Due to their life-long consequences on health, finances, and psychological well-being, career decisions are among the most important decisions an individual has to make, and, whilst some people make these decisions easily, others face a more difficult process.
Career choice and career direction are not only influenced by the external environment but also the wants and needs of the individual, including a person’s experiences at work, family attitudes, environmental influences, work values, abilities, skills, personality, and interests: a myriad of different factors affecting what people do for a living and how they feel about their work. Knowing personal qualities, strengths, and interests can be seen as key to enabling an individual to market herself and choose, change, and flourish in a job.
Major Individual Differences
The three major domains of individual differences — cognitive (ability), affective (personality), and conative (motivation and interest) — have been the cornerstone of career counseling and the career decision-making process. Often, examinations of these domains take the form of objective and subjective assessments, such as ability tests, personality questionnaires, and interest questionnaires, producing a wide array of personal information. When working with clients, the career professional is often tasked with describing and making sense of at least three sets of data that can be problematic and confusing.
Until recently, researchers have considered the domains of abilities, personality, and interests as distinct from one another. Meta-analytical reviews and research, however, have suggested that there are fundamental communalities amongst particular measures of these domains (Ackerman and Heggestad 1997).
Working mainly with adult career changers, and as a career counselor and coach, I work with clients to help facilitate self-understanding around the career options and choices they have. As part of this process, we examine the different areas that affect their career choices — their experiences, abilities, skills, interests, work values, personality, and goals.
With several years of experience in using both The Highlands Ability Battery (abilities) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (personality), I have felt that there are characteristics that overlapped between these two domains. Having recently had the opportunity to do some research, I chose to investigate this area further.
Do abilities and personality have some commonalities or are they separate entities?
The Highlands Ability Battery (HAB)
The Highlands Ability Battery (HAB) is an objective assessment of natural abilities that are important to different jobs. The HAB is a collection of 19 tests designed specifically to measure an individual’s capacity to perform work samples which simulate the tasks required in a wide variety of educational and work settings. The HAB is based on over 80 years of research, beginning with Johnson O’Connor. The minimum reliability standard for the 19 tests that make up the Highlands Ability Battery is r = .80 (Tavantzis, 2007).
The tests are grouped into four broad categories: Personal Style Elements (Personality), Driving Abilities (Problem Solving, Idea Productivity, Spatial Relations), Specialised Abilities (Learning Channels, Music Abilities, Observation, Visual Dexterity), and Vocabulary.
The Ability Work Samples
Classification (Inductive Reasoning) – the ability to see the relationships among seemingly unrelated objects or data; the ability to find a common link among discrete facts or ideas.
Concept Organisation (Analytical Reasoning) – the ability to access and arrange ideas and details in logical order.
Idea Productivity – the ability to generate new ideas in response to a given set of new facts or challenges — a measure of the rate at which the user’s ideas flow, not a measure of the quantity or creativity of ideas.
Spatial Relations Theory – the ability to “see” and manipulate items in space; the ability to work with, arrange, and organise ideas, concepts, and relationships.
Spatial Relations Visualisation – the ability to visualise and utilise three-dimensional objects; the ability to add structure and utility to the technological elements of our society. Higher levels indicate a need for “hands on” work with things, whereas lower levels indicate a strength working with ideas, concepts, numbers and people.
The Specialised Abilities
Design Memory – the ability to see and remember a two-dimensional design or image; facilitates learning through graphs, pictures, charts and other visual cues.
Observation – the ability to perceive and recall details in one’s visual field and to note changes in the field as they occur.
Verbal Memory – the ability to remember data and material presented visually – facilitates learning by reading.
Tonal Memory – the ability to remember data and material presented aurally; facilitates learning by listening.
Pitch Discrimination – the ability to distinguish fine nuances in the environment, including levels of sound (pitch); facilitates response to changes in mood and emotions by others.
Number Memory – the ability to remember and learn through associations with numbers; facilitates the recollection of information and data.
Visual Speed and Accuracy – measures two abilities by means of a single work sample. Visual speed measures the speed at which changes in numbers are recognised; visual accuracy measures the degree to which that recognition is accurate over a fixed period of time.
Vocabulary – although not an ability in the same sense as the others, it is thought to be an important factor and required for some occupations and careers. The work sample requires the selection of the closest synonym to a given word from four choices.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
The MBTI instrument (MBTI) is a personality type assessment for helping individuals learn about themselves. It was designed to make Jung’s (1923) theory of psychological types of practical usefulness in a wide range of everyday activities. The MBTI assessment is based on the work of mother and daughter Katherine Briggs and Elizabeth Briggs-Myers. Myers and Briggs developed Jung’s theory of three personality Dichotomies, and, through research, found there were actually four: Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Perceiving/Judging.
