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.
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, according to research cited by CIO, 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.