciate having deadlines or somebody watching over me to keep me motivated and on track. I took an aptitude assessment and found that my self-motivation was very low. As for Myers-Briggs, always get 'I' but the rest of the letters are never the same. Every time I take the test, every 3 months or so, I get a different result or I have what you call borderline, with the percentages within 2 % of each other. So, with that information, my short-lists for career paths get longer. Can I ask what type of IT career or job you have? You didn't specify.


Tony S (not verified) says...

not allowed to reuse my original moniker (ashaw9813) by the site.

I have been everything, programmer, system analyst, project leader,, but since 1994 mainly an EDI analyst or an EDI consultant.


Dungy Kathy (not verified) says...

So how do you go about getting this test?

Jeannne (not verified) says...

You can take the test through this website. It is free.


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