Extraversion (E) – Introversion (I) are designed to reflect whether a person is an Extrovert or Introvert in Jung’s sense of the terms: Extraverts relate more easily to the outer world of people and things, whereas Introverts relate more easily to the inner world of concepts and ideas. In career choices, Extraverts gravitate towards activities in which there is more talk, action, and connection with others – sales or outdoor work, for example. Introverts gravitate to careers in which ideas need to be understood and organised, such as computer programming or social sciences.
Sensing (S) – Intuition (N) are designed to reflect a person’s preference between two opposite ways of perceiving: Sensing (reports observable facts or happenings through one or more of the five senses) versus Intuition (reports possibilities and relationships). In career choices, Sensing types are attracted to work in which the products can be seen and measured – for example, hands-on patient care, civil engineering or sales. Intuitive types are more attracted to work that requires the big picture, a future orientation or use of symbols, such as strategic planning, science, communication, or the arts.
Thinking (T) – Feeling (F) are designed to reflect a person’s preference between two opposite ways of judging; Thinking (bases judgments on impersonal analysis and logic) versus Feeling (bases judgment on personal values). Thinking types are drawn to careers in engineering, science, finance, or production, where logical analysis is a powerful tool. Feeling types are drawn to careers in which skills in communicating, teaching and helping are valuable tools.
Judging (J) – Perceiving (P) are designed to reflect a person’s preference for dealing with the outer or extroverted world either by Judging or Perceiving; the one who prefers Judging deals with the outer world by Thinking or Feeling, whereas the one who prefers Perceiving deals with the outer world by Sensing or Intuition. Judging types are found in large numbers among managers and executives in business, industry, government, and academia.
As with much of the academic research in this area, the “Big Five” models of personality are used. In recent years there has been growing consensus that there are five fundamental dimensions of personality — the so-called “Big Five” or five-factor model (FFM) being:
1. Extraversion e.g. sociability, assertiveness;
2. Emotionality, e.g. anxiety, insecurity;
3. Agreeableness, e.g. conforming, helping to others;
4. Conscientiousness, e.g. persistent, organised;
5. Openness to experience, e.g. curiosity, aesthetic appreciation.
There is, however, an overlap between MBTI and the Big Five models of personality. Openness to experience is correlated to MBTI’s intuition (Costa et al, 1991). It is therefore expected that people who are higher on MBTI intuition will have higher scores on cognitive ability tests than those with lower scores.
Dachowski (1987) noted there are conceptual similarities between the MBTI scales and four of the “Big Five” dimensions. Extraversion is similar in both systems. Openness corresponds to Intuition (versus Sensation) in the MBTI. Agreeableness is akin to Feeling (versus Thinking) and Conscientiousness resembles Judging (versus Perceiving). Analysis confirmed this hypothesis, in both men and women. (Costa et al.,1991). MBTI does not include a measure of Neurotism, unlike the “Big Five” model. Myers (1998) claimed that a combination of the dimensions of perception (Sensing or Intuition) and judgment (Thinking or Feeling) influences career interests and choices.
The Combinations of Perception (S or N) and Judgment (T or F) are felt to influence career interests and choices (Myers, 1978). Myers believed that the best career choices let us focus on the aspects of life that most interest and motivate us (with Sensing or Intuition) and make decisions the way that comes most naturally (using Thinking or
Feeling judgment). Such career choices should remain motivating and challenging because they let us do what comes naturally with our best skills.
Combinations of Perception and Careers
(From Introduction to Type, Myers 1998)
As Combinations of Perception were felt to be important to career choice and interest (Myers, 1985), Point-Biserial correlations using the four Combinations of Perception as grouping variables and the selected abilities as test variables were carried out.
From our examination of natural abilities and personality, there were several characteristics that were significant in our analysis. MBTI Intuitive preference individuals were found to have significantly higher levels of Cognitive Reasoning Abilities than Sensing types.
This supports findings by researchers such as Ackerman and Heggestad (1997), who’s meta analysis suggested Intuitive types (openness to experience), was correlated to higher scores on cognitive tests. NT types particularly appeared to have higher reasoning abilities, which were coupled with significantly higher levels of Spatial Abilities. This indicates a higher level of problem-solving in the scientific/technical field and would indicate a higher aptitude for work such as engineering and technical work and working with things rather than people.
NT types also had significantly negative levels of Extraversion when compared with the other groups, indicating a preference for Introversion. This means they get energised from the internal world rather than the external world of being with others. According to Myers and McCaulley (1985), NT types are thought to focus on theoretical concepts and systems and are logical and analytical, focusing their interests in theoretical and technical frameworks and careers such as physical sciences, research, engineering, law, and computers. There is, therefore, significant overlap between abilities and personality.
