Finding Your Passion: A Simple Test Can Point the Way

Finding Your Passion: A Simple Test Can Point the Way

Article Highlights

  • The Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI) can help people take stock of preferences that could influence the career paths they choose.
  • Some question the reliability of the instrument.

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Be it butcher, baker, or candlestick maker, some people are all but born to a vocation. For others, finding the right line of work can take some work. The choice might be even more daunting if it comes at mid-career, whether because of job loss or job dissatisfaction. By then, the clock is inevitably ticking, either to find a paycheck or a passion. Whichever the case, a new career also could require investment in further education. 

Where to start? One place career counselors often suggest is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI), an assessment tool that helps people take stock of preferences that could influence their contentment with certain occupations. 

“It helps you at least go down a path of beginning to understand how you approach certain situations,” says Seth Saunders, president of South University — Virginia Beach.

The MBTI is a questionnaire that explores how an individual is most comfortable learning, making decisions, and interacting with the world. The patterns in someone’s answers suggest their preferences within four different “type” dichotomies, clarifying whether they tend to be more extroverted or introverted; more sensing or intuitive; more thinking or feeling; and more judging or perceiving. 

The “type” dichotomies in the MBTI are based on theories Carl Jung expounded in a 1921 book called Psychological Types. The questionnaire itself is named for its founders, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, who began collaborating soon after Jung’s theories were published to adapt them for everyday uses such as self-understanding, personal growth, and achieving greater harmony with others. 

Neither “type” in any of the pairs is considered better or worse and, just because someone shows a preference for one doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of the other or don’t regularly exhibit the other, notes Steve Beasley, a Wyoming-based principal in Paladin Associates, a coaching and consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations with personal and professional evaluations and assessments. Jung’s terms for the various “types” don’t coincide with simple dictionary definitions, Beasley adds.

In the dichotomy between introversion and extroversion, for example, the questionnaire helps sort out how an individual most comfortably “perceives and handles the outer world,” not simply whether someone is shy or outgoing, Beasley says. Introverted individuals take energy from ideas and solitude. “They lay back and evaluate, whereas the extrovert responds immediately” and is more energized among people. 

“The difference between sensing and intuitive tells people how they take in data,” Beasley says. “Sensors are very data oriented,” relying more on empirical evidence and taking it more at face value. To intuitive types, “the facts may mean something else” than meets the eye.                             

Similarly, the MBTI separates thinking and feeling behaviors to show “how someone uses the data they’ve perceived,” Beasley notes. “The feelers are subjective decision-makers; the information they take in is filtered more through their personal values,” while thinkers tend to base decisions on the facts at hand. “It doesn’t mean thinking types don’t feel or feeling types don’t think.” 

The fourth dichotomy — judging vs. perceiving — distinguishes whether someone is more inclined toward reaching conclusions or is more open-ended and disposed to keep gathering information. 

Many people may already have an understanding of their inclinations “at some level,” says Susan Girard, Beasley’s partner at Paladin, but the MBTI “makes it more evident and brings it to the fore.”

Examples of careers that tend to draw intuitive, feeling types include counseling and teaching, Beasley says. Business disciplines like banking and accounting tend to attract people who are more sensing and judging. People who are intuitive and thinking might gravitate toward occupations like engineering or law. 

Among research highlights, Beasley notes that 75% of those taking the test fall in the extroverted and sensing category while 25% show preferences for introverted and intuitive behavior. Results for only a single dichotomy — thinking vs. feeling — seem to be influenced by gender, with 60% of women testing as feeling and 60% of men testing as thinking.

Further discussion of the different “types” can be found on the Myers & Briggs Foundation website along with more information about the instrument’s history and evolution. 

One of the early iterations of the MBTI was used to match women who had little or no career experience with different jobs during World War II, when military service depleted the then male-dominated civilian workforce. Over the ensuing decades, Isabel Briggs Myers continued refining the tool and advancing both its use and validation through research. In 1975, Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc., now known as CPP, Inc., acquired the rights to the test and began publishing it for widespread application. Now a consulting and publishing firm specializing in organizational development, CPP offers the Myers-Briggs instrument to its own clients and also licenses others to administer the assessment tool. 

The test is not without critics. Some suggest, for example, that the instrument is vulnerable to manipulation when subjects select answers that don’t reflect true preferences. There’s also mixed sentiment about reliability. With about 2 million assessments performed annually, however, the MBTI’s popularity as an evaluation tool is undeniable.   

Individuals interested in taking the MBTI can do so on numerous websites. The Myers-Briggs instrument comes in multiple versions, and pricing and services vary among websites. Some firms, including Paladin Associates, offer not only written feedback, but also telephone consultations. The Myers & Briggs Foundation cautions that online assessments vary in quality; its website offers tips about things that should raise red flags. 

Saunders of South University says he’s seen the assessment online for as little as $60. At that, he thinks it’s a small price to discern attributes that may influence comfort with a career choice or enhance self-understanding. As a manager, he said the self-assessment has helped him play to his own strengths. 

Until his first evaluation, Saunders saw himself as someone whose decisions were largely driven by facts and figures. “But when I took the assessment,” he says, “both times, it was clear I was much more about intuition.”

Written by freelance talent for South Source.

© South University