After NT types, reasoning abilities were the next highest in the NF types, indicating some need for problem-solving. Although not significant, NF types had the lowest levels of Spatial abilities of the groups, indicating a preference for working with ideas, concepts, and people rather than things. Extraversion was also significantly higher for Feeling types than Thinking types, again indicating a need for working with people. For NF types, therefore, careers around problem-solving with people, such as psychology or human resources would suit these types of abilities. Observation, Tonal, Rhythm, Pitch, Idea Productivity, and Vocabulary were also found to be significantly higher for the NF groups.
According to Myers and McCaulley (1985), NF types are thought to focus on paying attention to people’s potential and finding scope for their interest in understanding and encouraging people, and they are interested in areas such as psychology, teaching, literature, art and music, and human resources. Again, significant overlap between abilities and personality was found, and verbal, artistic, and musical abilities were significantly higher than for other groups.
The Sensing type’s scores on the majority of the abilities were lower than for the Intuitive types, especially in the reasoning abilities. According to Myers and McCaulley, (1985), Sensing types prefer specifics, practical applications, and the factual and concrete.
SFs are thought to be sympathetic and friendly and find interests in providing practical help and support for others. ST types are thought to be practical and analytical and find interests in technical skills with objects and facts. Our research supports this, as negative levels of reasoning indicate a need for more of a reliance on learning and problem-solving through experience. The scores comparing Extraversion to the preferences demonstrated significantly higher levels in the feeling types. SF and NF types had higher levels of Extraversion than the other types, indicating that NF and SF types would be more suited to working with people. It is likely that this is of particular relevance to ENF and ESF types. INT types, therefore, would be more suited to problem-solving with things, and IST types more practical in their work with things.
It was also interesting to note that, in this research NF personality types were overrepresented compared to the general population, meaning that my client base was overrepresented. This is a whole new research project — to find out why, although we do know that artistic and creative careers can be more challenging than others to get and make a living from.
Rarely is a person suited for only one career path, but the more the fit between individual and occupational incumbent characteristics, the greater the likelihood that the career will be satisfying and motivating. We are unlikely, however, to get a total match between person and job, and any match can only be approximated.
I would also add that it is dangerous to “box” people into types and make ensuing assumptions. As we know, humans are complex beings and only personality and abilities were examined in this research These are two characteristics involved in career decision-making, but they are not the only ones. Interests are important and some (Lock and Hogan, 2000), argue that work values, management, and organisational fit are also important, and some argue (Schein, 2006) that work values are vital to career satisfaction.
From our research, it was found that there are other characteristics that are important to examine, as they could indicate career direction and satisfaction. These were introversion/extraversion, visual speed and accuracy, reasoning/problem-solving abilities, creative/artistic abilities, structural abilities, and vocabulary and verbal abilities. These are measured in the HAB and therefore raise the question whether using MBTI adds to the client’s self-knowledge and experience or adds confusion.
More research is required!
- Ackerman, P. L. and Heggestad, E.D. (1997). Intelligence, personality and interests: evidence for overlapping traits. Psychological Bulletin, 121, p. 219-45.
- Costa, P.T. McCrae., R R. and Holland, J. (1984). Personality and vocational interests in an adult sample. Journal of Applied Psychology, 69, p. 390-400.
- Costa, P.T., Zonderman, A.B. and McCrae, R.R. (1991). Personality, defense, coping and adaptation in older adulthood. In E.M. Cummings, A.L. Green and K.H. Karraker (eds.). Life-Span Developmental Psychology: Perspectives in Stress and Coping. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Dachowski, M. (1987). A Convergence of the tender-minded and the tough-minded? American Psychologist, 42: p. 886-887.
- Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation Website http://www.jocrf.org
- Lock, J.D. and Hogan, R. (2000). Expanding the Focus of Career Assessment. Journal of Career Assessment. 8, p. 411-417.
- Myers, I.B. (1998). Introduction to Type. Sixth Edition. OPP.
- Myers, I.B. and McCaulley, M.H. (1985). Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Paulo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.
- NEO Manual – UK Edition. (2006). Hogrefe.
- Schein, E. (2006). Career Anchors: Self Assessment. Pfeiffer Press.
- The Highlands Ability Battery Manual. (2004).
- The Highlands Ability Battery Website www.highlandsco.com
- Tavantzis, T.N. (2007). A Report on The Organization, Function, Reliability and Validity of The Highlands Ability Battery (HAB).